Reviewer: CL Delft
One of rock’s most enduring critical cliches holds that when Steve Hackett departed Genesis in 1977 he took the band’s progressive tendencies with him, leaving it free to become the soulless commercial juggernaut (or great pop group, depending on your point of view) whose sound defined the mid-eighties. Whether you hold with that view or not, there’s no denying that the veteran guitarist has pursued what stimulates his creativity rather than his bank balance and, after a lengthy low key period during the 90s and early 00s he is now back, filling larger concert halls and theatres with a setlist that pays homage to his past while providing a platform for his current activities.
Hackett understands what his audience – most of it, anyway – has come to hear and after his traditional opener, the anti-drug song Every Day from 1979’s Spectral Mornings, tracks from the current album At The Edge Of Light are dispensed with rather in the manner of a kale hors d’oeuvre prior to the sumptuous gourmandising feast to follow. Not that there is anything sub-par about the triptych of Under The Eye Of The Sun, Fallen Walls & Pedestals and Beasts In Our Time, all of which evince the familiar Hackett trademarks of melodic shifts, thoughtful lyrics and alternately delicate and blistering guitar solos, but they need to be ‘lived with’ more before they can be fully appreciated. From there, it’s straight into three tunes from Spectral Mornings – the acoustic The Virgin & The Gypsy (on which Hackett is joined by his brother John on flute), the bruising Tigermoth and the instrumental title track, recently given a new lease of life (and lyrics) by Big Big Train but here played exactly as on the record.
Any fears that a note-by-note rendition of Selling England By The Pound might await us in the second half are soon allayed. The very accomplished band – Roger King on keyboards, Rob Townsend on reeds and percussion, Jonas Reingold on bass and 12-string guitar and Craig Blundell on drums – is capable of taking this music in any given direction and though they largely stick to the template of the original studio versions, certain numbers seem strategically targeted for a bit of indulgence-free jamming. Thus, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’s fade-out is extended into a jolly, free-form duel involving solos from both Townsend and Hackett and The Cinema Show provides plenty of scope for King to stretch out on the keys. Instrumental textures are re-examined, too, sometimes to surprising effect: hearing the flute line in Firth of Fifth played instead on trumpet makes a difference, though there is thankfully no tampering with Hackett’s marvellous and justly famed solo. It’s fair to say that Firth of Fifth’s instrumental section encapsulates everything that’s great about progressive rock, and it certainly does so here.
Not every aspect of the evening is so successful: as with all early Genesis albums, the shadow of Peter Gabriel falls heavy over Selling England ….. these are his words and his concepts and it’s difficult for any other singer to inhabit them. Nad Sylvan generally does a good job of evoking Gabriel’s naive and otherworldly timbre (and wears an outfit that seems to recall Gabriel without mimicking him), numbers like The Battle of Epping Forest really do need to be ‘acted out’ as well as sung to be fully effective. But it would be churlish to complain when musical standards are so high, the main set finishing with a perfectly managed fade-out of album closer, Aisle Of Plenty followed by Deja Vu, a track left uncompleted during the sessions in 1973, and an uproarious Dance On A Volcano, ending with an encore comprising Myopia and Los Endos, the closing medley from 1976’s A Trick Of The Tail. Hackett plays throughout the three-hour set with astonishing dexterity, backed by an impeccable band.
Reviewed on 18 November 2019 and on tour Image: Contributed