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Steve Hackett

Wednesday 22nd September 2021

The London Palladium

Chatting with AJ during the interval tonight, I disclosed that my favourite five live albums are probably (in no particular order)

If You Want Blood (AC/DC)
Quo Live (Status Quo)
Exit Stage Left (Rush)
Strangers in the Night (UFO)
Seconds Out (Genesis)

Yeah I know; beyond eclectic with nothing to link them. Other than the fact that when I first heard them in the late 70s/early 80s, and the stage of my expanding musical fandom they hit me at, they all resonated with me to such an extent that I still frequently listen to all of them, depending on mood, of course ☺ And if I had to pick just one in a gun-to-the-head scenario, even as an avowed Rush nut it would be ‘Seconds Out’ (truth be told, with the exception of ‘Xanadu’, I prefer the studio versions of most of the ESL tracks).

So, after snaffling tickets courtesy of the additional night (I didn’t think I was late to the party but the first two nights seemed to all but sell out very quickly), a year-long postponement for some random reason or another only heightened the anticipation at seeing this iconic setlist replayed by this fabulous band. Add to that the fact that 18 or so months have elapsed since last being subjected to live auditory glory (Dream Theater at Hammersmith, documented elsewhere on these pages being the last), to say I was looking forward to this evening would be somewhat of an understatement.

I must confess to having popped into London a couple of times for a meal out over the past few months, but always at the weekend when the footfall proved tolerable. It was a bit of a shock pulling into a …well, not packed, perhaps, but a pretty damned busy Charing Cross, with the walk up Charing Cross Road also being a bit (bio) hazardous. It seems odd to think it was only a relatively short while ago this was utterly normal and not even slightly… disturbing.

So after some special nerve-calming refreshment provided by the fine facilities on offer at the Palladium, seats were taken.

We all knew (more or less) what was coming in the second half of the show, but the first half was dedicated to solo Hackett material, which is no less of a treat. After the last tour’s revisiting of ‘Spectral Mornings’, I thought that the ‘Steve’ half of the show was going to focus on (the subsequent, 4th album) ‘Defector’, but it’s not impossible I imagined this.

The imposed touring hiatus gave Steve the opportunity to release not one but two new studio albums… the acoustic ‘Under a Mediterranean Sky’ and the (by all accounts) rockier ‘Surrender of Silence’, a couple of tracks from which are included tonight.

An unchanged band from the last tour - Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (saxes, percussion, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Craig Blundell (drums) and Amanda Lehman (guitar) and the man himself take the stage and launch into the haunting opening bars of ‘Clocks’ (from ‘Spectral Mornings’), with Amanda harmonising with Steve nicely in the main refrain. Nice to see Jonas wielding a Rickenbacker… there’s been too many of these hung up for good over the past few years.

Next up was ‘Held in the Shadows’, a track from new album ‘Surrender of Silence’. Vocalist Nad Sylvan joins the gang at this point to add even more depth to a vocal already shared by Steve, Rob, Amanda, and Jonas. I’m a little embarrassed to say I’d not had the chance to listen to ‘SoS’ before the show so this was my first listen of it, but this was a pretty good advert for an immediate listen. Sorry Steve; I of course mean ‘purchase’. Of particular note was Steve & Rob enjoying exchanging guitar/sax lines.

I was delighted and surprised in equal measure to then get ‘Everyday’ (from ‘Spectral Mornings’)… surprised as it’s been in the setlist a couple of times in the past two or three tours, but delighted as…well, it’s one of my favourites, not least because of the wonderful vocal harmonies and the longest whammy fade known to man. I’m sure we’ve all had the conversation about who Steve is and what he is about with the more unenlightened of our friends/colleagues/families… this is the track I usually direct people to to put them right. I’m not sure how much commission Steve owes me by way of streams/sales/tickets off the back of my plugging…

Another new track from ‘SoS’, ‘The Devil’s Cathedral’, which again was a good advert for the new album. A church organ-y type opening from Roger with Nad delivering the lead vocal. Closing with (according to my notes from the night), ‘some bonkers sax’ from Rob.

Keyboard warriors being what they are, without looking too hard you can probably find comments that Nad sounds too much like PG. Or not enough. Or doesn’t possess his own fox’s head. Or isn’t called ‘Peter’. I’ve seen one or two negatives about Amanda, but for my money I like what she brings to Steve’s table (well, stage). Amongst other things, this was perfectly demonstrated with (another) wonderfully flawless vocal on the magnificent ‘Shadow of the Hierophant’ (from ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’), which also had another welcome run-out. My abiding (visual) memory of seeing this track live to date has been Nick Beggs sitting on the stage pounding the bass pedals with his fists in the closing section, but I think this has just been superseded by the sight of Jonas stomping the pedals more conventionally whilst also hammering away at the top end of the Ricky…

I can’t think of a better way to end the first half of a show.

As mentioned, we knew pretty much what we were getting in the second set, which proceeded and progressed as per expectation – ‘Squonk’, ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ (with Steve sitting… I hadn’t hitherto realised quite how intricate the guitar was on this despite countless listens), ‘Robbery, Assault and Battery’, ‘Afterglow’ (choked me up as always), ‘Firth of Fifth’, ‘I Know What I Like’ (no brave takers for a tambourine solo but a pretty cool sax solo from Rob), ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’, closing section of the ‘Musical Box’. So far, so bloody brilliant.

Yeah; you know what came next. That track from Side 3. Was it earth-shatteringly brilliant? Of course it was… emotional… delicate… powerful… complex… unparalleled. Perfectly presented by the band, and wonderfully sung by Nad… not even a smidge of compromise on what we know and love.

And even after we’d been taken to The New Jerusalem, we still had some treats left in the (musical) box. ‘The Cinema Show’ with its delicate intro/verses and fantastic closing section never fails to deliver, and didn’t tonight. Slight deviation from the ‘Seconds Out’ presentation with the hard ending being replaced by the fading ‘Selling England by the Pound’ outro. Setlists say this led into ‘Aisle of Plenty’ (as per Selling England) at this point, but I have to confess to missing this… I may have temporarily left my seat at the start of the outtro (‘Aisle of Plenty Closeness to the Facilities’ is sadly a booking requirement these days).

The band took their applause and left the stage, returning after a few minutes to deliver an encore of ‘Slogans’ (so, a bit of ‘Defector’ after all) and ‘Los Endos’. Would it be churlish to say I quite wanted to see ‘Dance on a Volcano’ and ‘Los Endos’ in full? Yes, I think it would. Forget I mentioned it.

And so after another stunning evening of exemplary music from this wonderful band, it was back to Charing Cross, where the train home was every bit the pisstank express it always used to be… lateral flow tests all round tomorrow then folks.

But was it worth it? God, yes. Yet again. What’s on the menu for next year, Steve?

2022 sees the 50th anniversary of ‘Foxtrot’… just saying.

Oh, and as Cured quietly stuck its head under a pillow and missed it’s 40th last year, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to hear ‘The Air Conditioned Nightmare’ sometime soon.

Same time, same place next year, hopefully.

Held in the Shadows
The Devil’s Cathedral
Shadow of the Hierophant

The Carpet Crawlers
Robbery, Assault and Battery
Firth of Fifth
I Know What I Like
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
The Musical Box (Closing Section)
Suppers Ready
The Cinema Show

Slogans / Los Endos

Mark C.

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