Steve Hackett at Leicester Nov. 8, 2019. YouTube Snapshot
De Montfort Hall in Leicester, England: Steve Hackett, more than anyone else, has kept the Genesis flag flying in the 21st century. The English, eccentric Genesis flag that is. A series of tours under the Genesis Revisited banner, showcasing material recorded during his tenure as guitarist with the band, have grown increasingly popular.
It can easily be claimed Steve's departure from the band in 1977 had a greater consequence on Genesis' sound than Peter Gabriel's earlier exit in 1975, following The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour. "Phil Collins sounds more like Peter Gabriel than Peter himself," someone quipped at the time.
Obviously, other influences impacted on the band's subsequent music after 1977. The remaining trio of Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks evolved into a tight-knit unit, producing plenty of succinct, commercial songs alongside the soundscapes and evocative pieces. However, Steve's departure saw a strain ebb away which never came back.
Steve Hackett has chosen his most recent tour to play Selling England by the Pound in its entirety. This is the first time he has done so. For many, it is Genesis's finest album. Following on from the experimental quality of the pre-Hackett Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound combined shorter, more robust songs with beautiful soundscapes while still having time for bonkers English prog such as "The Battle of Epping Forest." Little wonder then that Steve opted to showcase this classic album. And even less wonder that this Genesis Revisited tour was eagerly anticipated by fans worldwide.
Steve remains a prolific composer, releasing a steady supply of quality solo albums. One of his finest, 1979's Spectral Mornings, is also heavily featured on this tour. An eclectic and concise mix of eccentricity, tranquility and individuality, the inclusion of much of its material ramped the excitement level up further. Steve's solo albums always hit the mark, and newbie At the Edge of Light is also set to feature. So, all in all, lots to look forward to.
Leicester's De Montfort Hall is an appropriate venue. As well as having terrific acoustics and exquisite decoration, it provided one of the locations for their seminal Genesis Live album of 1973 - the one featuring an unaccompanied bass guitar solo courtesy of Michael Rutherford.
With no support act, Steve Hackett and his band arrive on stage on time and launch into a bright and breezy rendition of Spectral Morning's opening track, "Everyday." The riff is monstrous, played tonight by long-time keyboardist Roger King and even if Spectral Morning wasn't being heavily featured, "Everyday" would be an ideal opener. Vocals are split between Steve himself, Nad Sylvan, Rob Townsend (multi-instrumentalist), Jonas Reingold (bass) and Craig Blundell (drums). The extended, highly melodic yet cutting guitar solo at the song's finale ensures a rapturous reception as the song reaches its uplifting ending.
Steve's repartee between numbers is comfortable, humorous and confident. He has been a band leader for over 40 years so this shouldn't be a surprise. Three tracks from At the Edge of Light follow: "Under the Eye of the Sun," "Fallen Walls and Pedestals," and "Beasts in our Time." The latter tune contains virtual heavy-metal guitar riffage and is popular with the audience. The numbers showcase the multi-instrumentalist Rob Townsend. Great saxophone, for instance. Steve mentions in one of his monologues how (quite rightly) proud he is of his present band, who worked on At the Edge of Light. These tunes are their babies, and the they perform them with gusto.
It can be a little daunting for a musician to step up and recreate not one but two classic albums. Audiences love these records and will notice if anything is not quite right. The band are, as you'd expect, well-rehearsed and note perfect. And in Steve they have a sterling captain. "Virgin and the Gypsy" sparks a five-song stretch from Spectral Mornings. Steve dons a 12-string Zemaitis guitar to start the song, and drummer Craig Blundell joins the other band members front stage to assist with backing vocals. The harmonies and vocals are strong, and are really, quite stunning. The version is flawless.
With the show being just before Remembrance Sunday, Steve Hackett's words explaining the motivation for "Tigermoth," the next track, were particularly pertinent. Namely, that the song was inspired by the memoirs of Lord Dowding, air chief marshal during the Battle of Britain. That said, the version played tonight was in fact an instrumental one, the band knitting together the sections seamlessly. Possibly the standout performance during the early part of the show is "The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere." The song's Oriental flavor floats from the stage and the audience in a zen-like state.
"Clocks" snaps it out of this though. A clicking, ticking time bomb of a number. Rob Townsend again impresses with his contribution on various instruments, and Craig Blundell drops in one of those modern-day rarities: a proper drum solo. Not just an extended drum fill, but a proper solo. Steve and the band sit and watch, seemingly as engaged as the audience. A glance from Craig to statuesque bassist Jonas Reingold and the band drop back into the ticking groove.
The first half of the show draws to a close with "Spectral Mornings." A giant of a track introduced by Roger King's keys, before Steve's anthemic guitar immediately raises it to huge heights. Again, excellent performances across the band and the first half of the concert is brought to a triumphant close.
Most of the audience shuffle off for a quick beer and the excitement in the bar queue is tangible. The full live performance of Selling England by the Pound is just minutes away.
Vocalist Nad Sylvan only really made fleeting appearances of the stage in the first half, drifting on and off only when required. His role in the second half is considerably more prominent. To perform an album such as Selling England by the Pound, with such a compelling lead vocal throughout, takes special skill. It needs to be as close as possible to every nuance of Peter Gabriel's vocal delivery. Every drawn breath, every roar, every whisper, every cry. A difficult task.
