Recorded just five months after the three-CD/two-DVD Genesis Revisited: Live at Hammersmith (Inside Out, 2013), it's not an unreasonable question to ask: why another show from the same tour (given the tour has been extended even further, by popular demand, into 2014 under the moniker Genesis Extended, featuring the same lineup with the exception of Nick Beggs replacing Lee Pomeroy on bass, bass pedals, guitar and vocals)especially when this is the music of Genesis, a group renowned for its desire to perform its music as faithfully to the studio recordings as possible?
The answer is simple: this is, indeed, Hackett revisiting the material of Genesis
, the band in which he played between 1971 and 1977, and for whom he truly is the torch-bearer for its glory prog years. But unlike the rigors of the original group, Hackett's approach to the music is more liberal; yes, the signatures must all be there, but as he demonstrated on both the 2012 studio release, Genesis Revisited II and Live at Hammersmith, the guitarist who left Genesis on the cusp of its greatest successes also leaves both more interpretive room for his band mates (and himself); he also allows for extended soloing that departs significantly from those recorded on those classic albums, most of them collected in 1970-75 Box Set (Rhino, 2008), along with two that appeared in the 1976-82 Box Set (Rhino, 2007) and two further in the Live 1973-2007 Box Set (Rhino, 2009).
Still, with a studio album and live album out since 2012, do we really need another Genesis Revisited entry?
The answer: for Genesis fansand clearly there are manyunequivocally yes. But more than just for the music, Live at the Royal Albert Hall represents some significant upgrades over Live at Hammersmith. First, unlike Hammersmith there are three editions of Royal Albert Hall: a two-CD/one-DVD edition that features both the audio and video of the complete concert; a two-CD/two-DVD edition that also includes a bonus disc with both a 37-minute Backstage film, with plenty of interview footage, and Album by Album feature where Hackett steps through the recording of his entire discography as a solo artist; finally, as is becoming the norm in an industry struggling to remain viable, an 11"x11" Limited Artbook Edition that contains the two CDs, two DVDs, a Blu-Ray which contains all the contents of the DVDs in higher resolution, and 38 pages (on thick stock) with a bevy of photos from the Albert Hall performance, along with notes about all the members of the band.
Beyond all the extras, what about the music? While there is some significant crossover with Hammersmith, there is also enough material that didn't appear on that previous live release to render it worthwhile, not to mention a largely different set order which suggests that, unlike Genesis, this band alters its set list from night-to-night. Specifically, Royal Albert Hall contains "Carpet Crawlers," from 1974's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Charisma); "The Return of the Giant Hogweed" and "The Fountain of Salmacis," from Hackett's debut with Genesis, 1971's Nursery Cryme (Charisma); "Horizons," from Foxtrot (Charisma, 1972); and "Ripples," from the group's first album after founding singer Peter Gabriel left, 1976's A Trick of the Tail (Charisma).
Furthermore, while Hammersmith featured a number of guest appearances, so, too, does Royal Albert Hall: King Crimson
alum John Wetton is back, this time singing a far more suitableand, consequently, far more impressive"Firth of Fifth"; Amanda Lehman also returns, this time delivering an even more paradoxically fragile and powerful "Ripples" than she did on Genesis Revisited II; in addition to a gorgeous look at The Lamb's "Carpet Crawlers," ex-Genesis singer Ray Wilson
contributes a look at the group's early hit, "I Know What I Like," from 1973's Selling England By The Pound (Charisma), that also breaks down into a downright funky instrumental section where saxophonist/flautist/percussionist/keyboardist Rob Townsend, in particular, gets to strut his stuff; and, on "Hogweed," a guest appearance from Hackett singer Nad Sylvan's band mate in Agents of Mercy (as well as guitarist/vocalist with The Flower Kings and Transatlantic), Roine Stolt, whose inspired playing and end-song guitar trade-offs inspire Hackett to quip, after a particularly massive round of applause, "Ah, those Swedish guys certainly can play."
But guest appearances aside, Hackett's group hasfor this tour and the slightly altered Genesis Extended follow-up this yearmanaged to find that fine line between reverence and a healthy irreverence that allows for personal interpretation. Keyboardist Roger King may faithfully emulate many of Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks' tones but he updates them too; andwhile he is also respectful of the parts that simply must be played to assure complete authenticity and, consequently, credibility with the legion of Genesis fans that have managed to turn Genesis Revisited II into a globe-trotting, two-year tour that may be the most successful of Hackett's careerhe also takes liberties too. At the opening of Nursery Cryme's "The Musical Box" King contributes a new musical box part that somehow turns increasingly ominous as it morphs into the familiar guitar chords that introduce the tune proper .
Bassist Lee Pomeroy manages to fill Genesis' then-rhythm guitarist/bassist/bass pedal player Mike Rutherford with similar verisimilitude while, at the same time, doing things like, as drummer Gary O'Toole describes in the Limited Art Book Edition, playing "with the time signature on [The Lamb's] 'Broadway Melody of 1974,' with Lee playing as far behind me as he could. What this achieved was to give the song its own character. It wasn't a case of merely doing what had been done before, but making it a little different within the expected song structure." The pair also take similar but different liberties during King's solo during the "Apocalypse in 9/8" segment of Foxtrot's epic "Supper's Ready." And O'Toole takes his own freedoms vocally, in particular on "Fly on a Windshield" and "Broadway Melody of 1974" where, like Sylvan, he manages to find the perfect balance of singing expected lines and introducing interpretive differences that make the songs his own.
