Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, May 5th 2017
The last time I attended a sold out show at Manchester Bridgewater Hall, was for David Gilmour in 2006 (a pretty special occasion) ; so for that reason alone, I was curious to discover just what Mr Hackett offers in order to repeatedly sell out his tour dates.
Whilst I have followed Steve’s solo work, with some affection, over the years – I’ll confess that growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, listening to the commercial chart crap churned out by Genesis, I was never compelled to dig into the back catalogue — until now.
Bearing that in mind, I was anticipating my enjoyment of the first set – being Hackett’s solo work – to outweigh any possible chance of taking great pleasure from a Genesis recital during the second half of the evening.
Needless to say that I was not at all disappointed by the first half of the show. One has to ask, with a solo discography comprising of 25 albums, how Steve decides what to take to the stage, and please everyone in the process. Opening with the up-beat ‘Every Day’ from “Spectral Mornings” seemed to hit the right spot with the audience, followed by the first number from the new album “The Night Siren” – ‘El Nino’. ‘The Steppes’ from “The Defector” album came next, and then ‘In The Skeleton Gallery’, and ‘Behind The Smoke’ – two more from “The Night Siren”.
It was instantly apparent to me that Hackett writes with the live work in mind. The songs are really brought to life by him on stage — However, I became increasingly aware of how subdued this full house was. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong, but I had never been to a gig like it. There was applause, but not to any jubilant extent – Even Hackett’s attempt at engaging remain voters with his “F@ck Brexit” remark, failed to raise the roof. A pet hate of mine by the way – in my experience the majority of people go to a show to escape reality for a couple of hours, and are not generally inclined to have to agree or disagree with their hero on a political level. That stuff is best left to musicians whose names begin with B – Bono, Bob Geldof, Billy Bragg, Bob Dylan —
‘Serpentine Song’ from “To Watch The Storms” added a very personal number to the set for Hackett, with reference to his father, then ‘Rise Again’ from “Dark Town” took us into what, for me, was the absolute highlight of the evening at the end of the first set : ‘Shadow Of The Heirophant’. My word! I was quite literally pinned to my seat with the sheer intensity of this piece, and I believe the reason why was wholly down to Nick Beggs and his incredible use of a Roland PK-5A which actually rattled the foundations of the auditorium. You definitely had to be there. No recording on earth, ever, could capture that experience. It was truly immense.
During the break, the chap seated next to me started talking about the second half, and it hit me then that quite possibly the whole of the audience were really only there for the Genesis stuff. I’m sure you can imagine, my internal amusement at this revelation! And it was true. Unbelievably so. It was as if their seats had been electrified during the interval. Cheering, whistling, and standing ovations after every number. For the first time in my entire life I understood the whole Genesis movement. And, here’s the thing – by the end of the selection of songs from “Wind and Wuthering” [40th anniversary of] I was an emotional jelly, and between the end of the 2nd set and the encore, had ordered the album from Amazon!
5 tracks from “Wind and Wuthering” provided the first half of the second set. ‘Eleventh Earl Of Mar’, ‘One For The Vine’, ‘Blood On The Rooftops’,’— In That Quiet Earth’, and ‘Afterglow’. 4 more fan favourites then : ‘Dance On A Volcano’ from “A Trick Of The Tail” ; a rare rendition of ‘Inside And Out’ from the “Spot The Pigeon EP” (which Hackett believes should have made it onto “Wind And Wuthering”, and I agree) ; ‘Forth Of Fifth’ from “Selling England By The Pound”, and lastly ‘The Musical Box’ from “Nursery Cryme”, which for me was perhaps a brief nod in the direction of Anthony Phillips.
The crowd mainly remained standing for the encore : ‘Slogans’ another from “The Defector” album, and one final Genesis number – ‘Los Endos’, again from “Trick Of The Tail”.
With the addition of Nad Sylvan to the line-up for Act 2 (delivering a performance, which, in the context of this music, was stunning ), what you truly begin to appreciate is the complexity of the compositions, the chord progressions, and the true orchestral beauty of the pre-commercial chart crap era of Genesis. The Hackett era, is surely what Genesis was really all about, and most definitely the reason for sold out shows around the globe.
Hackett has found his comfort zone with it too, and that is no bad thing – after all it is clear to see that without him, Genesis were indeed doomed to meet their fate on the back end of ‘Jesus He Knows Me’.
Hackett’s guitar playing is effortless, and he delivers his work with note for note perfection. I don’t really know how else to describe it. There’s no face pulling, or exaggerated playing style – he just stands, and plays — and it’s phenomenal. Vocally, what you hear on his studio recordings is what you get live – which is another rare quality. Kudos, of course, to the band for keeping up and not letting the fans down for even a second. I have struggled to imagine how this would work so well with anyone else.
I’d listened to the Live in Liverpool CD, and hadn’t been blown away by it. It is true in most cases, that unless you’ve attended the live show it’s really difficult to appreciate just how powerful the music and the atmosphere can be, and in this case I think it genuinely did boil down to the band on the night. You can invite all the special guests you like to join you live, and in your recordings Steve (if you’re reading this) but the guys you had on stage on May 5th, did you the most justice – by a musical mile.
Nad Sylvan – in all his eccentric glory, as I have already mentioned – was flawless; Rob Townsend gave his all on “anything blown” and other things ; Roger King on keyboards ; drummer extraordinaire Gary O’Toole (also gave a stunning vocal performance of ‘Blood On The Rooftops’); and bass / 2nd guitar / floor hammering by Nick Beggs. I have encountered Nick on many occasions, from Kajagoogoo to Kim Wilde and many things ‘prog’ inbetween ; I mean this with the utmost love and respect for him when I say that with Steve Hackett, Beggs has finally found a space in which to create a bass sound that is as big as his ego.
I think it’s terribly unfair for anyone to disrespect the value of musicians who enjoy delivering a show for their fans – and this is precisely what Steve Hackett does. I have read many references, by condescending music journalists, to Steve being nothing more than a glorified tribute band ; and comments from former Genesis band mates who scoff and frown at the prospect of spending time revisiting their musical past. Well, the very same band members, in my opinion, haven’t made an album (in a solo capacity, or under the Genesis brand name) that is worth listening to in its entirety since selling their souls to the record company circa 1978. What Steve Hackett has created with this show, is a truly remarkable feat and should be treated with solemnity, not mockery.
By the end of the evening I had forgiven him entirely for his political foray, because he could be right about us all feeling the hardship of Brexit, but to be honest – I no longer cared. In fact, should we be given advanced notification that the end is nigh, I shall simply play ‘Shadow Of The Heirophant’ on repeat, as loudly as possible – furthermore, I will write to all the current leaders of the world and suggest that it becomes a statutory requirement alongside the 4 minute warning – Although technically they would have to extend that to a 6 minute warning —