From the opening "Can you tell me where my country lies?" lyric, Nad provides all of this and gives it his all. His sartorial choice, while not copying Gabriel, certainly nods to the fairy-tale and pastoral quality that comes with the album's artwork. In short, he looks, and on the whole sounds very much the part.
"Dancing With the Moonlit Knight," obviously, gets the second half of the show underway. The sparse opening lines win over the crowd from the first - then Nad's arms open wide, encouraging them to join in at the "selling England by the pound" line. By the time we have reached Steve's tapping guitar part as the track lifts off, the audience are well and truly locked in. An epic track performed superbly well. The dramatic swoops in the song are a high point, with Craig Blundell providing drum fills appropriate to the moment without mimicking Phil Collins's style.
An extended "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" follows, all small village life quips and rural humor. The chorus is one of Genesis's finest and generates another sing-along opportunity, gratefully accepted by an enthusiastic crowd. Nad Sylvan does a good job handling what was one of Gabriel's best vocal performances, nonchalantly shaking a tambourine simultaneously. The extended jam section stretches this version out nicely, encouraging Jonas and Craig to lock the rhythm section together and allowing Steve, Rob and Roger to improvise over the top.
Roger King has a moment to shine as the band launches into one of progressive rock's finest moments, "Firth of Fifth." The classical-piano opening leads the song into its anthemic verses, Nad's voice strong as he leads from the front. Not by posing and prancing around like a singer hogging the limelight, but by standing statue-still with the odd gesticulation here and there, ala Peter Gabriel obviously. Steve Hackett's solo is immaculate, tasteful and has note-perfect, clear tone while Roger King's strong full organ sound is spot on - as is the keyboard solo later in the track. Perfect, and unlike the previous number, a pretty much carbon copy of the original.
"More Fool Me" is one of Genesis's underrated gems, containing beautifully sung harmonies and a gentle, effective lyric. Nad's vocals are now having to include characteristics of Phil Collins, who of course sang on the original. "More Fool Me" works well on the album, acting as a slight pause in between the more heavy-hitting tracks. The same applies in this show, with acoustic guitars and gentle percussion easing it along. The band perform it with subtle beauty, the mark of the finest performers.
On the other hand, subtle beauty isn't a way of describing "The Battle of Epping Forest." A hard hitting, almost Monty Python-esque monster with laugh out loud lyrics. For anyone who was not familiar with the album, then this is the point at which they must have been thinking: "What the hell is going on?" Nad sings the constant barrage of lines, by no means an easy task, while mimicking the characters from Liquid Len and his Smash Bottle Men to the Reverend, cavalry and all. Rob chucks in the "you're telling me" line. All quite demanding vocally, and a number not performed too often by Genesis back in the day.
"After the Ordeal" is next. Deliberately reflective, it is an instrumental loved by Genesis fans old and new. Even those unfamiliar with "The Battle of Epping Forest" can savor this thing of beauty. Steve, of course, grabs the reins from Roger's sombre piano intro, his guitar work taking the piece forward and steering it along its course. The band follow and Rob Townsend's flute almost steals the show - almost. Rob defines the role of multi-instrumentalist, and his role in tonight's show is frankly extraordinary.
"The Cinema Show" follows, a great slice of quirky English pop-prog. Again, a number loved by all and as it is in a major key, has a lightness and pop feel that lifts it up as another classic item. Vocal harmonies courtesy of Steve, Rob, Craig, Jonas and of course Nad help execute the song perfectly. Plenty of light and shade, with Roger's keyboard tone again sounding very close to Tony Banks's on the original recording. Bravo.
"Aisle of Plenty" jumps straight in and brings this section of the show to an end. It book-ends Selling England by the Pound perfectly, as Nad departs the stage and ghosts back through the dry ice following showpieces by Rob, Roger and naturally Steve. Nad Sylvan eventually delivers the final line, respectfully removing his hat, and bowing to the audience, signifying the end of what has been a magnificent performance.
The crowd reaction is euphoric. They are standing, in this English all-seater venue. The ovation goes on for many minutes, the band happy to remain on-stage taking it all in. But all is not quite done.
"Deja Vu," a track recorded at the same time as Selling England by the Pound but not included on the album, is next up. There were no monologues from Steve during the second set, and he ends his silence by explaining this track's origin and why it wasn't considered quite right for the 1973 release. Possibly Nad's best vocal of the night. It is immediately followed by a further demand on the man's vocal dexterity, as the band launch into "Dance on a Volcano," the opening Trick of the Tail number, initially sung by Phil Collins. Washed with keyboards once again very close to Tony Banks's original, it is yet another strong performance.
The band now exit and return for an encore of "Los Endos." Largely instrumental, and very atmospheric, it's a classic Genesis soundscape. This song also cleverly incorporates Steve Hackett's solo number, "Slogans." Steve and Roger must have spent a lot of time getting the original sound of Tony's keyboards, and once again that is apparent. Craig gets closest to Phil Collins's drum style on this number, and Steve's playing is as ever, note perfect, clear, piercing and graceful - not to mention technically fantastic. Nad Sylvan reappears to utter the "Supper's Ready" outro lines and the show comes to its end.
The audience jumps up and gives a prolonged, rapturous reception. A great evening draws to a close.
Yes, Steve Hackett has continued to fly the Genesis flag, along with releasing a steady flow of new material. His tours in the fall have become an important and eagerly anticipated date in the calendar of many a music fan. Next year will bring Genesis's 1977 live album, Seconds Out, to the masses. I cannot wait.