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Steve Hackett

Friday 29th November 2019

Eventim Apollo, London

There’s an advert on/for Planet Rock where the deep rumble of ubiquitous voice-over man intones, “first there was Rock... then there was mortgage …then kids… now… there is Rock again.” Pretty bang on for a chunky slice of their listenership I’d say, and certainly applies to me.

And so I find myself, after an embarrassingly fallow gig attendance for the past couple of decades, joining the pilgrimage to the Hammersmith Apollo to see Steve Hackett for the third time in two and a bit years following the ‘Wind & Wuthering’ celebration at The London Palladium and the Hackett/Genesis extravaganza with the 41-piece Heart of England Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall.

Subsequent to the release of the original ‘Genesis Revisited’ album in 1996, Hackett has honed a wonderfully winning formula of mixing the adored Genesis tracks from the era of which he was such an integral part with his solo catalogue, which in itself contains an embarrassment of riches for any one person. He’s still producing great new material too (see 2019’s ‘At the Edge of Light’ and 2017’s ‘The Night Siren’ to name but two), and the quantity of familiar older material he treats us to in his two hour shows generally enables some new material to be filtered in slowly. A perfect mix, to my mind.

We’re treated to another such exemplary two-parter this evening. Tonight, the ‘Hackett’ half of the show heavily features ‘Spectral Mornings’, Steve’s third solo album, currently celebrating its 40th anniversary. The second half of the show gives us a ‘full album’ celebration which has (gloriously) become a ‘thing’ in recent years. Already childishly excited by the fact that ‘Scenes from a Memory’ and ‘Relayer’ are scheduled to receive similar treatment in early 2020, tonight we are to be spoilt with ‘Selling England By The Pound’ in its wholesome entirety.

Sadly, no Gary O’Toole behind the kit tonight, after announcing in October 2018 he was departing the band after a “horrid year” for him personally, breaking a 20 year association, starting with 2003’s ‘To Watch the Storms’ album. Your performances will be missed Gary, and you had all but made ‘Blood on the Rooftops’ your own. We wish you well, sir.

His replacement is Craig Blundell, who many will know from Frost and Steven Wilson, amongst a host of other associations. He is joined by band stalwarts Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (blowy things, tappy things, vocals, and keyboards when Roger has run out of hands) and still on sojourn from The Flower Kings, Jonas Reingold on bass, 12 string, and vocal. Nad Sylvan provides lead vocal for the Genesis tracks, and they are also periodically augmented by Steve’s brother John Hackett (flute) and sister-in-law Amanda Lehman (guitar/vocals).

The band enter and I am surprised to see Nad’s familiar silhouette (we don’t normally see Nad until the Genesis half of the show), and even more surprised when the heavy keyboard intro of ‘Watcher of the Skies’ starts up. This is a turn up… it’s generally the ‘Hackett’ set first… but after this brief intro, the band launch into ‘Spectral Mornings’ opener, ‘Every Day’. The four-voice verses (Steve/Rob /Amanda) are completed by Nad, who fills the vocal gap on the performance left by the departure of Gary O’Toole. The group vocal is perfect, and Amanda also doubles and/or harmonises on some of Steve’s lead very nicely.

‘Spectral Mornings’ is only just underway, but there is immediately a small “new material diversion” with three tracks from 2019s ‘At the Edge of Light’. Amanda and Nad stay on stage to contribute to another 4-voice vocal on ‘Under the Eye of the Sun’, a mostly pacey track, which also sees Rob percussing the hell out of something and Jonas playing at least twice as many notes than must be strictly necessary. This is followed by the heavy, ponderous ‘Fallen Walls and Pedestals’ with some soloing from Steve, and ‘Beasts In Our Time’, which hides a heavy and riffy closing section behind it’s swirling verses.

None of these tracks are out of place or outclassed in the august company in which they find themselves in tonight’s setlist …enough, surely, to convince any punters who came to this show out of curiosity or for old times sake that Steve is still producing great material worthy of a new purchase.

With the exception of (the slightly odd) ‘The Ballad of the Decomposing Man’ and ‘Lost Time in Cordoba’ that are not played this evening, we then get the remainder of the first album being celebrated tonight, albeit in an order that was presumably derived for the flow of the show rather than that of the album.

The evocative ‘The Virgin and the Gypsy’ sees the entry of John Hackett, and more totally enthralling vocals with Rob, Amanda and Jonas providing the counterpoint for Steve’s lead vocal. Five tracks in and I’m already running out of superlatives. This was also a first for me in that Rob and John combined to a dual flute solo …that’s something you don’t say every day.

