Steve Hackett at Casino du Lac Leamy Theatre
Casino du Lac Leamy Théâtre
October 5, 2013
It might seem odd that the guitarist who left Genesis more than 35 years ago has ultimately become the only one to champion the music made during the group's years spent in the progressive rock arena, while those who continued on as a trio expressed less and less interest in that music, becoming far more commercially successful with the '80s-style pop that became their ultimate destination. Even when that triokeyboardist Tony Banks, bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford and drummer/vocalist Phil Collinsreconvened for a relatively small number of dates (but on its usual epic scale) in 2007, the emphasis weighed in favor of radio (and video) friendly hits like "Invisible Touch," "I Can't Dance" and "No Son of Mine," though there was at least some nod to the progressive music of its pastconsiderably more, in fact, than at any time since touring Duke (Atlantic, 1980), long considered by most to be the band's last gasp in the progressive arena.
But for Steve Hackett, the music that Genesis made during his tenurejoining the band in 1971 for that year's classic Nursery Cryme (Charisma) (the group's second "official" album, following 1970's Trespass (Charisma), through to his departure in October, 1977 after his own swan songs with the group (the studio Wind & Wuthering and live Seconds Out, both released by Atlantic that same year)has remained of key significance, and while he has continued to release a growing discography of stylistically diverse recordings under his own name in the ensuing decades, he's almost always included at least a handful of Genesis tunes in the set lists of his live performances.
Still, with the resurgence of interest in progressive rock fuelled by the internet's ability to bring together pockets of fans from around the globe, it was, perhaps, only a matter of time before he released Genesis Revisited (Camino), a fine first-crack, in 1996. But it was the far larger cast of characters and some particularly fine vocal turnsincluding Nik Kershaw's definitive "The Lamia," from Genesis' final album with founding singer Peter Gabriel, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Charisma, 1974); Jakko Jakszyk's stunning harmonies on "Entangled," from A Trick of the Tail (Charisma, 1976); and Nad Sylvan's dramatic interpretation of Nursery Cryme's "The Musical Box"that made Genesis Revisited 2 (Inside Out, 2012) not just a modern update of classic material, it perhaps blasphemously managed, in some cases, to actually surpass the originals. An even greater success than Hackett could have envisaged, the guitarist has spent most of 2013 on the road performing the Genesis Revisited show, with more dates already pushing the tour into 2014.
It's not as if there haven't been good Genesis tribute acts; The Musical Box, at times featuring Mahavishnu Project leader/drummer Gregg Bendian, has even gone so far as to gain permission from Genesis to launch performances of The Lamb that utilized the original concept album tour's slide show and costumes.
But to have one of the original members of Genesis bring a show that featured some of its best-loved progressive material back to life, and with a well-oiled, top-notch groupNad Sylvan impressively handling most of the vocal duties, with drummer Gary O'Toole also taking a couple of lead vocal spots; keyboardist Roger King adding some new textures to his own takes on Tony Banks' signature work; woodwind/saxophone/keyboardist Rob Townsend not only covering Gabriel's flute work, but doubling and/or harmonizing many of the touchstones that Hackett contributed back in the day; and bassist Lee Pomeroy also assuming 12-string duties on an impressive double-neck guitar, as well as handling the huge-sounding bass pedals that threatened to blow the roof off the theatre more than a few times? A group capable of treating the music with the reverence it deserved while, at the same, time adding its own interpretive slant? It's no surprise that Hackett received more than a few standing ovations throughout the nearly two-and-a-half hour show that he brought to the Théâtre at Casino du Lac Leamy in Gatineau, Quebec, part of the Canadian capital's Greater Metropolitan Area located just a few minutes' drive across the river from Ottawa.
In a most generous interview with Hackett prior to the show, he spoke of many things, including the motivation behind making Genesis Revisited 2:
At the nearly sold-out, 1,000 seat theatre, it was clear just how close to peoples' hearts Genesis' music from Hackett's tenure remains. What may be surprising to many, however, is that, despite Genesis' commercial success seeming to soar to new heights each time someone left the band, with its '80s and early '90s material doing far better for the band at the time, the passing of years tells another story, with sales of '70s-era Genesis albums ultimately surpassing later records like Genesis (Atlantic, 1983) and We Can't Dance (Atlantic, 1991):
Hackett's love of the music was clear, as were his fond memories of a group where, much like small new England towns, despite being in the group for six years, he was always considered the "new kid on the block" along with Collins (until the singer/drummer's own solo success with albums like Face Value (Atlantic, 1981) gave him greater clout in the group's direction...for better and for worse)even when, after front man and theatrical focal point Gabriel left and the group's future was seriously threatened, he became the first to release a solo record, 1975's Voyage of the Acolyte (Charimsa), which has since become a classic of the progressive rock pantheon:
Still, Hackett is realisticand humbleabout his early role in the group, in particular as a writer:
Genesis was an unusual band for its time; rather than writing autobiographically, pining about love lost, or writing oblique lyrics the group told stories; tales ultimately of greater importance than any individual performer in the band, with pre-Trick of the Tale shows doing everything possible to draw attention away from everyone but Gabriel, even though there impressive performances aplenty. Further still, based on his innovative plaing on Nursery Cryme, it's hard to believe that Hackett had no significant experience in any prior group and minimal live experience before Gabriel responded to an ad that Hackett had placed in the September 2, 1970 issue of Melody Maker, seeking musicians who were "determined to strive beyond existing stagnant music forms."
