When I walked away from Steve Hackett’s superb gig at The Barbican last year, little did I realise that, just a few days short of exactly a year later, I would be seeing him again at the same venue. York, we must have done something good to entice him back so soon.
As I took my seat – central and just three rows back from the stage, close enough to realise that what I thought was a plectrum was, in fact, Hackett’s thumbnail but, perhaps, too close in terms of sound quality (the music sounded great all the way through, but the various vocals sometimes came through a bit indistinctly, something I couldn’t say about last year’s gig) – there was a low hum of conversation from the audience, people around me chatting about other gigs they had been to, notably David Gilmour and Steve Wilson (obviously I was in the company of fellow prog-fans, richer than I am). The anticipation was almost palpable, but the volume was respectful, none of the shouting you get at smaller venues – probably because of the lack of background music – and gentles hisses could be heard clearly as the smoke machine sent increasing clouds billowing through the beams of red light bathing the stage.
As the house lights went down, the audience broke into almost polite applause, getting louder as Hackett walked on, accompanied by Roger King (keyboards) and Gary O’Toole (drums), and kicked things off with an instrumental medley which included, I think, sections from Corycian Fire and Spectral Mornings, almost bookending his solo career. The rest of the band then came on stage for a rendition of Wolflight during which, for no reason that I can think of, I was slightly surprised that Hackett himself provided lead vocals. Perhaps, having seen the previous tour for which Nad Sylvan provided vocals, I just assumed that something similar was going to happen tonight. O’Toole brought forth some thunderous drumming, as well as providing backing vocals. At the end of the track Hackett, breaking into a huge grin, said how nice it was to be back in York, a comment which somehow led to a brief on –stage discussion on how to pronounce “scones”. If, by chance, you are reading this Steve, I’m with you… long “o” as in “low”. He introduced the band – Rob Townsend (all things blown and many other things) and, a second surprise, that familiar looking bass player was Roine Stolt, normally lead guitarist with The Flower Kings and other bands. I guess that’s the closest York will get to having Transatlantic playing here.
A very Genesis-like keyboard sound opened Every Day, Hackett making his guitar playing look effortless, the fingers of his left hand dancing up and down the frets while his right hand kept the whammy bar in near constant motion. Strangely for the opening to Love Song To A Vampire, the stage was bathed in an ethereal green, rather than the more appropriate red of earlier, although that was “rectified” later in the track. A short, yet almost orchestral, flute and keyboards section from Townsend and King led into the main instrumental section of the track. Funfair music announced the next track as The Wheel’s Turning, heralding a lighter and livelier tone and a track that was just a little bit deliberately chaotic. A switch to a twelve string acoustic for Loving Sea led Hackett to joke that his days with Genesis had led to him getting “twelve string damage”. I noted down that, during the chat, one audience member shouted out “Greg Lake” but can’t for the life of me remember why. During this track, O’Toole, clearly enjoying himself, came out from behind his drum kit to play shakers and provide more backing vocals. There was more acoustic guitar, this time of the six string variety, as Hackett, now seated, was joined by brother John, on some sort of vertical flute, for Jacuzzi. A false start was soon rectified by Richard the Roadie (probably more of a guitar tech, but that isn’t as alliterative), who received accolades from the audience for his brief appearance in the spotlight and the track was back-dropped by King’s keyboards.
Another “guest” made his way on stage to provide vocals for Icarus Ascending, the aforementioned Sylvan, a man so flamboyant that he raise an eyebrow with a flourish, providing a theatrical performance that instantly brought to mind the previous tour. He stayed on vocals for Star Of Sirius, a track Hackett explained was originally sung by Phil Collins at a time when he was still deciding on whether to be a vocalist or to stay behind the drum kit and “keep his head down”. Townsend was rarely still, waving about a shaker if he wasn’t playing one of his multitude of wind instruments or keyboards. In fact, there was so much going on during this track that I didn’t notice that Sylvan had left the stage until it ended. I failed to identify the set ender. Various set lists from other gigs (there isn’t one for York) posted on the internet seem to imply it might have been a medley. If it was I didn’t even spot the joins. It opened in slightly eccentric fashion, with Townsend’s flute and King’s keys accompanied by O’Toole playing a whistle and shaking chains into a microphone, at one point playing a cymbal while almost laying across it. During once section, I’m sure I saw him drop one drum stick, neatly catching it before it fell far and switching hands while doing so. He was rightfully acknowledged by Hackett and the crowd for his impressive work. At times Townsend was so busy that he had two instruments in his hands. The whole thing build to a rousing, raucous ending to the first half of the set, which covered highlights from Hackett’s forty-year solo career, from 1975’s Voyage of the Acolyte to this year’s superb Wolflight.
After a short break, during which I joined in the prog conversation, chatting to the person next to me about music in general and how nice it was to be able to see an original member of Genesis at such a reasonable price, the band took to the stage again for a section revisiting Hackett’s time in Genesis. Sylvan was back on vocals for this section, doing as commendable an interpretation (I don’t want to say “impression”) of Peter Gabriel. This set kicked off with Get ‘Em Out By Friday, Sylvan sharing vocals with O’Toole before a quick wave preceded the former’s exit from the stage prior to an impressive instrumental section, almost creeping back on, with a small bow, for the track’s ending. There was more from Foxtrot with Can Utility And The Coastliners, which saw Stolt moving from bass to second guitar and then, once again seated, Hackett returned to acoustic for After The Ordeal, his fleet-fingered opening preceding a four-count for King’s keyboards to come in and Stolt to take over on electric guitar, the track building towards a duet during which the two guitarists played off each other.
Stolt then took up a double-necked twelve-string and bass for Cinema Show, the announcement of which was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd. I have to admit, despite having all Genesis’ albums, this is more familiar to me from latter day live medleys and it was a pleasure to hear in in full. Townsend and King shone once again, with Hackett’s almost taking a back seat until the tracks’ climax. The much more familiar (to me) The Lam Lies Down On Broadway was followed by a version of The Musical Box that was much rockier than I remembered it and which saw the audience rise to their feet at the end, as the band took their bows.
We stayed on our feet, applauding for at least a couple of minutes before the band, all except Sylvan, came back to the stage for the inevitable encore, which started with a return to Hackett’s solo career, Clocks (Angel Of Mons) an instrumental that also included a drum solo from O’Toole. “Do you want another one?” asked Hackett when it finished. Of course we did and a piano opening heralded Firth Of Fifth, Sylvan returning once again to provide vocals, wearing a long-peaked hat which seemed to have a significance that I’m not aware of. Hackett, playing bottleneck guitar for part of the track, led an audience clap-along himself before King’s keyboard section led into a final showcase of guitar talent which brought the evening to a close and the audience to their feet once again, the band once again taking extended bows before leaving the stage for a final time.
Seeing Hackett live once was a joy, seeing him again so soon afterwards was an unexpected pleasure, especially as one tour was just(!) Genesis material. Is it too much to hope that he’ll be back in York sometime in the future.