Genesis Guitarist Steve Hackett Live!
The Hordes of Hackett must be growing because the sultan of sustain from Genesis is playing no fewer than three dates in one week within an hour or so of each other in the Philadelphia area. Judging from the nearly full house at The Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA, on Friday, November 20, there are more than enough fans to fill them. I say nearly full because if the boisterous bozos at the bar had actually sat in their seats, I’m sure it would’ve been completely full.
Following on the heels of his successful Genesis Revisited tours of the last few years, Steve Hackett’s latest excursion is called the From Acolyte to Wolflight Tour, playing music from his first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte to his latest, Wolflight. That was the first set. The second set was more of Genesis Revisited. With the exception of new member Roine Stolt from the bands The Flower Kings and Transatlantic on bass & guitars, it was the same unit Hackett has been working with, Roger King on keyboards, Gary O’Toole on drums, Rob Townsend on sax and Nad Sylvan on vocals.
The band launched with one of Hackett’s best works, “Spectral Mornings” with the guitarist sending out those clarion sustains that are such a signature, rainbows shot like rockets into space. That was among many songs from across his career, including a long suite from Voyage of the Acolyte that included “Star of Sirius,” “Ace of Wands, “A Tower Struck Down” and “Shadow of the Hierophant.”
New songs from Wolflight stood up to some of these classics. The song “Wolflight” starts out like a madrigal painting a fantasy tale before launching into heavy metal chords and a march groove that echoed “A Tower Struck Down.” Metal sections mixed with lovely acoustic fingerstyle moments and lyrics about chariots and dreams.
“Love Song to a Vampire” fared less well. It might seem like a tryout for the next Twilight film soundtrack, although its lyrics are more about vampyrically abusive relationship rather than vampires themselves. It’s a classical guitar driven ballad that slowed the set down bit.
But it picked up with “The Wheels Turning” which began with circus recordings in surround sound before moving into another madrigal-like ballad that takes an epic turn. Hackett’s guitar playing continues to amaze. He’s a master of signal processing that makes his instrument scream like brakes on a train and soar like a breeze across the trees. At one point he joked about his stomp boxes saying “There’s a subculture that gets together in bathrooms and talks about their fuzz boxes.”
The Genesis set touched many of the classics, “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” “Get “em Out by Friday” and the “The Musical Box” among them. Nad Sylvan handled the vocals as he did on the Genesis Revisited Tour. A journeyman musician from Sweden playing Genesis influenced bands like Sylvan & Bonamici and Agents of Mercy, he’s spent his career doing everything but play in Genesis tribute bands while cultivating his early-Peter Gabriel style keening. He fit the bill, but his stage demeanor just never rings true for me. But everything else did as Hackett wailed through these tunes, which, in retrospect are much less guitar centric than his solo work.
Hackett’s band consists of wonderful players, and Rob Townsend in particular elevated several songs with his wailing soprano sax playing, including saving a slightly flaccid reading off “A Tower Struck Down.”
The band played two well-deserved encores, but it left me a little sad that Hackett seems trapped by his audience as a repertory band. The Genesis material and most of the solo work came from earlier in his career, mostly from his first two solo albums. Judging from the Wolflight tracks, Hackett still has something new to say. But if he says it, will he still be able to fill concert halls?