Steve Hackett Live Review, Birmingham Symphony Hall.
Designed by specialist architects in the 1980s and officially opened in 1991 the Birmingham Symphony Hall was purposely constructed to create acoustics of exceptional sound quality, so unique that Steve Hackett expressed in his introduction that simply rehearsing there is a pleasure. It was no accident that this venue was chosen for the penultimate concert for the Acolyte to Wolflight and Genesis Revisited Tour 2015 by Steve Hackett and his band.
Tonight was a voyage from Acolyte to Wolflight as the latest line up of the Hackett band launched into the first set of solo material with Spectral Mornings, this being the title track of his third solo album released in 1979. This instrumental embodies the total uniqueness of Steve Hackett’s fundamental sliding guitar style technique, highlighting the power and majesty of his music.
Turning to an acoustic guitar Hackett breathed life into the title track of his latest album, Wolflight, released in April 2015 and brings his impressive tally to twenty-four albums of solo and Genesis Revisited work, spanning a career outside of the official Genesis ranks which now celebrates thirty-eight years.
Hackett takes the lead vocal on all of his latest material, his voice velvety and capable. Wolflight draws on very dark and heavy chords and is a complex and continually changing piece which the whole band played with great precision in the spirit of Hackett’s self-cited Russian composer influences such as Alexander Borodin.
After Everyday, the crowd gave their first standing ovation. Steve Hackett spoke for the first time and introduced the band. He was simply dressed in grey jeans and a black t-shirt with a gold logo, as with the set design there was no over embellishment. The lighting show continued to astound as the players exhibited their skills to a willing audience.
Rob Townsend delivered soprano saxophone and wind instruments, the drums were mastered by Gary O’ Toole who also supplied backing vocals in the higher tones and range of Phil Collins. Meanwhile Roger King set the orchestral effect on keyboards with bass being pumped by Roine Stolt who was introduced to Hackett by Nad Sylvan after the two Swedes formed Agents of Mercy in 2009.
Love Song For A Vampire is a lavishly dark creation from Wolflight, the studio recording featured the late Chris Squire on a Hackett owned bass guitar which was resurrected from his massive archive collection. This was the possibly the last new song Squire worked on and this was a fitting tribute by Steve to his friend. The duo had only recently collaborated on the project drawing from their surnames, Squackett.
Further into the show Hackett deemed it appropriate to pay homage and a fitting tribute to Richie Havens who passed away in April 2013 as Nad Sylvan was introduced to perform Icarus Ascending. This song was originally released on his second album of 1978 under the title of Please Don’t Touch. Havens sang the emotional lead vocal on the studio recording of Icarus, a song which before this tour had never been played by Hackett in a live environment.
The song is based on Greek mythology about a man who, wearing wings of feathers and wax, flies to close to sun and falls as they melt. But ascension was the spirit of this song. In the original Richie Havens uniquely combined the natural feel of soul, blues, folk and gospel in one incredible gravelly vocal range and it comes full circle that Sylvan’s own voice perfectly recreates all of these attributes, after all, these are the very qualities which Hackett sought out for his leading singer, it seems he got his man.
Steve took the time to mention his mother was in the audience that night and so it was a proud family moment as he introduced his brother John to play flute on a classical duet from his album Jacuzzi. On the song Tower Struck Down (co-written with Mike Rutherford) Hackett played his heart out and this turned into very heavy stuff, where at the end he scraped his knuckles along the floor in a gesture to the audience that he could not have given any more.
As the audience headed to the bar for the interval it was apparent that no one had seen Hackett play better, he was on fire and clearly this was a special night, musical magic was in the air. This was no normal gig and we sincerely hoped the sound was being officially recorded.
The second half set, which focused on Genesis Revisited material, the lighting design was in the style captured on the cover of the 1973 Genesis Live LP. Simply hung gantries at the sides of the stage providing colour changes synchronized to the music creating spectacular effect. Get ‘Em Out By Friday is the opening song here with Nad Sylvan showcasing his vocals and he was unable to resist some playful miming during the instrumentals.
Hackett then introduced a further track from Foxtrot and proudly explained that Can-Utility And The Coastliners has never been played before on a Genesis Revisited tour. This was also the case with the evenings pièce de résistance, the classic track Cinema Show from selling England By The Pound. Sylvan melted hearts with his interpretations of chocolate surprises, scented flowers and pretty smells.
Land Of Plenty led us back into two tracks from Voyage Of The Acolyte both Star Of Cirius and Ace Of Wands performed in full on Hackett style setting us up for the set finale of The Musical Box, which saw Nad Sylvan waving his microphone stand around in the style of Roger Daltrey.
Genesis’ music has woven webs of intrigue, fantasy and incredible stories over the past five decades and is now being passed down to a younger crowd to absorb. But cutting through all this background it is soul lifting that a certain rock legend still is proud of introducing his mum to one and all in the audience and takes comfort in the fact that she supported the band and cooked their meals in the heady days of the those London studio sessions in the mid 1970’s. Bless.
The encore commenced with the ticking of Clocks taking us into another dimension for a moment. Then Gary O’Toole took the lead with the drum solo and his beats reverberated through the floor and the seats. The vibration continued to work its frenzy and built up to the only logical encore, Firth of Fifth. Townsend’s soprano saxophone replaced the original flute and was sublime, as that formidable Hackett guitar sound expanded to create the most intense solo music beyond our dreams.
After the ordeal both Nad Sylvan and Steve Hackett personally told us that the energy of the crowd urged them on to achieve the best concert of the tour. Steve’s mum had attended five of the shows and confirmed that this one had been outstanding. Sadly the gig had not been officially recorded for prosperity, so, in the end an evening of pure perfection had to be committed to memory. Oh, but what memories!
Live Review by Shirley Ann Williams and Tim Price.
Photography by Simon Jay Price
Steve Hackett at Birmingham Symphony Hall. October 30th 2015.