Who: Steve Hackett
What: Classic Genesis Revisited with Band and Orchestra
Where: Royal Festival Hall, Southbank, London
When: 4th October 2018
Steve Hackett, as you probably know, left Genesis a little over forty years ago (yes, I know, doesn’t it make you feel old). A few years ago, he hit on the idea of no longer seeing his musical career as two exclusive parts and introducing Genesis material into his shows – under the umbrella term “Genesis Revisited“. It has worked beyond expectations. Larger venues have been booked. Bigger houses and receipts are taken. Audiences are happy. What’s not to like, right? Let’s see how the current tour is going…
First up is Dance on a Volcano. Some great guitar work from Mr Hackett, immaculate vocal performance from Nad Sylvan, excellent keyboards from Roger King. All the usual ingredients we’ve come to expect in these recent Steve Hackett / Genesis Revisited tours. Volcano has never been my favourite Genesis song (along with quite a lot of other things on the Trick of the Tail record) but there is no question it works well as a live opener – and sounds better than it did on the studio record.
There are a number of questions I had in mind before tonight’s show and many of them were answered within the first 10 minutes. Would it be a Genesis-only show or would there be Steve Hackett solo material as well? Would there be other Genesis material dug out of the past or would the set-list on these tours start to look a bit repetitive? How would new band member Jonas Reingold do? Would the orchestra really add anything? Well, the second song was “Out of the Body” from the 2015 Wolflight album – one question answered. Nothing new from the Genesis back catalogue that I haven’t seen in these shows before – whither Harold the Barrel? Jonas Reingold: solid as a rock, versatile, but a stoic and not flashy stage presence. The orchestra gave depth to the sound but they didn’t really take the songs in any new directions I could hear although having more than one flute on stage and the presence of strings and horns added new colours especially to things like “Firth of Fifth”. “Firth” was one of the next songs performed by the way. Both that and “Out of the Body” featured exemplary soprano sax from Rob Townsend.
So much of these shows’ charm is not just about hearing songs performed live that you never thought you would or never thought you would again, although that is certainly a factor. Peter Gabriel (aside from that brief time lapse in Miton Keynes) never wanted to go back to material that pre-dated his solo career. I once remember him referring to someone who asked for something from “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” as a student of history. Once Mr Hackett had left Genesis the remaining three sometimes chopped up songs in an ungainly fashion and man-handled them into what they deemed medleys which really made no-one happy but themselves. No, there is also something else going on in these shows. It is the delicate balance between the tremendous musicianship but low level charismatic presence of Steve and Jonas and others and its cross-fertilisation with the larger than life vocals and physical language of vocalist, Nad Sylvan. You really notice this on songs like Dancing with the Moonlit Knight which was the next performance. And Mr Sylvan really does perform. Each gesture, step and even the movement of his eyes enrich what is happening. This is noticeable all the more so because of his stage positioning. He is stage right and I am house left. Because of the stage set up, Sylvan is sometimes not visible at all to me and my cohorts and you lose something of the magic of the show especially during pieces like “…Knight” and “Supper’s Ready” (which will come later). Hackett is very much the band leader and is positioned (and rightly so) further forward than any of the vocalists but in order to best serve the audience this might need a little careful extra thought for future tours.
There’s another reason why the next vocalist isn’t visible. He’s sat behind clear perspex screens, protecting the hearing of the orchestra members. It’s Gary O’Toole, the drummer. He is a fine musician also. Sometimes in these shows, he finds a lead vocal in a piece from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway but nothing from The Lamb… is on the menu tonight so he is limited to singing “Blood on the Rooftops” on which he handles the duties with no problems or difficulties. In its usual way, this song is opened with an extended acoustic guitar piece from Steve which is quite wonderful.
On the recent Steve Hackett albums, the man himself has handled more of the vocals than he previously felt willing to but the pieces from the records of the last few years are instrumentals tonight so Steve (aside from a myriad of guitar bits!) has little more than backing and joint vocals to handle. But there are vocal pieces from much earlier in his solo career here and they are handed out to those in his current musical circle. Amongst these and closing the first half of the show is “Shadow of the Hierophant“. Amanda Lehmann as always handles this. The key that it was originally written is sometimes a little of a stretch for Ms Lehmann and you can hear her voice waver but no such problems tonight – her vocal is a marvel.
Well, facilities to visit, a mouthful of water or some such to be swallowed and twenty minutes before the band are back on the stage. What will come next?
Well, as soon as the band musicians and orchestra start to gather onstage, the audience noise descends to a reverent hush. If you are a veteran of many rock shows, you’ll know how rare that is, but these guys are seated (unless it is for a standing ovation) and they are of a certain age. Also it is evident that some of them are veterans of two or three shows on this show already – they know when each set is coming to an end – and are up on their feet. In fact, they are one of the nicest audiences you could hope to find – but I’m not going to comment on the portly gentleman who insists on playing an invisible drum kit all evening and is sat just in front of me.
The second half begins with “…In That Quiet Earth” (no “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers”) which flows – as these things will do – into “Afterglow“. Particular plaudits on this one to Mr Townsend on sax, Messrs. Hackett and Reingold on guitars and Sylvan on silky vocals in the latter section. All good.
Another guest on stage is John Hackett who joined the band for the next number. It originally appeared on 2003’s “To Watch the Storms“. The vocal arrangement is clever and subtle with Hackett, King, Sylvan and Lehmann all joined together. John Hackett and Townsend lead on woodwinds. The delicate nature of this one allow the orchestra opportunity to add textures. Quite beautiful.
Another instrumental piece was to follow and this one is the most recent composition of the ones in the show – and also the one which relied most on the orchestra. El Nino originally appeared on The Night Siren. As well as heavily featuring the orchestra, it is a great work out for the twin guitars and the percussion. Real venom and energy on this one.
Next? Well, when the acoustic is brought out for Steve, one smart aleck in the audience cries out “Horizons!” but surprisingly, he is incorrect. The band led by said guitar and Nad go straight into the epic “Supper’s Ready”. Now this as always is a tour-de-force for this band. Sylvan relies very little on costumes (a la Gabriel) except some neat goggles on the devilish “Apocalypse in 9/8” section (the orchestra really comes to life in this section) but again Sylvan makes his every gesticulation count. His leg-kicks during “Willow Farm” could have got him into the Rockettes.
Really, after Supper’s Ready where else is there to go? Nowhere. Just time for the band to retreat to rapturous applause. The fact that the Heart of England Orchestra stayed in place meant that we weren’t leaving because whilst there was need for a moment to recuperate, there was indeed more to come.
A highlight of recent Hackett tours has been The Musical Box and tonight this song from Genesis’ Nursery Cryme is the encore. Again, a perfect fit for Mr Sylvan’s natural theatrics, this is the perfect ending and a better way to bring the show to a culmination than previous years’ Los Endos which rather got bogged down in itself at times.
And there are always those hoping for more but “the clock / tick-tock” suggests the show is done and sure enough the lights go up and it’s onto the next venue.
An outstanding show. Steve Hackett has brought together all the eras of his music in a most amazing way and his audience are loving every moment. Onward and Upward!!
Tips for the future (if I might be so bold):
- Get Nad to alternate between the stage right and stage left microphone if he is going to sing the vast majority of the show. Too often tonight he was obscured to part of the audience.
- Blood some new “old” Genesis songs to keep the show fresh. Doing full album shows like next year’s “Selling England By the Pound” is a great start but also “Harlequin”, “For Absent Friends”, “Seven Stones”, “Time Table”, something else from “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”. Oh and yes I am serious about “Harold the Barrel”.