"The Best of Both Worlds" - Steve Hackett: The Total Experience Live in Liverpool CD/DVD reviewed by Alan Hewitt. Photos by Lee Millward and Alan Hewitt.
I think without a shadow of a doubt that this title sums up Steve’s most recent shows during his Acolyte To Wolflight tour best. After all, with a show that runs for damn near three hours and which spans 45 years’ worth of music I can’t think of a better one, can you?
I will put my hands up and own up straight away to a large degree of bias where this release is concerned. Being a show that took place in my own fair city, I am thrilled that Steve has opted to record the evening for posterity and even more delighted that I had a front row seat for it so any of you of a nervous disposition, you have been warned!
Steve has been spoiling us of late. This release makes it the third live album/DVD in three years following hard on the heels of the Hammersmith and Royal Albert Hall shows. So, what does this one offer that its predecessors don’t?
Well, quite a lot as it happens. For a start, we have the first half of the show being populated by some of Steve’s finest solo compositions and indeed, when you open the show with what is probably your best known and loved solo composition - Spectral Mornings, then you may be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the evening will be an anti climax. Oh no, dear reader, anything but! Spectral, which roars out of the traps in glorious surround sound is merely a statement of intent: Steve and his marvellous band mean serious business tonight!
The new album, Wolflight is well represented in the set by a suite of pieces from it comprising Out Of The Body, Wolflight, Love Song To A Vampire , The Wheel’s Turning and Loving Sea, interrupted briefly by another vintage classic; Every Day. Remarkably enough, the new material sits entirely comfortably alongside the stuff of an older vintage with the stand out track for me being Love Song To A Vampire where Steve is accompanied by his sister in law, Amanda Lehmann, in a truly wonderful, spirited performance.
With its fortieth anniversary hoving into view, it was only right and proper that Steve’s debut solo outing, 1975’s Voyage Of The Acolyte was given an outing and what a joy it is to hear the likes of Ace Of Wands and the truly awesome Shadow Of The Hierophant in their full glory for the first time since the late 1970’s . Indeed, it is during these classics that Steve’s band really shine with some superb musical performances all round although for me, the highlight of the first half was the magnificent performance of Icarus Ascending on which vocalist Nad Sylvan must have been possessed of the spirit of the late Richie Havens as he put in a truly stellar performance on this.
Interval over, the band return to the stage for the stuff from that well known Beat Combo Steve used to be a member of… Yes, it is another hearty helping of Genesis material but once again, Steve has managed to pull a few surprises out of the hat. Opening this half of the show with two lesser known tracks from 1972’s Foxtrot album took many (me included) by surprise but Get ‘Em Out by Friday and Can-Utility & The Coastliners are worth the price of the set alone. The former in particular sees some delightful interplay between Nad Sylvan and Gary O’Toole who are evidently having a blast taking on the characters of the song. Hearing these songs now, I do wonder why they were not performed more often in the past but they are very welcome now I can tell you!
Without doubt for me though, the highlight of the entire evening comes next as Steve performs that “contentious little number” After The Ordeal in which he and keyboard player Roger King execute a delightful musical ballet which is a feast for the ears. I really can’t understand Tony Banks’ professed dislike for this one - it is superb!
One glaring omission from the set over the last couple of years is finally put right tonight as the band launch into a majestic Cinema Show. Cue Scouse audience going nuts here as this one is greeted with exhilaration and deservedly so, as Steve and Roger share the honours on it. Segueing into Aisle Of Plenty was a nice touch and once again, Nad does a great job of emulating Mr Gabriel’s golden tonsils.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway was another missing pieces greeted like an old friend tonight. The album had been represented previously by several other tracks bit tonight we had the pleasure of greeting the song as only a Liverpool audience can.
The Musical Box is tonight’s sole representative from 1971’s Nursery Cryme album but no matter, this one is the beating heart of tonight’s performance and one which the entire band perform flawlessly to bring the show to a suitably emphatic end.
Of course, we know there are going to be encores, and they are not long in coming as Gary O’Toole’s metronomic drum beat heralds the welcome return of another old friend to the fold. Yes, of course, it is the evergreen Clocks, still as dementedly paranoid as ever as Steve and the band rampage through it with evident collective glee and here the rhythm section of Gary and Roine Stolt really go to town with marvellous results before the show finishes with what is without doubt, Steve‘s finest moment from his time in Genesis - Firth Of Fifth, in which once again he and Roger perform to perfection while the addition of Rob Townsend‘s sax gives the performance an unexpected edginess bringing the evening to a highly satisfying close.
And there you have it. Three hours gone in the blink of an eye but this is what happens when you are having so much fun both on stage and off it! This release benefits from noticeably better sound than its predecessor, although in fairness, the Royal Albert Hall is not the best sounding venue, and with no visual element tonight apart from a very tasteful spread of lighting effects operated by Tigger Matthews, the emphasis really is on the music and it delivers in spades!.
That is not the end of the story with this release though, oh no. Whereas on the previous two live releases, the “extras” had been a little thin on the ground, here we are really spoiled for choice. First of all we have two behind the scenes documentaries: Live In Liverpool which gives us the lowdown on the preparations for the gig itself, and Somewhere South Of The River another fascinating look at the preparations for the 2015/16 tour. It is great at last for the backroom boys such as Ben Fenner (sound), Ruseel “Tigger “ Matthews (lighting) and Richard Buckland (Steve’s guitar technician) to get the credit they so richly deserve among some other equally amusing insights from the band members themselves. What comes across in both of these is the sheer amount of dedication and hard work that each and every one of the people associated with these shows has expended on making them as good as possible. That and the obvious fun and enjoyment and camaraderie that they have as well which always translates into performances which are just that little bit special.
The icing on the cake for me though was the inclusion of the final bonus, the promotional videos made for Wolflight, Love Song To A Vampire and Corycian Fire, all of which deserve to have won awards. The former in particular is probably the best constructed promotional video I have ever seen, and I have seen a fair few in my time I can tell you!
The end result is probably the best live document of a Steve Hackett show thus far and for it to have taken place in my home town is something I shall always treasure.
Steve Hackett - The Total Experience Live in Liverpool. Inside Out 88985326322. 2 CD and 2 DVD digital edition.