"Tigermoth Tales" - the Steve Hackett Acoustic Trio in concert at Porto Recanati. Review and photographs by Sylvain Despretz. Additional photography by Daniele Ferreti.
Steve Hackett keeps checking the electronic tuner at his feet….
“Sorry about taking so long to tune the guitar. I can’t just tune to myself, you see. I have to be in tune with the guys; these nylon guitars are very unstable…Anyone here play nylon guitar…?”
About four people let out a small cheer. We are all too shy to claim any guitar skills in front of the maestro
Right about then, a moth flutters over his Yairi electro-acoustic guitar; the one tuned in standard “E” with which he will play for most of the show… Steve pauses to gaze at the moth and the audience lets out a laugh.
Steve runs a trio indeed. He is a stunning solo classical guitarist without a doubt, but make no mistake, Roger King, his keyboard player, arranger and musical director, along with Rob Townsend on wind instruments, weave a tapestry of carefully woven structures that allow Steve to soar, and occasionally, rest as well.
This stuff is monster-hard to play, and even harder to play without mistakes, as any nylon string guitar aficionado will tell you. Typically, Steve will pick up his acoustic guitar only for a couple of numbers during an electic concert, to play the familiar Horizons, Blood On The Rooftops or Black Light… or Kim back in the day…
A ninety minute classical guitar performance is another beast entirely. It is absolutely unforgiving. The slightest mistake, or stray note will be heard reverberating all around this ancient open air Spanish style fort on the eastern Italian seaboard. Solo guitar offers no cover whatsoever.
Hackett means what he says when he mentions “playing in tune with the others”. The members of this trio have played together for nearly fifteen years and one can hear a state of maturity and perfection in their alliance.
Personally, I watch a classical guitar performance on the edge of my seat, as if I am witnessing a high wire act, I experience a mixture of blissful awe and pure terror at the thought of the solitude a guitarist can feel in this predicament.
This tour isn’t burdened by a heavy crew. A keyboard music stand, a couple of monitors… the lighting crew seem to be local. Roger King plays the part of the roadie who leads Steve onto the dark stage towards his stool. He helps plug the lead in, and vanishes into the darkness, leaving Steve to fiddle with his microphone …”Good evening Porto Recanati!…”
Steve’s fingers move through he treacherously complex pieces that make up the opening medley of his new tour, titled Off The Beaten path… he has stepped out on the stage alone, as if to stand bare before his faithful audience, a man and his only voice. He seems to be getting the most difficult material out of the way, right out of the gate.
The medley is a mix of familiar riffs he has crafted over the years, mostly in the style of Bach, but it contains recognisable sections of favourites like Time-Lapse At Milton Keynes, Black Light and Blood On The Rooftops, all leading up to Horizons, which almost seems small, up against this wall of melodic dexterity.
Every time a Genesis riff is head, people cheer. I wonder if that’s a good or bad thing after all this time. The human mind is mysterious, the music is gorgeous regardless of its affiliation.
After this opening, Steve is joined by the talented Rob Townsend and the exquisite Roger King. It is hard to overstate the level of musicianship of these men. Roger King is a musical monster. As I write this, I realise it can be difficult for an audience to grasp the intensity of what is required in order to stand near a genius, night after night.
The trio perform a haunting, dreamy section of Willow Farm before launching into the repertoire that will include After The Ordeal, Jacuzzi, Ace Of Wands, Hairless Heart, Bacchus and a new piece for flute and guitar which Steve introduces as House Of The Faun, which he explains was inspired by a trip to Pompeii.
“It’s a simple piece” he adds, “quiet and delicate, but it is one of my favourites…”
I discovered Steve Hackett during his first US tour for Defector and what strikes me the most is how, in over three decades, the magical, ghostly aura of his performances has remained untouched by the passing of time. There is a profound sense of integrity that emerges when one sees a musician so consistent, so sure of his message. I feel great joy mixed with sadness. This music has a heavy price, too sacred to put into words.
The moth hovers, Steve lifts his guitar and softly blows on the moth which skids a few feet into the warm air and hesitates before leaving the spotlight.
The band continue with Jazz On A Summer’s Night which features a stunning Irish alto flute performance by Rob Townsend, to my ears, this incarnation of the jam is the strongest it has ever been, and the trio seems to have finally found the right density for the piece after all these years.
They continue with Imagining which Steve introduces as “a piece he co-wrote with Steve Howe.. Anyone here know Steve Howe…? “ he asks - strange silence from the audience, who appear to b high on the music and lost under the stars of the open sky.
Steve stretches his hands as Roger King beautifully executes the immensely complex intro to Firth of Fifth, the tri then play a few segments from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Puck, By Paved Fountain and the melancholy, All Is Mended.
Steve switches guitars and is now checking his “D” tuning to end with a keyboard and guitar duet, The Journey from his first acoustic album: Bay of Kings. For the encore, Steve steps out solo to play Bay of Kings and finishes with The Barren Land from the same album.
As the theatre empties out, Steve pokes his head out to greet the few fans who lingered. He is flanked by his wife, Jo. They playfully pose for pictures - heartfelt thanks to the faithful listeners who trekked out here to this remote paradise. When I tell Steve that we came from Paris to see this show, he seems surprised. “Isn’t it a long way to travel for this?” he asks. “No, it’s not” I reply. I wish I could tell him how deeply his acoustic music touches my soul. How many times it has saved me. How rare it is to hear it performed. How precious these moments are in a life.
Who wouldn’t travel this far? Even he has!
Indeed, Sylvain shows such as these are a rare and precious thing and our thanks to you for sharing your memories of what was obviously a very special evening.