Steve Hackett Live at The Keswick Review

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.

Hackett-2015-WaistUp-600Following 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 wolflightFrontCoversongs 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. Hackett-2015-Side-600Nad 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?

Steve Hackett’s From Acolyte to Wolflight Tour is continuing in the the northeast in the US and Canada with a date tonight 11/21 in the Scottish Rite Auditorium, Collingswood, NJ.

~John Diliberto

Steve Hackett Live 2013 -Re-Genesis
Steve Hackett Live at Nearfest

  4 comments for “Steve Hackett Live at The Keswick Review

  1. November 21, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    Excellent review. As a long time Hackett fan since his earliest days with Genesis and his superb first 4 solo albums, I agree with your points made here. His guitar playing is as good as ever and the singer sounds alright but his stage presence is so off it is distracting which is odd considering some of his efforts at being theatrical are on the right track. Most of all though, while Hackett deserves great respect as one of the finest guitarists and composers ever, his many solo albums since his first 4 have had fewer and fewer spots of brilliance and for the most part are an unsatisfying mess of styles that can’t even begin to compare to his earlier ones. Your point about him being “trapped by his audience as a repertory band” is spot on. I believe the main reason he is forced to play mostly old material at his shows is that his more recent albums are not just unknown to his audience they are just not very good. Even if no one knew his new songs, if there were as good as songs such as Spectral Mornings or Ace of Wands, the crowd would be happy for him to play them.

  2. November 21, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    John –

    I was in the same ‘row’ as you, just in the middle section. This is what I posted on Facebook a few hours ago. Seems we had similar viewpoints of the audience…

    After seeing last night’s Steve Hackett show with Chad Hutchinson, a few thoughts have passed through my mind:

    1. Why do people drink copious amounts of beer, which force them to get up throughout the show and go either to the bathroom or get more beer? Aren’t you there to, oh, I don’t know, watch the performance? The amount of people getting up and down (most of which with empty beer glasses) was astounding. Is the [probably] crap beer you just paid $10 worth more than the idea that you’re seeing one of the best progressive (or otherwise) guitarists of the last 40 years about 20 feet away? This isn’t an arena show; this is an intimate venue! We all get impacted when you get up and down!

    If you gotta need to go to the bathroom, that I get – even I had to go, but I wanted until intermission. The fact that you’re quite literally pissing money away ’cause you can’t control your liquor directly impacts, depending on where you are in my line of vision. my ability to enjoy the show. Speaking of line of sight….

    2. I don’t care if you snap a picture with your phone; I get that. What I don’t get is people lifting their phone so it’s out of THEIR line of sight but in another person’s vision – so either they can take a photo (with the flash on) or taking a video. Is it really important that you take that 20 second video of the middle section of “Can-Utility And The Coastliners?”

    3. The people who talk across the aisle ways to each other during the performance. The guy in the row in front of me kept talking to an obviously inebriated person in the section to our left, who kept talking to the guy in our section more and more as the night went on. I guess I should mention the midget (no, she was) who came down the aisle to talk to the guy two guys to my right. In the middle of a Genesis song. Seriously? It can’t wait until either between songs or, god forbid, after the show?

    4. It was _very_ clear that the vast majority (not all) who came to see the Steve Hackett show last night were not fans of his solo work – or even knew 99% of what he played that wasn’t Genesis. Christ, he OPENED with Spectral Mornings! How do you not lose your shit right there and then? The encore? Clocks! Complete silence. I was astounded at the amount of people (including our drunk guy – see #3 – who was the only guy standing and making a complete ass of himself during the Genesis set) who don’t know Steve’s vast solo work. However, as soon as the final song start (I won’t give it away), the whole crowd changed instantly from “bored” to “WOW!” – a pity, as Steve’s solo stuff played last night was on point.

    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the Hackett solo set almost as much as the Genesis set (which had some very cool rarities played, all of which I wasn’t expecting). The band was top notch – Roger King and Gary O’Toole were simply effortless in their performance (I couldn’t stop watching Gary at the end of “Shadow of the Hierophant”). The way Rob Townsend played (esp when he was doubling Steve’s or Peter’s lines) were great. I’m no Roine Stolt fan by any strech, but he handled the job appropriately (not as well as Nick Beggs or Lee Pomeroy had in previous live shows I’ve seen with Steve, but that’s just what I noticed).

    Leaving the The Keswick Theatre, I couldn’t shake the notion of simply being very disappointed in the crowd (at least the crowd around me, don’t know what was going on behind me). It’s a feeling I don’t think I’ve ever had before.

  3. Carl Reid
    December 18, 2015 at 1:56 am

    I discovered Nad Sylvan on November 18, 2015 at a Steve Hackett concert in Wilmington, Delaware. Nad came out at mid-show to do vocals and immediately captured the audience and held our attention in his grip for the remainder of the show. He has a mesmerizing and commanding stage presence, executing dramatic expression like a seasoned Shakespearean actor. If you get an opportunity to see Nad Sylvan live, in any context, you will become a fan. If you listen to some of his interviews you will also discover that he is a really nice guy.

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