"The View From The Skeleton Gallery" - A Steve Hackett concert review & personal reflection by Holly Quibell.
“Today’s the day to celebrate!” The lyric rang loud and clear in my head as I made my way down to the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts on March 2nd, 2017. This was the only Canadian date on Steve's latest tour, and I wasn't about to let a bit of a drive deter me. I found myself in excellent company. I don’t typically go to concerts by myself, but I was able to make a good friend in the process and share the experience nonetheless. The concert hall was very open with no balcony, and had a very steep decline towards the stage, similar to a movie theatre. I found the acoustics for this venue were much better than last year's concert at the Théâtre Maisonneuve in Montreal, Quebec.
|The show opened with the classic “Everyday” and was followed by “El Niño”, a new instrumental track from Steve’s The Night Siren album. Before the song even began, you could tell it was going to be a song from the new album. All of the lights changed to reflect the northern lights colours that are on the album cover. They danced across the ceiling like northern lights for the entire duration of the song. It was a lovely effect, providing a perfect atmosphere for the unveiling of the piece. A brief reminder of Wolflight followed with “Out of the Body”. Using a soprano sax solo from Rob Townsend, it morphed into “The Steppes”. It was a real treat to hear this piece, as it wasn’t included in last year’s set. For me, there’s something very transcendent about that piece, particularly live. The feeling was reminiscent of “Spectral Mornings” from last year’s tour. The thundering pulsations of the drums kept everything together as the guitar once again swirled around the auditorium. Like the smoke at the end of a lit cigarette, the guitar danced around the room, twisting and twirling about, gradually filling more of the room with its intoxicating overtones. Nick Beggs’ bass supplied an excellent foundation with his bass and bass pedals, and Rob Townsend used a flute to compliment the guitar melody.|
At this point Steve took a moment to say hello to the audience. He wasn’t nearly as vocal as he was in Montreal, but I think a part of that was being able practice his French and have fun with the audience. He commented on the love people had for his “Classic Hackett” repertoire (The Steppes), and that we would have to bear with him for two more new songs before returning to more familiar territory. I thought it was interesting that Hackett felt the need to justify playing new material to the audience instead of just regurgitating the past.
“In the Skeleton Gallery” followed, with the lights once again representing the northern lights. Since this piece had already been released as a single, I was able to appreciate it more live. “Behind the Smoke” followed “In the Skeleton Gallery”, and was also an interesting piece. The solo portion of the show ended with the second half of “Shadow of the Hierophant”. Much to my surprise, this performance was far superior to the version I saw in Montreal. The sound absolutely blew me away. The bass pedals seem to have been cranked to 11. You could feel them rattle your entire ribcage and send your heart into a rabid frenzy! With every penetrating note my entire body tingled from the very tips of my fingers, down my spine, and into my toes. All of this was heightened further with Nick Beggs’ performance. He sat cross-legged in front of the pedals and would mash them with his fists. His playing became a visual performance full of gesture and emphasis. His entire body echoed the power behind the pedals. He would raise his fist slowly into the air and hold it there before letting it plummet to the very depths of the pedal range. Beggs would grit his teeth while his body would continuously contort under the metaphorical heaviness of the bass he was producing. There was an increased awareness of the tensions and releases throughout the piece that I had never experienced before thanks to Beggs’ visuals. I knew the piece continuously grew in tension until the very end, but this version was something else… I certainly didn’t have the same experience with this song last year. The only thing that wasn’t as good as last year’s version was Gary O’Tool’s drumming. Don’t get me wrong, he still did an excellent job behind the kit. The thing I missed was the various time signatures and improvisations he threw into the mix during the ending section. He still improvised, but it didn’t seem as tight nor varied as before. “Shadow of the Hierophant” was definitely the highlight to the solo section.
Instead of having an intermission, the band leapt right into “Eleventh Earl of Mar”. I was a little apprehensive of Nad Sylvan’s singing this year, as some of the concert footage that has been floating around has been deemed rather questionable. However, Nad’s performance here was quite effective! “One for the Vine” was cut from this set, and instead, “Blood on the Rooftops” followed. It was rather a magical moment seeing this song performed live. Hackett’s acoustic playing at the beginning was incredible to watch, as it included a section played with just one hand. Gary O’Toole did an absolutely FANTASTIC job on the vocals. He really made the song his own, giving Phil Collins (in my humble opinion) a run for his money.
There was a moment after “Blood on the Rooftops” that was really touching. Steve took a moment to honour the recent loss of bassist John Wetton from King Crimson and Asia. Steve mentioned playing with him, and dedicated the next two pieces “…In That Quiet Earth” and “Afterglow” in his honour, as Wetton would often sing “Afterglow” with Steve. It really made for a heartwarming rendition, and even received a few sniffles from the surrounding audience.
To lighten the mood, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” followed, with exceptional musicianship from everyone involved. There were however, a couple of instances where chords seemed a little off, once in the keyboards and another in the bass, but other than that it was still a thrill to experience, as it wasn’t included in last year’s tour.
