Hackett Ascending

Who: Steve Hackett

What: From Acolyte to Wolflight with a sprinkling of Genesis

Where: Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

When: October 7th 2015

Last year, I was asked to review Steve Hackett’s “Genesis Revisited” project when it visited Hammersmith. I have to say that I was, initially, not that enthusiastic at the prospect. Hackett had been off my listening radar for quite a long time and I’m not a huge one for nostalgia and sentimentality. However, I had caught up with the former Genesis guitarist via his “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” a little time before, which I had enjoyed and listening to “Genesis Revisited II” suggested he was been faithful to earlier versions of those songs so I accepted the commission and went along to spend an evening revisiting some past pleasures. After all, it couldn’t hurt, could it?

Well, I was suitably impressed and produced a quite exuberant review which also reflect on my personal journey with Genesis’ music which can be found here: https://twilightdawning.com/2014/11/04/time-lapse-in-hammersmith/

After the new tour was announced I was asked to once again go see the show when it came to my neighbourhood (this time to the slightly smaller Shepherd’s Bush Empire). I thought it would be an interesting contrast. The emphasis this time would be on Hackett’s solo career – both recent and early (he has a boxset of his early solo albums about to drop into the marketplace) and it would be interesting to see if he could cut it without relying too much on the songs of that old band he used to be in.

Well, as these things do, the time between the announcement of the tour and the day of the event allowed things to crystallise and take shape.

First, there was the release of the album, “Wolflight”, which is one of my favourites from amongst the Hackett recordings that I know (as I said earlier I know his earlier solo albums and now the most recent ones but the middle period is still something I need to explore). Then the band for the tour began to take shape. Early whisperings that had come my way suggested that Nad Sylvan wouldn’t be involved. I’d been very enthusiastic about Sylvan in my review of the 2014 show. His flamboyance is a good counterpoint to Hackett’s stoic and static presence on stage. So I was relieved when this rumour proved to be false. I’d also caught up with Nad’s work with a band called “Agents of Mercy” so it brought a smile to my face to see that his partner in that project, Roine Stolt was also part of Hackett’s band.

Steve Hackett

Steve Hackett

The show opened with the instrumental title track from “Spectral Mornings” which led into a pair from the new album: “Out of the Body” and “Wolflight”. The two were a hightlight of the evening’s proceedings and were warmly received by the audience. It seems that Steve’s confidence in his own vocals has grown over the years and his voice is a key element on that new record and therefore in tonight’s show which features a very large section of the new set of songs.

For a change of pace there was “Every Day” which like the opening instrumental also debuted on “Spectral Mornings”. For this song, the band were joined by Amanda Lehmann on stage as she joined Steve on joint lead vocals.

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Steve and Amanda Lehmann share vocals

The show then returned to the new album with tense and taut renderings of “Love Song to a Vampire” and “The Wheel’s Turning”. On the latter, the use of the fairground sounds in the auditorium which is equipped with surround sound for tonight’s performance is effective, melancholic and haunting. This contrasts well with another new song “Loving Sea” which was lighter, more acoustic and vibrant in feel and was up next.

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Steve was joined by his brother, John on woodwind for the acoustic “Jacuzzi” which is another compelling and wistful highlight of the set.

“Jacuzzi” comes from the album “Defector” which like many of the featured albums tonight comes from Hackett’s period on Charisma Records which is about to be revisited on the box-set “Premonitions” which will debut later this month. Consequently, Steve has a purpose in reminding his audience of that era and the next song “Icarus Ascending” was from “Please Don’t Touch” from the same time-frame. The lead vocal on this was originally performed by the late Richie Havens, Tonight duties are handed to Mr Sylvan who then sticks around to sub for Phil Collins on “Star of Sirius”, the first of a suite of songs from Hackett’s debut solo platter, “Voyage of the Acolyte”, which culminates with Amanda Lehmann taking over lead vocals again for a excellent “Shadow of the Hierophant”.

Nad Sylvan

Nad Sylvan

The beauty of so many of these performances in the first half of the show was shown in the amount of times that the seated audience rose as a man to give enthusiastic ovation.

If Steve’s own vocals were to the fore in the pre-interval set, it was Sylvan who took over prominence in the second half which majored on rather obscure Genesis tracks mixed in with a few tested favourites.

Sylvan is a revelation (no pun intended). He is compelling, showy and charismatic. As a visual presence, he is perhaps equal parts mid-70s Freddie Mercury, Genesis-era Peter Gabriel, the Sweet’s Brian Connolly, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey and a smattering of every larger-than-life front man you can think of. Nothing new but the kind of showmanship that most modern bands would kill for in 2015.

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The Genesis material opened with “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” from Foxtrot with Sylvan, drummer Gary O’Toole and Hackett himself adopting the different characters in the storyline of the enforced shrinkage of the human race.

“Can-Utility and the Coast-liners” was another triumph with Sylvan and keyboardist Roger King showing how vital they are to catching the spirit of these great fantasies of yesteryear.

Then it’s all acoustic for “After the Ordeal” from “Selling England by the Pound which just showed the virtuosity of Hackett’s playing which was then followed by “The Cinema Show” which so far surpassed the little embarrassing bits of it that late-period Genesis use to include in medleys and such that it should take the need for reunion talk off the agenda forever. During this part of the show, Roine Stolt who had been confined to bass for most of the proceedings gave a great guitar solo which showed he is no slouch on his principle instrument either.

Roine Stolt

Roine Stolt

If you want obscure Genesis then you can’t go much further than giving “Aisle of Plenty”, the little musical reprise at the end of “Selling England”, an outing in its own right. But it is the final two songs of this Genesis set which achieve the climax that the show just needed to put it over the top. First, there was “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” which should see every Genesis tribute show queuing to collect their P45s. However, the real highlight and the thing which summed everything else up was a majestic and magisterial “The Musical Box” with Nad Sylvan finally flipping into a fully charged Peter Gabriel-echoing performance whilst Steve Hackett scored the final goal.

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Whatever followed in the encores was just going to be the icing on the cake. In a sense, “Clocks” from “Defector” rounded off the first half of the night whilst it was left to “Firth of Fifth” to do the same for the second half.

Roine Stolt with Gary O'Toole on drums

Roine Stolt with Gary O’Toole on drums

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Rob Townsend on woodwinds with Roger King on keyboards

Steve said before the show that it was his attention in recent years to listen very carefully to what his audience were saying and try, where he could to meet their requests. That he could do this without just becoming a human jukebox like so many “senior” bands is a major achievement. It is also a considerable matter that if I had to choose between the first half of the show and the second – leaving the exuberant and exultant “The Musical Box” to one side – I would not know which way to choose.

In an era, where so many established acts are being advised not to record new albums but simply to go out and fill the major venues playing the “greatest hits”, it is a sign of just how much of a renaissance Steve Hackett’s career is undergoing at the moment that he can achieve this kind of success, drawing his audience into a momentous night of music which just builds and builds.

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