Steve Hackett -
Off the beaten track - Italian tour 2016,
Forte dei Marmi 16/7 by Vincenzo Ricca. Photos by Daniele Ferreti and Vincenzo Ricca.
I met Steve at the hotel. Jo welcomes me by leading me into the space in front of the pool where they just had lunch. A pleasant meeting of, nearly, 45 minutes reveals me Steve, friendly and available as ever, but unusually tense. It 's obvious that this is due to the natural concern for these four acoustic concerts .... The first after a few years. At 5.30 p.m. we are at Villa Bertelli. A nice poster tells us that the concert will be right here. The villa and its outer space are pretty inviting. Under a scorching afternoon sun, the soundcheck wll lasts almost two hours mostly spent correcting here and there, to find the right chemistry with Roger King and Rob Townsend. Ben Fenner has his work cut out, but it soon becomes clear that it will be a special night. A huge stage and a substantial lighting system - considering we are here for an acoustic concert – go along with an excellent p.a. system. As the rehearsal ends there is time time to change dresses and for a quick meal before the concert.
The moon is full over Forte dei Marmi. At 9.35 p.m. the lights go out. Steve makes his entrance on stage. He is alone. Greets the audience and struggling with the guitar tuning, briefly explains that an acoustic concert is very different from a rock concert ... "it's not rock 'roll but I still like it". A greeting in Italian, and the “dance begins” with “Bay of Kings”. A perfect intro, a magical sound. After a good minute dedicated to tuning and talcum powder, Steve thanks the audience and explained in Italian that the temperature is such that the strings sensitivity suffers. From "A mid summer's night dream" Steve proposes “By a paved fountain”. A delicate and difficult arpeggiato piece brought brilliantly to port despite some uncertainty. The transition to "Blood on the rooftops" intro is greeted by the audience with a warm applause. And so it is with the mention of "Cuckoo Cocoon". Some notes digressions and here it is "Horizons". Bright as ever. Hey Steve, how many times you played that tune? Even Steve doesn't know that! The audience holds its breath. Then explodes in a liberating applause. It's time for Roger and Rob's entry on stage. Steve thanks and presents his "grandi amici" (great friends) Roger King and Professor Rob Townsend ... A small band that, he ensures, makes a lot of noise. “Jacuzzi” is the right start for the trio. Three minutes of joy and perfection. And here we go with another set dedicated to the work done in Genesis: "Supper's Ready" (excerpt) after 1 minute and 40 seconds gives way to a precise version of "After The Ordeal". Great reception for the next track, "Hairless Heart". The novelty are the nearly two-minute variations on the theme appended to the tail of an integral performance of the piece. It 'time to "Jazz on a summer's night", the playful song is introduced by nearly a minute of Rob's digressions. At the end of the song Steve thanks Rob Townsend.
Another long pause to tune the guitar with other related apologising from Steve who presents a new piece inspired by a visit to Pompeii: "The House of the Faun" is a song with a simple melody introduced by variations for synthetic strings by Roger King, introduced by Steve's guitar and then further identified by the flute Rob Townsend. Some uncertainty between Steve and Roger. Ultimately, a beautiful song that is repeated on itself for three times. Steve presents now "Imagining / Second Chance" by saying the first one is a song written for the GTR project with Steve Howe that dates back to thirty years ago. An uncertain ending on the harmonics gives way to “Second Chance” led by Rob Townsend's soprano sax upon Steve's arpeggio and Roger King's pizzicato strings. "Walking away from Raibows" is masterfully performed. So much beauty in a song where characteristic strings seem less present than necessary as Rob Townsend varies on the theme and his sax seems too much in evidence than the other two instruments. The audience is now acclaiming convinced. "Whole Tone Improvisation" is an atonal song in which organ, saxophone and guitar recreate a gloomy athmosphere. During the rehearsal it seemed to recognize "Smoke on the water" melted in this track but that section has not inserted during the concert. Very well accurate the following version of "The Red Flower Blooms Tachai Everywhere", actually introduced by gongs, with soundcarpets and solo parts by very effective keyboards supporting the flute melody. Steve ends with a never heard before finale. The subsequent "Hands of the Priestess" seems very faithful to the original studio version. Enriched with many effects, researching and recreating that original environment. Five dreamy minutes and a great applause. Steve's solo work celebration culminates with "Ace of Wands". He then moves on to tribute Master Bach with Bacchus with the skilful harmonics and chords that characterize this track. Some more room to Rob Townsend' sax now supported by both piano and guitar. One more applause before Firth of Fifth piano intro silences all. After a quick change the trio switch to the legendary solo part that is now introduced by Rob's sax. Unexpected for an unacustomed audience is the return to the theme of Bacchus, which concludes the concert. The audience wants for more and calls out Steve.
And Steve comes back on stage by thanking in Italian and explaining, in English, which is usual in acoustic sets not to schedule an encore because people usually go to sleep. "The fact that you're remained is a great success!" he said ironically. Then he introduces a track, which he had initially rejected, a "study" marked by the "tremolando” (flickering) technique, which he has never performed live, dedicated to a lady recently passed in spirit. A bloody difficult track so that he calls for that spirit to help him. A piece dedicated to a lady called Swan which is titled "Swan fountain". (Swan was Jo Hackett's mother nickname). A challenging, long and beautiful track. Another encore embellishes the evening. It's up to "The Journey". One of Steve's most beautiful acoustic piece. Incredible playing by Roger King who skilfully plays the strings at his best. The audience keeps on cheering but this time is the real end. One hour and a half of music. Great music. I hope a cd to be released. Questioned on the point, Ben Fenner literally told me “I did not record anything”!. Jo, however, told me that they would record a couple of gigs. Where will stand the truth? Posterity will judge!