“Firth of Fifth” was an example of a song that was played impeccably well, yet didn’t muster the same feelings in me as Montreal’s gig. Perhaps it came down to the old notion of you never forget your first time… Another consideration could be my recent fascination with the Selling England by the Pound outtakes with the stimulating usage of an F natural instead of an F# in the last E minor arpeggiation… Regardless, it was my own personal issues that affected my enjoyment of the piece.
At this point, Steve informed the audience that they only had time for one more song. Several people around me chuckled and suggested “Supper’s Ready” as a joke. The moment Nad sang those two magical words “Walking across…” the crowd went absolutely ballistic, including myself. I had been monitoring Steve’s previous setlists like a hawk and found that they had only played “Supper’s Ready” a few times. This truly was an extremely lucky opportunity, and hands down the highlight of the evening. People were screaming “HEY BABE!” at the top of their lungs, just like the “Touch Me!” section in Montreal during “The Musical Box”. The atmosphere was extremely electric with Nad often being drowned out by the audience giving it their all. I hung on to every note, every pause, every word. I was acutely aware of everything: the lighting changes, the smell of beverages, the harmonies, the people around me. My senses were in complete overdrive trying to soak up this extremely precious moment. The soundscape of the piece was bigger than I had ever experienced, filling the auditorium even in its quietest moments. By the time we got to the last section (VII: “As Sure as Eggs is Eggs”) my voice was completely shot. I gave my absolute everything on the last line, and tried to make the word “Jerusalem” last as long as possible. The absolute highlight of the song was an extended 3 minute guitar solo from Steve at the very end. There was so much passion packed into those three minutes. Steve’s entire body glowed while his face displayed several unique guitar faces. The band had to keep repeating the end section as Steve showed no signs of stopping. Several glances between Beggs and Roger King, the keyboardist, confirmed that Steve was indeed, on a roll. Even the lights began to fade and Steve was STILL going! It was the perfect end to the set. As the band left the stage there was an overwhelming feeling of content. The buzz of the crowd was as sweet as honey as people cried tears of joy and stood contemplating life after “Supper’s Ready”.
|As the band reappeared on stage for the encore, several people yelled, “Play what you want!”. Nothing screams a happy crowd more than a totally complacent one. I couldn’t believe it! Not one person yelled out a song suggestion. The night closed with one of my personal favourites, “The Musical Box”. It started with the tinkling of a musical box, but for a brief moment there was a lawn mower sound as well, making me think at first they were going to do “I Know What I Like”. Right after the sound the familiar jangle at the beginning of “The Musical Box” rang loud and clear, and we were well on our way to an amazing musical ride. It was my gateway song into the wonderful world of Genesis. It was a real treat to hear it last year in Montreal, but I found the soundscape was rather sparse and the music felt overexposed. This time around was completely different. The entire amphitheatre was filled with the swirling of rich colours, textures, and sound. I think Beggs’ bass pedals had a lot to do with the vastness of sound in this version. Another excellent addition was Townsend’s flute playing. I remember there being a lot of soprano sax in the Montreal gig, which I wasn’t too fond of. I found Nad’s vocals weren’t as powerful this time around, and they seemed slightly rushed. The “NOW”’s weren’t as emphasized near the end, and it seemed like Nad was just going through the motions with not as much weight given to the gestures. Regardless, every little nook of the song was explored in fine detail, making it a real pleasure aurally.|
Something that really stood out at this concert was the lack of distraction by Nad. In Montreal, he wore a white blouse, and was constantly going on and off stage against the dark curtain backdrop. Aside from a section in “Supper’s Ready” where he donned a red cape, he was dressed completely in black, so his constant movement on and off stage wasn’t as distracting. There was also no puzzling hat attire, which was nice.
|Overall this was another excellent concert experience. I would have liked to hear more solo material from Hackett, but at the same time, the concert was already two hours long, and substituting songs for “Supper’s Ready” is always worth it. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to meet Steve Hackett before the show and have him sign my Gibson Les Paul. I was able to have him write "From Hackett to Holly", followed by the "Slogans" lyric, "Beware the mighty Magnatron" on it. It turns out that that was the first time he's ever had to spell Magnatron! I couldn’t believe I was the first person to come up to him with that lyric in all of its 37 years of existence. I felt extremely proud.|
Hackett’s new solo album The Night Siren comes out March 24th, and I can hardly wait to give it a spin. Until then, I shall be reminiscing about the time I got to spend with the man himself, Steve Hackett. It may have been only two minutes, but two minutes in heaven is better than one, especially when it involves a Gibson and the spelling debut of Magnatron…
Out of the Body
In the Skeleton Gallery
Behind the Smoke
Shadow of the Hierophant (closing portion)
Eleventh Earl of Mar
Blood on the Rooftops
...In That Quiet Earth
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
Firth of Fifth
The Musical Box