It might seem like hyperbole, but the inescapable fact is that Steve Hackett’s live shows just keep getting better and better
Over the last few years, Steve Hackett seems to have hit upon the perfect recipe for the format of his live shows: his extended ‘Genesis Revisited’ tours delighted fans, but after a while many began to yearn for his excellent solo material again, and so he adopted the approach of beginning with an opening set of his own work, before devoting the second half of the show to Genesis classics. This has proved to be the magic formula, as it allows the indulgence of a wallow in the marvellous nostalgia of those heady ‘70s days while still leaving plenty of elbow room for the plethora of superb solo material he has delivered since, particularly during the most recent run of albums which have produced some of his best material since the early ‘80s.
Also on recent tours we have had themed shows, such as the complete performances of Wind And Wuthering on the anniversary of that album, and on this occasion we get a double dose, with the complete rendition of the Genesis classic Selling England By The Pound accompanied by the 40th anniversary celebration of Steve’s own masterwork, Spectral Mornings. And what a pairing it proves to be, with his band – this time with ‘Flower King’ Jonas Reingold on bass duties – seeming to get tighter and more impressive with each tour.
Kicking off with an astoundingly good version of the Spectral Mornings opener Every Day, we are treated to almost wall to wall Spectral material during the first set, though allowing room for a well received fifteen minutes or so from his most recent album At The Edge Of Light, in the form of its first three songs. These are good enough to rub shoulders with the older material without any issue, which is testament to the quality of the music Hackett is still creating four decades on. Of the Spectral content, the obvious big hitters are there in the form of the iconic title track and the ever-dramatic Clocks, but there are also reminders of just how good the other stuff on that album was, with lesser played tracks such as Tiger Moth, The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere and in particular a sublime rendition of the delicate Virgin And The Gypsy. At the beginning of the set, Steve jokes that people can take a break during this first set before returning for the bit they really want to hear later, but he can have no fear of this being the case in reality, as every track is rapturously received. Not bad for an opening act, as one might say!
After a short break the band are back, getting things going with Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, before an extended, jazz-tinged version of I Know What I Like – a track which has never been a favourite of your humble scribe, but is understandably popular. Third up of course, following the album order, is the track which may, more than any other, immortalise the name of Steve Hackett: Firth Of Fifth. Seeming strange moved up to an early set position, it is a song which never, ever fails to astound, and tonight’s rendition proves once again that no matter how many Genesis tribute bands you see (including later Genesis if one wanted to be harsh!), there is no-one in this world who can play that guitar solo quite like the master himself. His peerless vibrato and meticulously observed yet emotion-packed timing leave the audience spellbound. After that, the relatively minor song More Fool Me might have struggled to keep up, yet it is perfectly delivered, a reminder once again of just how well crafted some of these songs were.
Dance On A Volcano … with the numerous stops and starts which litter the instrumental section executed with nano-second perfection
The old ‘side two’ opener The Battle Of Epping Forest will always be a bone of contention, being the track most often criticised as being overly lengthy and convoluted, but it is done well, with vocalist Nad Sylvan appearing to relish the – arguably overdone – wordplay of Gabriel’s lyric enormously. After another of ‘those’ moments whereupon one thinks ‘Wow, was After The Ordeal always this good?’, the next crowd favourite appears in the form of The Cinema Show. Shorn of the ‘drum duet’ it had in its post-Gabriel Genesis days, it nevertheless still packs a hefty punch as it builds to its relentless climax, before a beautiful Aisle Of Plenty brings things full circle to close the album performance to huge acclaim. As a bonus, we are then treated to a rendition of a track rehearsed at the time but left of the album, Déjà Vu, to give us, as Steve puts it, ‘the complete Selling England experience’. Previously recorded for the original Genesis Revisited album back in 1996, it’s a great performance of a song which could be argued to have deserved the album spot above Epping Forest, but such is academic, if entertaining, debate.
If anyone had thought we had seen the best of the evening’s entertainment with that ‘main event’, they would have certainly have been mistaken, as the set proper concludes with a rendition of the Trick Of The Tail classic Dance On A Volcano which highlights perhaps more than anything in the whole show just how tight and well-rehearsed the band are, with the numerous stops and starts which litter the instrumental section executed with nano-second perfection. It’s an incredible performance, which just leaves room for an encore of Los Endos which, let’s face it, cannot fail to delight. The entire crowd are on their feet to acclaim what they have been treated to.
It might seem like hyperbole, but the inescapable fact is that Steve Hackett’s live shows just keep getting better and better. Everything about this performance, from the crystal clear sound through the effective light show and onto the precision-drilled band performance simply screamed ‘professionalism’, from a man who is, perhaps more than anyone, worthy of the description ‘Prog National Treasure’. Long may he be fit and able to continue, because this show is a rare treat. I Know What I Like, and this is it.
Photos: Steve Pilkington