He may certainly have had plenty of growth as a player ahead of him, but Hackett was already changing the shape of guitar on the first Genesis recording to feature his name; two-handed tapping may have subsequently been attributed to guitarists like Eddie Van Halen, but Hackett was doing it years before. Still, he is quick to acknowledge his own early deficienciesand influences:
Hackett has become a much stronger playerand writerin the years since he left Genesis, and while a tour like Genesis Revisited might look like a cash-grab to some, such ideas couldn't be further from the truth. Hackett simply remains the "last man standing" to advocate music that, more than 35 years on, remains not just important, but relevant:
Back in the dayand even post-HackettGenesis' goal, in performance, was to replicate it studio versions as closely as possible. With Hackett's own playing now orders of magnitude ahead of where he was at the time of their original release, his 2013 arrangements were reverential, but there was also some room for interpretive freedomeven a few opportunities to really stretch out, as in the end of "The Lamia," where Hackett and Townsend (on soprano saxophone) traded off for one of the show's more powerful moments:
While the success of this tour might encourage others weaker minds to plan immediately for Genesis Revisited 3, Hackett has always been true to his muse and is already at work on his next recordand it won't be another Genesis recording:
As with Genesis Revisited 2 and most of his recent work, including albums like Out of the Tunnel's Mouth (Inside Out, 2010) and Wild Orchids (Inside Out, 2006), Hackett will construct the majority of the album through file sharing, rather than bringing the musicians together in one place, as singer/multi- instrumentalist/songwriter Steven Wilson (a guest on Genesis Revisited 2) did with his own The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) (Kscope, 2013):
Hackett comes across as completely confident in his knowledge and his abilities; still, when it comes to writing, his feelings about the process are refreshingly humble:
And as much as being pigeonholed in the progressive rock world means a certain element of complexity to the music, Hackett isn't one to forget the beauty of simpler premises:
Following the interview and roughly an hour's soundcheck, there was no time for rest, as Hackett went to a "meet and greet" with fans who'd coughed up extra bucks to meet their hero, get a personal photograph with the guitarist, an autograph, a collectible, numbered, limited edition tour poster, exclusive tour merchandise item and an official meet & greet laminate card. No sooner was that over than the doors opened, promptly, at 7:00PM, giving Hackett an hour to relax and prepare. Almost on the button, the lights dimmed at 8:00PM as King began the opening mellotron chords to "Watcher of the Skies," begging the question: how would Sylvan do, in terms of stage presence, when compared to Gabriel, whose multicolored cape, strange, bat-winged headdress and carefully thought-out staging always made this science fiction tale a dramatic opener.
There was no need to worry. With long, curly blond hair and dressed in layersa white pirate shirt beneath a burgundy and black vest, all covered by a black coat reaching right down to his feetSylvan knew how to reach an audience, regardless of the size of the room. With facial makeup helping his sometimes exaggerated expressions reach the back of the room, Sylvan later posted, the day after the show, on Facebook: "I am thinking of the little people in the back! You have to reach all the way you know....let them see your facial expressions. Personally I hate make up! But onstage, you become someone else and I find that fascinating."
Of all the singers who participated on Genesis Revisited 2, Sylvan couldn't have been a better choice for the tour. A singer with his own approach and personality, the texture of his voice does, nevertheless, resemble Gabriel's at times- -something made clearer on his Genesis soundscape project with Bonamici (aka Christian Thordin), Unifaun (Prog Rock, 2008), and perhaps less so as singer of Agents of Mercy, his collaboration with the Flower Kings' guitarist Roine Stolt that began as a more acoustic alternative but ultimately turned more progressive by the time of its most recent release, The Black Forest (Foxtrot, 2011). Throughout the show, from hand gestures to exaggerated facial expressions, Sylvan not only sang the music of Genesis with all the credibility required, he also acted as a visual lightning rod on the stage.
