Steve Hackett Ascends

Genesis_WindProgramCover_72dpiI’ve always had an abiding affection for the band Genesis. I was the guy in high school who scrawled Genesis Rules on my notebooks, that was called Mr. Genesis when addressing yearbook entries. Part of this fascination with the band was the fact that none of us in my circle of friends got to see them before original vocalist and flutist Peter Gabriel left. There was a mystique about that era, scraps of articles about the theatrical stage craft, the costumes, and the overwhelming majesty of their concerts. All our friends who were a bit older and saw them before 1976 talked about the experience in reverential terms, as if they had gone to an evangelical event and would never be the same afterward. Finally, on March 24, 1977, after a long four years being a collector and fan, I saw the Wind & Wuthering tour at the Los Angeles Forum with drummer and second vocalist Phil Collins at the helm. It was my first opportunity to see Genesis perform in concert and it was transformative in every way.

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I’ve seen every member of the band since that time, on every tour, together or apart, and besides Peter Gabriel, guitarist Steve Hackett has been the one ex-band member to carry the music of Genesis forward for new and old audiences alike. Steve Hackett continued to compose, record and perform work exploring the same musical territory as his alma mater, while gaining new ground, continuing to keep the expressive mix of classical, blues and rock motifs alive and ever changing. Three of his first solo albums made it to record stores before the end of the 70s, with more than a dozen solo albums and collaborations following over the next several decades. In addition, Hackett’s work is surprisingly well documented via audio recordings and videos. None of the other ex-members of Genesis officially recorded and released concert films during the 70s.

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Hackett recorded his first solo album Voyage of the Acolyte just weeks after the last date on the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour in 1975 and at the same time the remaining members of Genesis were working on their first post-Gabriel recording. The album sounds quite a bit like Genesis, even sporting some material that the band had auditioned but rejected. The standout tracks are the rocking opener “Ace of Wands” and the closer – the beautiful, haunting “Shadow of the Hierophant” which ends in a doom-laden coda that would have perfectly fit his old band. Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins both play on the record, Phil lending his golden vocals to another standout track “Star of Sirius.”

Hackett’s second record released after leaving Genesis, Please Don’t Touch (1978) is something of a transitional work, with the guitarist trying out several different styles including rock, prog, and jazz. Guest vocalist Steve Walsh (Kansas) lent his powerful pipes to two songs, while Richie Havens and Randy Crawford recorded softer, lovely tones for three others. The track “Icarus Ascending” is truly one of Hackett’s most beautiful songs, graced by Havens’ gravelly, warm vocals. The title track is a standout, apparently offered to Genesis by Hackett for inclusion on the Wind & Wuthering album, but rejected. It’s a tour de force highlighting his assertive playing and ability to switch rapidly between keys and meters. Ultimately this second album is an amalgam of styles, unique in Hackett’s repertoire – the artist exploring new sounds.

On his third album, Spectral Mornings (1979) Hackett truly found that new sound, a more modern adaptation of the style he pioneered. The album features lush harmonies juxtaposed with occasional nightmarish passages, many featuring his trademark tapping technique, one that influenced many musicians to come. A long and fruitful career had truly begun.

CAUGHT ON CELLULOID

Steve Hackett, Spectral Mornings (2005), Gonzo Media Group, 72 min, 1.33:1

Hackett assembled a new band and launched his first tour in 1978, performing songs from his first two solo albums, along with a few new songs that would see the light of day on Spectral Mornings the next year. Performers included his brother John Hackett (flute), Pete Hicks (vocals) Dik Cadbury (bass), Nick Magnus (keyboards) and John Shearer (drums), all of who would continue with Hackett for his defining releases Spectral Mornings (1979) and Defector (1980). The films on the DVD were taken on November 8th, 1978 during the last dates on that tour. The transfer shows off footage that is crisp and clear for it’s time, with rich color saturation, well timed edits, and dynamic audio in stereo or 5.1 surround sound. Though heavily edited for German television at the time, the complete set was remastered and re-sequenced for this transfer, giving today’s collector a chance to see what the whole performance was like. It’s an amazing, rare film that belongs in any fan’s collection.

