Steve Hackett | Barbican | York | 29 0ct 2014

Like I was 17 again...

Last Sunday I traveled full circle. Back in the mists of time, 17 January 1977 to be precise, I attended my first live concert. As a first gig, Genesis at Newcastle City Hall, at the extremely reasonable price of £2.80 was a pretty good one. It was the band's second tour since Peter Gabriel had departed and Phil Collins was the band's new frontman. Stage left that night was Steve Hackett, the bands enigmatic and immensely gifted guitarist who later that year would follow Gabriel out of the band, his patience worn thin at the lack of opportunity to get more of his material released on the band's albums. When Hackett left the band the upward curve on the graph plotting their increasing commerciality was mirrored by the downward curve demonstrating my waning interest in them. But, I still maintain a soft spot for anything up to and including 1976's "Wind and Wuthering" and bought several of Hackett's solo albums along the way, so it was with huge anticipation that I entered York Barbican last Sunday.

In 1996 Hackett released "Genesis Revisited", a retake of songs from his era with the band and in 2012 he returned to the idea releasing "Genesis Revisited II". This second return to the older Genesis material caught many people's imaginations and this was reflected in a top thirty album chart placing, and the corresponding live performances of the material were exceedingly well received. A world tour built around the material took place in 2013 and was so successful that the tour has been extended into 2014, the extension offering the chance to include some additional material not played on the first tour.

Opening with a brace of tracks from 1976's "A Trick Of The Tail" album, the lively "Dance On A Volcano" and "Squonk", it was immediately clear that Hackett and band - keyboardist Roger King, Gary O'Toole (drums, vocals), Rob Townsend (sax, flute), Nick Beggs (bass, guitar), and Nad Sylvan on vocals - were as tight as a drum and that we were in for a treat. In Sylvan, Hackett has a gifted vocalist who was able to handle the styles of both Gabriel and Collins without sounding as though he was mimicking them. He was assured and flamboyant without being too theatrical and avoided the mistake of attempting to copy Gabriel's infamous wardrobe embellishments which would have risked crossing the line into tribute band territory. In the early numbers Beggs, sporting long blond and beard, hair played a gorgeous Manson Double Neck looking every inch the prog rock guitarist/bass player.

"Dancing With The Moonlit Knight" was overblown and glorious and took us back to 1973's "Selling England By The Pound" album, before two tracks from the "Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" release, "Fly On A Windshield" and "Broadway Melody of 1974" which were both sung by bowler-hatted drummer O'Toole. Hackett then took us back to 1971 and the "Nursery Cryme" album, performing the album's three standout tracks, "The Return of the Giant Hogweed", "The Fountain of Salmacis", and "The Musical Box", each clocking it at well over eight minutes in length and the latter, in particular, proving to be a powerhouse of a performance.

Townsend's saxophone jazzed up the instrumental break in "I Know What I Like", and Roger King's keyboard playing shone on the beautiful intro to "Firth Of Fifth" before Hackett performed one of rock's great guitar solos with melodic ease later in the song. Hackett sat alone centre-stage to perform a beautiful acoustic version of "Horizons", and a further visit to "The Lamb" album produced a bouncy version of "Lilywhite Lilith" before a run through "The Knife", another classic Genesis oldie.

The set finished in the only way possible, a staggeringly good run through of "Supper's Ready" which must have been almost twenty five minutes long. To call "Supper's Ready" a song is to do it a great misjustice it is the epitome of prog-rock, and the band's performance did it full justice.

The band returned after a short break for "Watcher Of The Skies", the spectral blue lighting and familiar doom laden chords of the introduction building a suitably moody atmosphere as Sylvan scanned the upper reaches of the audience through his telescope. Sadly, the evening had to end and Hackett finished as he started with a return to 1976's "Trick Of The Tail" and a blistering tear-up through "Los Endos" which had the audience on their feet giving a deserved standing ovation.

The evening was a genuine, heartfelt celebration of the music Genesis released in the early to mid-Seventies and was lapped up by an appreciative audience. Prog-rock is often derided and any mention in the media is usually closely followed by footage of Rick Wakeman surrounded by keyboards and resplendent in wizard hat and sparkly cape or Keith Emerson knifing his Hammond Organ but it is a much maligned genre that still has a multitude of fans and I'm happy to argue that music such as "Supper's Ready" is every bit as important to the musical legacy of the seventies as "Stairway To Heaven", "Ziggy Stardust" or "Anarchy In The UK".

For two and a half hours I was seventeen again, the creaky knees and failing eyesight forgotten, recalling the noise, colour and spectacle of my first gig. In hindsight, it should not be a surprise that Hackett and his band could instill this forty year old music with so much passion and energy. He was an integral member of Genesis when they were at their peak and has done more than any of the group's members to keep their legacy alive, something the recent TV documentary miserably failed to acknowledge, as it also failed to mention his extensive solo career. After this tour finishes (and visits to both North and South America are planned with further dates to be announced) a return to focusing on a new solo album appears to be on the cards for Hackett, but I hope that he returns to this Genesis format at some point - I'd happily go to as many shows as my wallet would allow.

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