Not knowing what to expect from someone that many consider one of the greatest guitarists to grace music and more so one who arguably was cut from the spotlight in his absolute prime is not a difficult problem to have. But Steve Hackett’s crowd love every last thing about him; I talked to many at the bar who’d seen the former Genesis guitarist at least four times, most on the current tour which started in what Hackett himself called ‘a party town’ in an interview I held with him the week before. Either way, his fans are here and they’re here in force.
When the band entered the stage at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, there is a light applause and little more, as if expecting the kind of symphony that is to be expected of such a venue. Indeed, the choice of venues on his current tour are all set up this way, as if to make you expect something special, rather than dirty dive bar rock or arena sized anthems, of which Hackett’s music would be equally welcome in. The band are unassuming as they launch right into the exceptional harmonies of the classic ‘Every Day’ and they sound truly glorious, bouncing off the walls in equal harmony alongside inspired solo after solo. As the gig goes on and the more progressive elements and glacial sounds of his solo work emerge, in this environment, on that stage, his hand-picked band in all black, with the exception of the dapper drummer in his finest suit and shades, a sparse stage with a simple but effective light show, you realise that Hackett is home.
You may expect big video screens playing space age animations but Hackett and his band remain inanimate like a jazz band, drifting through songs efficiently but potently and this seems to be the entire point; we are here to listen, to feel the music, for that space age animation to be conjured up in our own minds, the projector being the stage and the men in the middle of it. Under the low light is where life begins and as every thing grows, so does the music. Hackett may be statuesque but he doesn’t make a single wrong move, the exciting, yet equally creepy ‘El Nino’ from 2017’s The Night Siren fitting right in with the classics.
Clarinet solos merge into pounding beats and middle-eastern rhythms on the classic ‘The Steppes’ from 1980. In fact, Hackett’s setlist perfectly combines the old with the new and it all works together seamlessly. From the feeling you get from the fans, all beards, Hackett t-shirts disappointed by the lack of craft beer in the venue, that there is a lot of truth that when Hackett left Genesis in ’77 so they could continue to evolve and Hackett could follow his own journey, that the fans who loved his creativity followed him. This is the kind of crowd that congratulated the sound techs at the end of the gig, so they know and love their music and the experience.
Hackett has also remained as faithful to them as they have to have in the last 40 years. He is living proof lighting up that empty stage of what the true meaning of prog is. He subtly yet masterfully slips into the hypnotic Zeppelin-esque ‘Behind the Smoke’, and the highlight, a psychedelically-lit, childlike ‘Serpentine Song’, a beautiful dedication to Hackett’s painter father that makes you feel as though you’re being fed by the light itself. The man who drifting into the gig by this point was making it fly and you can’t help but wonder what Genesis may have become with him and, more so, if they ever regretted losing him.
After the fun of watching old-school rockers marveling at the sound of the interval bell and request that the audience should take their seats, out comes the Genesis, the sound that many have come to see and hear and seemingly so does Phil Collins (the sound many have come to avoid) in soundalike Nad Sylvan.
He certainly doesn’t look like Collins with his flowing blonde hair and Thespian poses. He brings a certain theatrical campness to the playful songs that the gig likely needed as a stunning five songs are played from the legendary, classic 1976 album Wind and Wuthering, including the glacial ‘Blood on the Rooftops’ and the quiet stomp of ‘Eleventh Earl of Mar’, one of progs true staples, and the joyous ‘One for the Vine’.
In an almost literal sea of highlights, one shines through; the elegant kitchen-sink prog of ‘Dance on a Volcano’, quickly followed by ‘Inside and Out’ an EP B-side that Hackett strongly believes should have made Wuthering and on this majestic showing you can see why.
It’s hard to find a moment in the final three or four songs where you don’t get lost in it all. Whether you know Genesis and their back catalog like the back of your six string or you have no idea what you’re looking at, the beauty of ‘Firth of Fifth’ and the pure theatre of ‘The Musical Box’ pull you through and wring you out. If you don’t feel something from these songs, it’s hard to image you’re feeling anything at all and that’s the way this stunning tour has been put together, formed from a tapestry entirely woven of sound and light.
Photography By Jana
Hackett shines in an intimate, yet expansive show for fans of prog and classic rock, old and new.