It’s almost impossible to say how excited I was when it was announced that Steve Hackett’s Genesis Extended tour would be coming to the Barbican at York. Genesis were probably my first “favourite” band, even if I did come to them late and was more au fait with their later, more mainstream output than I was with that of Hackett’s era. Don’t get me wrong, I have all but one of their albums in my collection but, apart from Foxtrot – my favourite of the earlier ones, primarily because it was the one I heard first – I couldn’t tell you much about them. Still, a genuine prog-rock legend in York. There was little chance I was going to miss that, was there?
I had forgotten, until I was reminded on the day of the gig, that support was to be from York’s own Mostly Autumn. Or, at least Bryan and Livvy, playing as Mostly Autumn Acoustic. Reports that Livvy has come a long way in terms of confidence were confirmed as she introduced the duo, asking whether anybody in the audience had seen them before – a fair few had – while Bryan sorted out technical issues with his guitar and pedals. Even simply standing and chatting, she now not only exudes confidence but seems to own the stage. With the gremlins banished, the pair treated us to a short set of well-chosen songs that stretched from the band’s first album all the way to their latest. Simple Ways, Evergreen and Heroes Never Die may be staples of the band’s usual live set, but these acoustic versions were quite different to those more familiar ones. Indeed tonight’s version of Evergreen, with Livvy on flute and vocals, was one of the most beautiful I have heard. The newest album was represented first by The House On The Hill and the title track, Dressed In Voices both of which served to promote the album well. During the set Bryan expressed how much he was honoured to be asked to provide support, as his first gig had been Genesis when they played York University back in 1973. The pair left the stage to appreciative applause. Sadly, with the full band not able to get a suitable date at the Grand Opera House for their usual Christmas show, moving it to Hull instead, this will be the only time I see Mostly Autumn this year. Still something is better than nothing.
As I spend most of my time these days in smaller venues, with limited lights, the much more impressive lightshow which started as the house lights were dimmed prior to Hackett and his band coming on stage was almost jarring, the applause and cheering much louder and, as the audience recognised the opening chords of Dance On A Volcano, the seating started vibrating with their enthusiasm. Hackett, himself, quite rightly, took the centre stage, with flamboyant and, at times, theatrical vocalist Nad Sylvan spending most of the gig standing to one side and slightly behind him. After all, this was Hackett’s show – a chance for him to drag some of his old Genesis favourites out of the cupboard, dust them off and, in many cases, glue bits back on that not many people realised had even fallen off. Early in the set he engaged in small amount of audience banter – asking fans down from Glasgow whether they were happy with the results of the recent referendum (they weren’t) and explaining to one fan who seemed to be asking for a solo track to be played that it might feature on the next tour but, for now, he was “keeping the museum open” – and humorous asides about 1971 being “strange times” and taking less times than Hendrix to tune up, but these seemed to diminish as the set went on. With the rest of the band a flurry of activity around him, changing instruments between songs, leaving stage, taking over vocals and, in the case of Sylvan, seemingly trying to get issues with his in-ear monitors sorted out, Hackett was the calm in the eye of a storm. Apart from a couple of tracks for which he switched to acoustic, the Peter Pan of Prog played the entire set, as far as I remember, on just one guitar, looking for all the world as if he were just practising somewhere off on his own. That’s not to say he ignored the band – the end of a brilliant rendition of The Musical Box saw him turn to acknowledge each musician. Tracks such as I Know What I Like, Firth Of Fifth and Los Endos, familiar to me more from latter years Genesis live albums took on a new dimension during this performance. This was more than a tribute, it was a loving reproduction by a musician very heavily involved in the original versions. As the set went on, the songs seemed to get longer and more complex, the chat inbetween less and less and Sylvan more and more theatrical, moving about stage, brandishing feather, dagger and telescope and almost acting out the songs.
For me, the highlight was the superb version of perhaps my all-time favourite Genesis track. Supper’s Ready saw the audience willingly take their cue to shout out “A flower?” and the already epic track brought the set to a close with a stunning guitar-led ending after which the audience were on their feet, applauding and shouting for more before the band had even left the stage. And more we duly were given, an organ opening leading into Watcher Of The Skies before the frantic start to Los Endos finally saw a bit of band intimacy on stage, with bass player and former Kajagoogo man Nick Beggs and multi-instrumentalist Rob Townsend joining Hackett centre stage as he sawed at the guitar strings with his forearm. As Los Endos ended, the audience were back on their feet and Hackett, now looking visibly tired, although there hadn’t been a hint of it throughout what must have been a gruelling set, took a few moments to sit down and recover before rising once more to take the applause with the rest of the band. “It’s been a long time since I was in York,” he had said early on in the set. We can only hope, after the reception he got tonight from a packed Barbican, that it won’t be long until we see him again.