If everyone is a star in this group, Sylvan is the one who has, perhaps, ascended the most, especially when listening to his work with the group from Hammersmith in May, 2013, his Royal Albert Hall performance and his appearance with Hackett at Gatineau's Casino du Lac Leamy, just across the river from Ottawa, Canada, a scant 19 days prior to the Albert Hall date. Sylvan manages to sound like Gabriel and, for the post-Gabriel material like "Afterglow"from Hackett's final studio appearance with Genesis, 1977's Wind & Wuthering (Charisma)like drummer-turned-singer Phil Collins, while at the same time making every song personalsometimes with just the subtlest turn of a phrase, other times more dramatically. The anthemic "Afterglow" is, in particular, a much better reading than John Wetton's take on Hammersmithand there's no disrespect intended; only that, as Royal Albert Hall's "Firth of Fifth" demonstrates, sometimes it all comes down to a matter of song choice rather than whether or not someone is singing well. With "Firthg of Fifth" more suited to Wetton's range and delivery, it's further evidence of how, over the past couple of years, he has returned with a voice as good as it's ever beenmaybe even better.
As with the previous reviews, it's also a treat to hear this material with the harmony vocals that were a part of the studio recordings but which Genesis really didn't recreate live to the same extent. And if Hackett can't overdub parts as he did on the studio records, when Townsend, on soprano sax, harmonizes with him at the end of "Supper's Ready," it's as spine-tingling as it's ever been, before Hackett embarks on the kind of unfettered solo that he'd have never been able to take when he was with Genesis beyond, as he explains in the Limited Artbook Edition, "the early years," which would have been before the group began making inroads in North America.
Townsend, too, gets his moments in the spotlight, in particular during "I Know What I Like" and at the end of a transcendent, set-closing "Los Endos." As the audience delivers one of many standing ovations, there are huge smiles all around the bandsmiles that can be seen throughout the show, too, as it's clear that playing to a packed house at Royal Albert Hall has been a high point in a series of tours filled with them.
As the video of the concert also demonstrates, Sylvan also understands the need to perform in ways that allow him to visually project to the furthest reaches of a venuein particular one as large as Royal Albert Hall, whose view from the "gods" seats is included in the Limited Artbook Edition imagery, as well as with some of the pans in the concert video. If Hammersmith was an impressive watch, Royal Albert Hall is even better because, in addition to the lighting and screens with which the band toured, lighting designer and operator Russell "Tigger" Matthews and visual mapper Ian Holmes also takes advantage of the huge circular acoustic tiles on the roof of the massive hall, instead of focusing solely on the stage, turning the entire venue into a light and visual show. With a multi-camera recording, director, producer, editor, and post-production wizard Paul M Green has rendered a high definition concert video that stands amongst the best around.
Sonically, with the Blu-Ray offering 24/48 LPCM Stereo and DTS 4/1 Master Audio, Royal Albert Hall trumps Hammersmith from the opening notes of its set opener, "Dance on a Volcano"where, whether listening through speakers or headphones, Pomeroy's bass pedals can literally be felt in the gut as much as they're heard. And that's only one aspect of a sound mix that is crystal clear and thoroughly punchy throughout.
Beyond being a guitarist who may be impressive to hear but avoids any rock star posturing, Hackett is described as the ultimate nice guy by literally everyone in the band, and the interview footage on the bonus DVD and Blu-Ray make it even more abundantly clear; relaxed, amiable, self-deprecating and a fountain of knowledge, Hackett comes across as a man proud of his own post-Genesis career, but also as the one member of Genesis that really appreciates the legacy of this music, and has therefore made the decision to create a recording and tour that, for those too young to have heard Genesis back in the day, have the opportunity to experience "Genesis Plus"; all the signature music of this influential progressive rock band, but taken into the 21st century and given the freedom to be even more than what it once was.
There are those who may question Hackett's continuing to mine the Genesis catalogthough the truth is he has always included some Genesis material in his electric set listsand those who may further question the need to release Live at the Royal Albert Hall, but the simple truth is: this was a different performance than Hammersmith and, clearly, a particularly significant one for Hackett and his group. Rather than choosing one over the other, Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall is a perfect dovetail to Live at Hammersmith, and provides an even larger, more dramatic window into a project that has turned into one of Hackett's most successful everand, based on both live sets, for very good reason.
Track Listing: CD1: Dance on a Volcano; Dancing With the Moonlight Knight; Fly on a Windshield; Broadway Melody of 1974; Carpet Crawlers; The Return of the Giant Hogweed; The Musical Box; Horizons; Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers; In That Quiet Earth; Afterglow; I Know What I Like. CD2: Firth of Fifth; The Fountain of Salmacis; Supper's Ready; Watcher of the Skies; Los Endos. DVD1: Entire Concert (all songs from CD1 & CD2); DVD2: Backstage; Album by Album. Blu-Ray: Entire Concert (all songs from CD1 & CD2); Backstage; Album by Album.
Personnel: Steve Hackett: guitar, vocals; Roger King: keyboards; Nad Sylvan: vocals, tambourine; Gary O'Toole: drums, percussion, vocals; Lee Pomeroy: bass, bass pedals, Variax, 12-string guitar, vocals; Rob Townsend: saxophone, woodwind, percussion, vocals, keyboards; Amanda Lehman (CD2#2, DVD1#14, Blu-Ray#14); Ray Wilson: vocals (CD1#12, DVD1#12, Blu-Ray#12); John Wetton: vocals (CD2#1, DVD1#13, Blu-Ray#13); Roine Stolt: guitar (CD1#5, DVD1#5, Blu-Ray#5).