With its haunting opening bars, weird didgeridoo-type bit in the middle and oddly jaunty tale of a pilot’s death, I’ve always thought ‘Tigermoth’ a bit of a strange one …but tonight we only get the instrumental section at the beginning, with the tale of the pilot going to join the Decomposing Man. Possibly in Cordoba.

I don’t have the musical knowledge to be able to describe it or substantiate it but I know what I like, and to my ears some guitarists seem capable of wringing more emotion and feeling from a single note or simple phrase than others …Lifeson can do it, so can Gilmour …but even in this company, for me, Hackett is a master …the very wonderful ‘Spectral Mornings’ itself ...a relatively simple refrain, largely repeated, but so intensely loaded.

The pace was then deliberately slowed with the oriental- flavoured ‘The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere’, the comparative calm of which was then blown away by probably the heaviest composition on the album ‘Clocks’ (including an opportunity for Craig Blundell to officially introduce himself with a brief solo) which then took its place as the first half set-closer.

After a brief break, the band return to continue with the second half of the show - to perform in full the album voted as the 3rd best of all time by readers of Prog magazine …one of three Genesis albums in the top 10 (‘Foxtrot’ and ‘Lamb’ being the others), and clearly the favourite Genesis album of many - myself included).

The last time I heard ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’ it was being given some seriously welly by a 48 piece band …admittedly, one of them was only waving a stick about (just joking, Mr Thachuk), but even so I was desperately hoping that it wouldn’t sound just a little …flat by comparison. Not a bit of it …after the pastoral opening, the overall “fullness” of the sound is just astounding.

‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ provided its normal audience participation fun, but also went a bit off-piste in the middle with a bit of a Bluesy riff from Reingold & Blundell that allowed Steve to sit down for a breather for a moment or two whilst Rob stepped forward front and centre to deliver a stonking sax solo.

The magnificent ‘Firth of Fifth’ was followed by arguably one of the lesser heard pieces from the album, the romantic ballad ‘More Fool Me’ which provided a welcome breather between two giant tracks - the next being side two opener (if you’re old enough for that sort of thing) ‘The Battle of Epping Forest’.

The Hackett instrumental ‘After the Ordeal’, relatively “stripped down” compared to a lot of the epic tracks we hear tonight, provides us an opportunity to hear what the great man does best with delicate, intricate guitar work.

‘The Cinema Show’ has always been a personal favourite, and tonight’s performance only enhances this …such a fantastic rendition of a complex piece with so much going on ...the sheer depth of sound, augmented by additional bass pedals and chorus sounds, is just …sublime.

‘The Cinema Show’s closing notes gently morph into ‘The Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’ reprise that is ‘Aisle of Plenty’, which completed the rendition of the album itself to rightful acclaim.

As well as what actually made the cut on the album, once the applause subsides we were treated to the rarely heard ‘Déjà Vu’. This was a track started by Peter Gabriel during the Selling England sessions, but never saw the light of day (or the dark of vinyl) until Hackett completed it and debuted it on his first Genesis Revisited album in 1996 with Paul Carrack providing the recorded vocal (whilst not on Mechanic duty for Mike).

Nudging the intensity back upwards a little to close the set was ‘A Trick of the Tail’s ‘Dance On A Volcano’, surely the post-Gabriel favourite of many …it certainly seemed so from tonight’s crowd reaction.

After the obligatory couple of minutes of clapping and shouting, the band returned with enough energy to belt out the now familiar closing medley (no “mash-ups” here) of two of Steve’s heavier offerings – ‘Myopia’ (from 1984’s ‘Till We Have Faces’) and ‘Slogans’ (from 1980’s ‘Defector’) morphing into the majestic fare of ‘Los Endos’. A perfect blend of Hackett and Genesis encapsulated in eight magnificent minutes.

And that, ladies & gents, is how to close a show. And how to compose and play one from beginning to end, for that matter. Pretty difficult to pinpoint any highlights - everything and everyone was simply superb.

As mentioned, we have more full renditions of classic albums to look forward to early in the New Year, but Dream Theater and Yes are going to need to be on absolute top form to even approach (let alone meet or exceed) expectations after this show.

Oh, and earlier this week, it was announced that November 2020 sees the Hackett band trek out again …this time for ‘Seconds Out’ in its entirety and selected chunks of ‘Defector’ which, amazingly, hits its 40th anniversary.

Steve …stop it …enough, already ….I can’t cope.

Just kidding. See you next November.

Mark C.

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