Steve Hackett was the guitar player for Genesis during their early years – with Peter Gabriel on vocals until 1975, and then for two tours when Phil Collins first took on vocals. The first time I saw Genesis it was for the “Wind and Wuthering” tour in 1977. It was the last time Steve toured with the band, who continued on their path with Phil Collins in front, becoming less about mysterious “progressive rock” and more about pop, to the acclaim of millions. Now thirty-six years later, we traveled to London to see Steve perform a concert entitled “Genesis Revisited” at London’s wonderful Royal Albert Hall, October 24, 2013. As hoped, the show was spectacular, focusing entirely on early Genesis work – three tracks off each record from 1971’s “Nursery Crime” through 1976’s masterpiece “Wind and Wuthering.”
We were quickly reminded that to really appreciate Genesis music, it’s important to experience it played live. The skilled band included Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on Drums, Lee Pomeroy on bass & rhythm guitar, Rob Townsend on winds, and Nad Sylvan on vocals. They all reproduced the sound faithfully, with thrilling dynamics, arranging the songs with Steve’s parts nicely highlighted. While Nad did a laudable job of covering both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins vocals, special guest vocalists helped, including John Wetton (Roxy Music, King Crimson, UK, Asia -plus) singing “Firth of Fifth” from 1973’s “Selling England by the Pound” – a highlight of the set. Also in attendance was Ray Wilson who sang on the 1997 Genesis release “Calling All Stations.” Ray came out to perform “I Know What I Like” also from “Selling England” and “Carpet Crawlers” from “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” both songs being the closest thing you could call “hits” from that era. Amanda Lehmann came out to do an acoustic version of “Ripples” from “Trick of the Tail” – an emotional song done beautifully as a duo. For the hardcore fan, Steve included the full version of “Supper’s Ready” the sprawling 23 minute track from “Foxtrot.”
What I always loved about old Genesis was on full display. It’s strange and thrilling music –Steve describes one track, “Fly on a Windshield” as “doom ridden music at its most unashamedly epic.” In fact the tunes from that era are often gloomy with heavy use of minor tonalities, though offset in almost every case by the resolve to major keys, greater volume, and stories of transcending the dark into light. For me the best example of this, and highlight of the night was “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” – which kicks off with an a cappella line “Can you tell me where my country lies?” evoking a nostalgia for a Britain of old, before Wimpy burgers and mass commerce. It was really exciting and heartwarming to see and hear Steve and band play these songs so faithfully, so many of which most of us of a certain age missed, having not seen the original Gabriel era tours. It was a brilliant performance and a special evening I will never forget.
The day after this show, we headed up to Manchester where we will see Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music and solo effort fame October 26th. As we disembarked from the train I was surprised to see Tony Levin and Peter Gabriel just beside us. I said to Peter “We just saw an old friend of yours play last night” and had a short chat about the Hackett show, and my emotional reaction to some of the material. He wished us luck on our own “concert tour” after I let him know we were also seeing Bryan, and Camel while in London. We realized he was playing tonight, and picked up a couple of tickets to the last night of his global “So” revisited tour, even though we had seen this earlier in the year in San Jose. For these shows, Peter plays his 1986 album “So” – arguably his first attempt to make music that would appeal to a larger audience. After leaving Genesis, Peter released four very dark and different self-titled albums each presented back in the day with powerful performances. Though the Genesis-era costumes were no more, the third and forth tours included a bit of make up, and a dose of stage theatrics. Musically, “So” was a departure from all that, including more of a rock & soul vibe, and less oblique lyrics. For the tour then and now, while Peter included some of those darker pieces such as “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” the overall mood is more jubilant and there is even… dancing!
Quite a one-two punch from one night to the next, leaving us ruminating on the various stages our musical heroes had been through, each returning to their older work, each taking a different path. Steve has always kept a torch alive for his Genesis-era work, and for him, the crowd last night was probably larger than any of his frequent solo tours, confirming the fact that there is still an audience for that work, and for progressive rock in general. In Peter’s case, he filled a giant arena revisiting his most popular album from 1986 – it’s different than his early work, but with as many dynamic, touching moments. While one punter shouted “Supper’s Ready” during a quiet moment, I don’t think Peter will ever perform his Genesis-era work again, though it’s all been left in able hands.