Which was a good thing because, as fine a guitarist as Hackett isand while he commanded attention when he was playing a solo or taking a brief acoustic turn, as he did on nylon-string guitar for a version of his instrumental solo "Horizons," from Foxtrot (Charisma, 1972), which segued into a beautiful version of Wind & Wuthering's "Blood on the Rooftops," sung by O'Toolehe doesn't resort to any of the typical rock guitar posturing; instead, he focused on the task at hand: delivering the music at its absolute best. "Blood on the Rooftops" then led into the same triptych of songs that followed on that album: the atmospheric "Unquiet Slumber For the Sleepers...," the hard-edged, near-fusion of ..."In That Quiet Earth" and finally, with Sylvan back onstage to sing, The Beatles-esque "Afterglow," not only powered by Pomeroy's bass pedals and 12-string guitar arpeggios, but by something else this group delivered that Genesis did less and less as time went on: vocal harmonies.
While, in the early days, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins provided Gabriel with the occasional backup vocals, by the time Gabriel deserted the group to pursue a solo career, background vocals were largely left behind in concerta shame, as they made songs like "Watcher of the Skies," "Afterglow" and "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" (the group's first charting single, reaching #21 on the UK Singles Charts) all the better, and it was simply great to have them back (with Hackett also singing).
It was also a pleasure to see just how much fun the group was having; while Gabriel was a charismatic front man, the rest of the group rarely looked like they were having a good time, in particular Banks and Hackett. Here, Hackett's front and center position onstageaugmented, at times, by lighting that drew even more attention to himmade clear that this was his show, and his band; but it was the occasional clowning around by Sylvan, Townsend, O'Toole and Pomeroy, in particular King's enjoyment was clear from his facial expressions, but hidden behind his keyboards, he was limited in what else he could dothat brought an infectious and joyous energy to the show.
There was also a nice surprise halfway through the set, when the group pulled out a song they'd been rehearsing, but had not yet played on the tour: "The Fountain of Salmacis," from Nursery Cryme, which hasn't been performed by Hackett since the last road trip before Genesis began making inroads in North America with its Selling England By The Pound (Charisma, 1973) tour. A faithful rendition that recaptured the symphonic extremes of Genesis' early days with Hackett and Collins, the guitarist simply introduced it as "new for us, old for you."
Hackett addressed the beyond enthusiastic audience a number of times throughout the set, doing his best with his limited French but doing far better in English, when he first spoke to the crowd after "Watcher of the Skies," saying "The abandoned ship of Genesis is back with a ghost crew." With Townsend covering a number of reed and woodwind instruments (including pennywhistle and recorder), as well as giving King some extra oomph with additional mellotron parts, his instrumental harmonies with Hackett on songs like Trick of the Tail's "Dance on a Volcano" and (not played together, as Genesis so often did) the same album's closer, "Los Endos" (where Sylvan appeared onstage for its one vocal line, "There's an angel standing in the sun") he was but one demonstration that this may have been a ghost crew, but it was one hell of a good one, capable of things Genesis was unable to do back in the day, like executing Hackett's overdubbed guitar parts in performance.
The set's pinnacle was, of course, Genesis' 25-minute epic, "Supper's Ready," from Foxtrot, and if Sylvan's performance wasn't already beyond good enoughand it washe also demonstrated a stamina that Gabriel didn't have back in the day. As charismatic and captivating as he was, Gabriel's voice was rarely able to make it through a full set without losing his upper rangeone of the reasons why he insisted on overdubbing his vocal parts when the Genesis released Genesis Archives 1967-75 (Atlantic, 1998), a decision met with considerable anger from his fans as his voice had deepened and become much huskier in the two decades since he left the group, though he had managed to address his stamina issues, making his new vocal overdubs far too obvious.
Two encores: an epic "Firth of Fifth," from Selling England By The Pound, where King restored the album's intro after Banks had excised it from live performance early on; and a finale that began with a hard-rocking intro which, after a brief pass through Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, found its way to "Los Endos."
It was a powerful conclusion to an evening that found Hackett and his group performing at the absolute top of their game. While any new music from Hackett is most welcome, it's important that he continue to keep the music of Genesis alive whether as a small part of his regular live concerts or, as here, in a more concentrated effort that focuses exclusively on the music that, at least amongst progressive rock fans (and, based on his comments about sales, a group of people that continues to grow), has made him a household name. With a set this captivating, and performed by a group this good, Hackett's success deserves to translate into success for each and every member of the band, but in particular for Sylvan, a singer who placed in the unenviable position of filling some massive shoes, but who succeeded in doing so not through imitation, but through respectful reverence, the occasional total irreverence, and a commanding stage presence that suggests following him in whatever his next endeavor is will be a very good idea, indeed.
All Photos: John Kelman