Genesis released the double live album Seconds Out, their last consecutive album to feature guitarist Steve Hackett, in 1977. Steve left the band near the end of mixing sessions for this album, and ended what for many is the most important period of their history. Amazingly, in those two short years, with Phil Collins doing dual duty on both drums and vocals and Steve bringing in his best work to date, Genesis recorded some of the greatest progressive / classical rock albums of the 1970’s – namely Trick of the Tail and the pastoral, gorgeous masterpiece Wind & Wuthering. These studio albums and the tours to promote them, in 1976 and 1977, along with the live recordings on Seconds Out stand today as some of the band’s finest hours. The Wind & Wuthering tour was also my first opportunity to see Genesis perform live.
On that night, nearly 40 years ago, on March 24, 1977, we drove to the Los Angeles Forum to bear witness to these artists. By then I’d seen about a dozen concerts, starting with Cat Stevens, and continuing with Jethro Tull, Yes, Queen and other luminaries of Genesis, but this was the one I’d really been waiting for. I can still recall an overwhelming elation as the lights dimmed and Chester counted the band into the opening number, “Squonk” during which Phil warmed his still childlike voice for a long night. I recall the impressive tambourine dance he performed on I Know What I Like”, the dual drum solo on “Cinema Show”, and the moment he got behind his kit during the complex sweeping midsection of “Robbery, Assault and Battery,” proving to all who listened what a powerful yet nuanced performer he was.
No longer sitting for the shows, Steve stood and commanded attention, stomping and swaying to accentuate his parts, including the haunting majestic solo on “Firth of Fifth,” his opening lead heralding the “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” and the aggressive jam on the brilliant “Unquiet Slumbers” instrumental. While Steve rightly complained of having his compositions squeezed off of these releases, his playing on every track that did make the records is off the charts, his ability to make the guitar drive melody unparalleled. Forget even calling out the technical and artistic brilliance of Tony Banks on keys and Michael Rutherford on guitar and bass – these were a given and their talents were on full display. At the time, these four players, along with Chester Thompson on drums were my number one musical heroes and they delivered the goods. It’s all on the record.
As a document of their ability to deliver impressive performances without Gabriel, the Seconds Out album is as timely and effective live chronicle as any in the progressive rock genre. Mostly complete renditions of their songs, from Foxtrot (1972) through to Wind & The Wuthering (1976), made up the set list culled from the the 1977 tour, with Cinema Show featuring Bill Bruford on drums, from the 1976 tour. Small snippets of one song each from their earliest albums Trespass and Nursery Crime were also mixed within the set. This approach was new to their shows then, and it worked, although longer medleys would become deeply annoying in their later more commercial years as a way to grant only passing reference to their early recordings. Also a few gems from the tours were left out, including a lot of Wind & Wuthering and it’s companion EP Spot the Pigeon, but given the length of their shows these would have yielded a four-album set! All of the recordings from these two tours are sonically amazing, though some may complain about the mix, which subverts a bit of Steve’s work, and leaves the lowest bass notes from Michael Rutherford inaudible. Vocals, drums and keys up front, as was so often the case. Still it yields an enjoyable set and an important offering.
Visually, the Wind & Wuthering tour itself was simple. While films and projections had been abandoned after the Trick of the Tail show, the subsequent outing honed their live skills, with the focus being on musicianship, and the lights that made it all visible. One of the simple most effective accents was the use of rows of vertical white spotlights with billowing smoke traveling through them, shown on the cover of Seconds Out. And, for the finale of “Super’s Ready” Phil’s ascent to a riser dressed in white to deliver the “Apocalypse in 9/8” segment was unforgettable. There is a decent film covering about half the Trick of the Tail tour, included in the latest re-master of that album, which actually hit theaters at the time. Though short, it is a great document, even if cut in parts with annoying silent films that interrupt the performance footage. It’s also on YouTube here Genesis – In Concert 1976. For the 1977 Wind & Wuthering tour there is scant film, all of poor quality. Instead, there are some very nice complete audio recordings from this year that augment Seconds Out, which will lend a bit of insight as to this, arguably the better of the two outings.
Together, the albums of this period, Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering, Seconds Out and the Spot the Pigeon EP deserve more respect and attention from critics and those chronicling the history of Genesis than they receive. Much of the press surrounding this band has been grossly unfair, with this period basically ignored given the performance art that preceded it, and commercial appeal that followed it. This was again the case with the recent documentary “Genesis: Together and Apart/Sum of the Parts.” Instead, one could easily argue that the band produced their crowning achievements during this time. This was music and art blended seamlessly together – there is a kind of magic woven through the tracks that fuels the imagination. I know what I like, and I was there, so here’s a recommendation: skip the Genesis R-Kive set and the documentary, and pick up these four albums – along with Steve Hackett’s first solo album Voyage of the Acolyte (1975) – now that’s the best way to establish an archive for these master craftsmen.
(photos by Brad Owen at The Atomic Co)