"Back to the past and present" - Steve Hackett in concert at the Venue Cymru Llandudno on 21st October 2015. Review by Ian Waugh.
October 21st 2015! Date ring any bells? (Yee, Ian , it is Trafalgar Day - AH). Perhaps not unless you happen to be Marty McFly. Sadly for Marty, he did not choose to be at the Venue Cymru (pronounced Cumri… it means Venue Wales) Llandudno on that date. More fool he! The scattered pages of a book, if by the sea could have been less than a hundred yards away, for that is how far it is from the shore to the venue as Steve and his band stepped onto the stage to take us on our own journey through time to a musical encounter with more than forty years of great material.
The gig started with only three people on stage, Gary O’Toole on drums and bowler hat, Roger King on keyboards ( and triggering bass pedals by Midi I presume) and of course, Steve on guitar as Spectral Mornings kicked things off. When the band start the show with one of the most iconic tracks of Steve’s career and the sort of thing that many would save for an encore, you know it is going to be an interesting ride! After three and a half decades, and repeated listens, this track shows no signs of tiring, it is still played by the fans at home and still goes down well with the crowd.
Rob Townsend had appeared near the end of that track, and after it was over, they were joined by another, Roine Stolt! When Steve can get one of prop’s most talented and iconic guitarists to play predominantly bass for him, you know he has garnered the respect he deserves. But Roger’s talents were not to be wasted as we shall see.
The title track was not alone in representing one of Steve’s most important and loved albums. Every Day turned up a few minutes later and Clocks - The Angel of Mons was en encore piece. As befit’s the name of the show, and as logic would dictate, the new album: Wolflight was heavily featured. Out Of The Body and the title track followed the opener, and I have to say, I think they did a much better job of capturing the sound and feel of these than they did on the then new tracks from Beyond The Shrouded Horizon back in 2012. Indeed, I commented to Alan Hewitt after the gig that I didn’t think they had ever sounded better. He wasn’t so sure, but frankly it’s a fine line anyway! It helped I suppose that the sound was fabulous and the acoustics were spot on. At least in seat C12 they were!
Love Song To A Vampire, the Wheel’s Turning and Loving Sea all got their turn and the latter of course, is a step away from the usual being an acoustic track with Steve on 12 string. It worked well.
Given the title of the show there was another album due to feature but before that it was the turn of a track from probably my favourite album of all time. Paying tribute to the original vocalist of the song, as well as other recently departed friends and collaborators, Chris Squire, Jim Diamond and John Gustafson, all applauded by the crowd. Steve introduced Nad Sylvan to perform Richie Havens’ part in Icarus Ascending, the sole representative of the Please Don’t Touch album. This was fabulous and worth the cost of the concert on its own. Nad did a superb job, and the song was every bit as good as I had hoped. Now if only they had done Hoping Love Will Last with Amanda Lehmann on vocals, and Twice Around The Sun from Darktown, this would have been the perfect gig. Oh well, next time eh, Steve?
And so to Voyage Of The Acolyte forty years after the first of Steve’s lone outings, this album would get heavy coverage, with Star Of Sirius, Ace of Wands, A Tower Struck Down and the closing section of Shadow Of The Hierophant all forming one long suite. During “Tower” it occurred to me that after three and a half decades of listening we may have become complacent with regard to the ground-breaking nature of this album. I was made more aware by the presence of some younger members of the audience. What mist they be making of this if they hadn’t heard it before? Tower… really is avant garde with its sections of musical karate (as Steve once described it), sound effects, eerie Mellotron and doom-laden bass sections. And if that wasn’t enough Shadow took an unexpected turn as Gary strayed from the normal and started drumming in time signatures that were at one turn too fast and another too slow , an d yet which fitted perfectly and did not cause the other musicians to lose the plot. In the prog world, where weird time signatures are the norm, I guess it was business as usual, but while I may be able to spot 7/4 or 9/8 fairly easily, these were off the scale. What I can say is, whatever time they were, it wasn’t any that Doc Brown or Marty ever visited!
Session one over, the band retired for fifteen minutes before returning for the Genesis Revisited section of the show. After three tours focusing on just this, you might think that Steve would not be able to bring anything new to the time table. Well, not that track, maybe. But it has to be said I am amazed that, with another hour and a half to go, he did only two songs which we had already heard on previous tours. The Musical Box and as the final encore: Firth of Fifth. Which leaves six new gems.
Get ’Em Out By Friday opened this part of the show, Nad now on full vocal duties for the rest of the show. , though here Gary added some sections in a humorous manner, playing the part of The Winkler and Steve did the announcement from Genetic Control! Can-Utility & The Coastliners was next and they certainly breathed some new life into this track.
Next Steve switched to acoustic guitar again and led us into After the Ordeal and it was on this track the at he let Roine finally take centre stage, picking up the electric lead as the track picks up the pace. It speaks volumes about Steve’s confidence and generosity that he would allow another player to grab that glory moment and Roine didn’t disappoint, though soon, Steve joined in as they counter-played in an inventive and satisfying way - a wonderful moment!
Sticking with Side Two of Selling England By The Pound … Cinema Show and Aisle of Plenty followed and went down a storm to be followed by another classic; the title track from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I wondered if Steve knew that although the official address of the Venue Cymru is “The Promenade” the road which it backs on to and via the car park is accessed, is actually called Mostyn Broadway? Could there be a more fitting venue?
And so there you have it! A wonderful evening had by all including the band, it would appear, for you really do get the feeling that they were having a ball too. And if Frank Zappa’s question is “does humour belong in music?” then this band’s answer is mist definitely “yes” from the mad facial expressions as Rob and Roger duelled with their solos (you might be under the impression that Roger is a really serious and up-tight guy but if you watch him during the show you will soon see that he is a bit of a card on the quiet) to the cheeky addition of a bell here and there by Gary. And in the humour stakes the wooden spoon goes to Rob. That’s not an insult, if he does it on the next tour you will understand!
I must add that, in an age when bands tend to play the same old stuff tour after tour (I used to avidly attend the gigs of a certain prog pioneering band who might be considered to be connected to the Midlands brewery chain Mitchell & Butler and whose first seven albums with the classic line up possibly have no equal as a quality run of albums but after three decades of effectively playing the same show, I grew tired of them), Steve has to be congratulated for consistently revitalising his concert tours year after year/ He really is the gift hat keeps on giving. Come along, please do. Maybe we can have a drink before the show. Or if they invent a time machine after all, maybe you can join me on 21st October 2015. 88MPH here I come!