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LATEST TOUR

Steve Hackett continues to produce accomplished new music to this day, which he performs enthusiastically with his latest band. As mentioned, he’s the only former Genesis band member who includes their 1970s songs in his set list, even playing a show made up exclusively of those classics, as part of his Genesis Revisited albums and tours. This year, he has been back out on tour performing songs from his latest album Wolflight, along with gems from his solo career, and a set of Genesis classics. Dubbed literally as Acolyte to Wolflight with Genesis Revisited, the tour promised to be a career-spanning night to remember.

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We caught the show at the Warfield Theater this month for an absolutely fantastic evening of music. I don’t know how to say this without sounding hyperbolic, but I’ve seen this artist every single time he’s come to California since 1976, and this was the best sounding, most authoritative performance I’ve ever seen him deliver. The first set was composed of Hackett’s solo material, leading off with the title track from Spectral Mornings. The solo set that followed was rich and varied. The Wolflight material came across more impressively than any new material I’ve seen him perform over the years. “Out Of The Body,” the follow-up title track, and “Love Song to a Vampire” were overwhelming in their power and beauty. It’s amazing to find an artist who’s been at work this many years still crafting songs of this quality. Also notable, Hackett’s singing has grown in strength over these many years, the songs crafted to focus on multi-part harmonies to the point now where I believe he is one of our greatest singing guitarists.

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After an intermission, Hackett continued with a set of Genesis classics, all Gabriel-era, including a number of tracks not heard in ages, “Get ‘Em Out by Friday,” “Can-Utility And The Coastliners,” and, wait for it, a tear-jerking absolutely faithful rendition of “After The Ordeal,” an instrumental I always felt captured the heart of what was so inspiring about Hackett-era oft pastoral Genesis music. Nad Sylvan was in perfect voice, as usual; adding his dramatic, soulful delivery to what are, let’s be honest, very challenging songs to sing. This time out, Roine Stolt (Flower Kings, Transatlantic) played bass and additional guitars, joining stalwarts Roger King (keys), Gary O’Toole (drums, vocals), Rob Townsend (winds, percussion).

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The most memorable moments for me were the rare songs Hackett chose from his early work, “Star of Sirius” from Voyage, and “Icarus Ascending” from Touch. I don’t think words can describe how perfectly these songs were delivered, how right it was to have Nad interpreting vocals originally recorded by Phil Collins and Richie Havens in his own richly drawn theatrical style. To end this half of the show, haunting, dynamic arrangements of “Ace of Wands,” “A Tower Struck Down,” and the coda of “Shadow of the Hierophant” left the audience enraptured. And, above all, Steve Hackett was simply on fire. This performance illuminated the groundbreaking work of a career that has now spanned more than 45 years. It served to remind one and all how potent and innovative this artist’s work has been through the years, and how emotionally impactful it is to witness the songs performed live in concert. Okay, and it didn’t hurt that I got to go back stage, meet Jo, the band, and Steve himself to tell him so!

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Special thanks this week to photojournalist Matt Bolender / CC Rock for providing the photos seen herein… and to my beautiful wife for catching Steve signing my commemorative cd/dvd set from the Royal Albert Hall Genesis Revisited show. I left my camera at home that night!

8 thoughts on “Steve Hackett Ascends”

  1. Thanks for the great insights into Steve Hackett’s career. Not sure how the name “Ronnie” slipped in there because I know you know Mr. Stolt’s name!

  2. That last pic would have made you very happy, Douglas! And fair reward for a lifetime of devotion, I reckon.

    BTW, is it just me, or does Nad Sylvan look rather like Bill Nighy in the film ‘Still Crazy’?

  3. I was honored to meet Steve Hackett before the Seattle show. I was very nervous but he was very nice and we had an actual conversation, not just superficial pleasantries. The show was great as you described in your article.

  4. Sounds like an amazing concert. I’ve had my chances over the years to see him, and in hindsight have always come up with very lame excuses in choosing not to do so. Thanks for sharing your experience, I really enjoyed reading it.

  5. Thank you Douglas, I’ve been a Genesis fan since 1976 and frankly never bought any of Steve’s solo work but after reading this I’m going to buy it all. I appreciate the in-depth history and concert review… thanks again for your tireless chronicling of progressive rock greats !

  6. Thank you Douglas for such a beautiful story about this humble, great man. For those that follow and love his music and consider it fundamental in our life soundtrack, what you said here is pure gold.

  7. I wondered who the guy with the beautiful book was getting Steve’s signature. I have a photo of you and Steve on my phone! Beautiful article. My sentiments exactly. The concert and tour was a truly transcendent experience. Thank you, Douglas.

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