“Watching the Breaking Waves” - Steve Hackett in concert at the 02 Academy Islington London on Sunday 13th November 2011. Review by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Alan Hewitt.

Normal Hacketting duties have been curtailed of late due to external circumstances, but come hell or hight water, nothing was going to stop me catching at least one show on this, the first leg of the Breaking Waves Tour. Hotfooting it down from Glasgow where I had spent an extremely convivial evening with friends watching Yes, I managed to meet up with Stuart, TWR’s web master in time to get a prime vantage spot in the mezzanine gallery from where I took in the evening’s events.

At eight on the dot, Steve and the band emerged on stage to cheers from the audiences accompanied by the intro music, a tantalising extract from Turn This Island Earth, before the show proper started with a magnificent rendering of Loch Lomond/The Phoenix Flown. Already a favourite from the album, both of these pieces gain enormously in the live context with Steve sounding in particularly fiery form throughout.

This set the scene for the rest of the show, a set which drew more heavily on any new album since the heady days of Guitar Noir and the new classics kept on coming, Prairie Angel and A Place Called Freedom kept up the pace. The latter is without doubt, one of Steve’s finest songs, cram packed with emotion and finely observed lyrics. His guitar licks swept all in their wake and the audience lapped it up with relish.

Taking a little step backwards in time to a song set in the 1930’s but dating from 1999’s Darktown album, The Golden Age Of Steam, worked remarkably well here. Child spies and the threat of betrayal were all brought vividly to life both musically and lyrically by a band who are evidently enjoying themselves immensely as a touring unit - even Mr King looked happy!

Fire On The Moon, has lost none of its magnificence either, a wonderfully evocative examination of a relationship gone wrong, if this is therapeutic for Steve then it is equally so for an audience as it wrings every ounce of emotion from both the performers and the listeners. Emotions were kept on high alert during the next song too, the evergreen Every Day, which over the years has earned its place in the set as one of Steve’s finest compositions and it was just that tonight, and yes, the stuff upper lip did quiver a bit here I’m not ashamed to admit!

Back to the new stuff for Waking To Life and it was here that the gremlins struck. There was evidently something wrong with Amanda’s guitar and Steve’s guitar tech, Richard Buckland was scurrying around trying to fix it, much to the amusement of the audience. Eventually Steve resorted to an improvised jam before the problem resolved itself and normal service was resumed.

For someone who has always eschewed nostalgia, Steve has of late fully embraced his past with Genesis and there is an increasingly large proportion of his live set given over to the music from that seminal period beginning here with Carpet Crawlers which had the audience cheering from the rafters. Gary O’Toole did a marvellous job delivering the vocal on this one. Continuing in this vein, Steve then announced on stage the first of tonight’s special guests; John Wetton who undertook vocal duties during Firth of Fifth. Don’t get me wrong, I love this track and both Steve and Roger nailed their solo parts to perfection but sadly, John’s vocal performance here left a lot to be desired I’m afraid.

The lovely Serpentine Song, that homage to Steve’s artist father Peter, simply gets better with age and the harmony vocals here gave the song an added lift which brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye - wonderful stuff.

Another trip back in time, this time to where it began for Steve as a solo artist and another old friend returned to the fold as Shadow Of The Hierophant was given the Hackett 2011 treatment. With Amanda taking on the vocals, this masterpiece shone with renewed vigour and the audience loved every moment of it.

I was both surprised and delighted to hear Enter The Night (aka: Depth Charge/Riding The Colossus et al) next. Always a favourite of mine, and one instrumental which I had always said needed lyrics, well, here they were and the entire band rampaged their way through this delightfully up beat little number!

A brief instrumental ramble led nicely into Walking Away From Rainbows, another marvellous example of Steve’s versatility. He and Roger waltzed nicely around each other throughout in impeccable style. Yet another surprise next as Steve was joined onstage by his brother John for a truly magnificent rendering of Hands Of The Priestess which was one of the highlights of the show for me personally. Another acoustic moment before the part of the evening I had been hoping for; Blood On The Rooftops. I don’t think I really need to explain to anyone what this song means to me and with things being as they are in my personal life at the moment, tonight’s performance took on extra special significance and I admit it, I saw this one through a haze of tears - happy ones though!

Fly On A Windshield and Broadway Melody of 1974 returned us to the realms of Genesis and to audience ecstasy. Mind you, from the expressions on the band members’ faces, they weren’t hating the experience themselves either!

Sleepers slowed things down a little and this brittle and beautiful song paved the way for the finale of the evening’s proceedings as Steve announced his reinterpretation of Los Endos which gave the entire band a real chance to let their hair down and drag the audience kicking and screaming towards the end of the evening.

Of course encores were expected and soon delivered as the band retook the stage and Roger set the tone with the spine tingling intro to Watcher of The Skies. Cue audience going absolutely nuts here. Surprisingly it wasn’t Clocks which followed to wrap up the evening but the title track from that same album; Spectral Mornings and what a way to end the evening. Beauty, majesty and sheer awesomeness all rolled into one!

So there you have it, the only show I saw this year but a truly marvellous one from most points of view but there are some critical points I would like to make. First of all, the venue - probably the worst one I have ever seen Steve play in London and I have seen most of the major venues in the capital over the years! Second, and I know I am going to burned in effigy by many fans here but personally I think there is too much Genesis material in the set and it seems to be increasing at the expense of some of many of Steve’s own classic compositions to the point where Steve might be in danger of turning into his very own Genesis tribute band! With twenty two albums’ worth of his own material available, surely there must be enough to choose a set from?

That said, the performance was superb throughout. The band including new boy Phil Mulford on bass did their job magnificently and seemed to be having a ball almost as much as the audience. Technical problems aside, everyone was at the top of their game and on this showing the round of Hacketteering I have planned in conjunction with a couple of special anniversaries associated with TWR next February should be a real blast - see some of you there I hope!

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