Nearfest 2010 is underway, and it started out spanning generations with a musician who started his career in 1970 and a band who started in 2002 .
Riverside is a Polish band that mixes elements of progressive rock, heavy metal and a touch of screamo in a sound that had me floored when they played Nearfest a few years ago. Mariusz Duda, Piotr Grudzin’ski, Piotr Kozieradzki, Michal Lapaj played mostly materiel from their latest album, Anna Domini High Definition. Typical of Riverside, it was an energetic performance with slashing, overdrive guitar chords from Grudzin’ski and storm clouds of rhythm from Kozieradzki. At one point they even evoked Deep Purple with swirling Jon Lord style organ But overall the performance lacked the energy of their previous Nearfest set, because the materiel of Anna Domini isn’t quite up to Rapid Eye Movement or Second Life Syndrome. Even Mariusz Duda’s vocals, a focal point for the group, seemed sparing and lacking the passion you usually hear from this intense musician.
A musician who started some 40 years earlier provided the night’s highlight as Steve Hackett took the stage fronting a 6 piece ensemble that essayed music from across his career, including songs from his first 4 solo CDs, his latest album, Out the Tunnel’s Mouth and lots of Genesis music from both incarnations of the band with whom Hackett played.
Hackett is the second veteran guitarist who has floored me in as many weeks. Like Jeff Beck, Hackett is a master of extended guitar techniques, turning his six strings into a mutant orchestra. If Beck is the Wizard of the Whammy bar, then Hackett is the Sultan of Sustain. He can turn one note into a siren cry, echoing through processing, bent by whammy bar imprecations and milked for every resonant emotion.
The set opened with “Mechanical Bride,” a wild ride from To Watch the Storms given an even wilder treatment that recalled King Crimson‘s “Pictures of a City,” replete with a free jazz vamp featuring Rob Townsend on tenor saxophone. From there Hackett alternated Genesis tracks like “Dance on a Volcano” and “Firth of Fifth” with solo tracks from Voyage of the Acolyte (including a nice penny-whistle arrangement of “Ace of Wands”) and a searing take on “Spectral Morning.” Hackett introduced one Genesis tune as a special treat for the audience, but I think all of the Genesis materiel would have been a treat if they’d gotten a better singer than drummer Gary O’Toole who has a pleasant “camp-fire” voice and can carry a tune, but…. it ain’t Peter Gabriel. Hackett only sang on his own songs.
Hackett’s new materiel from Out the Tunnel’s Mouth stood up next to his earlier work and may be his best solo album in years. “Fire on the Moon” and “Sleepers” in particular benefited from some harmonized vocal processing on the former and triumphal harmonies on the latter. The instrumental “Tubeheads” is a stop-start barn-burner that gave Hackett a chance to get his Jeff Beck Squonk out.
The encore was a majestic rendition of “Clocks” marred only by the stage shtick of bassist Nick Beggs. He’s a monster player but his strutting androgynous stage persona with black leather kilts and vest, blonde pig-tails and butt wagging antics were a distraction. He reminded me of that half-assed saxophonist/model who Peter Gabriel toured with in the late 1970s. But Beggs held down the bottom which he had to do as Hackett soared with impassioned, sonically bent, but melodically sinuous solos throughout the night. Why he isn’t mentioned in that rare pantheon of guitar gods is beyond me.
I had a great interview with Steve Hackett. Look for it on Echoes sometime in July.
Part Two of Nearfest 2010 ahead.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))