Steve Hackett Goes Back to Beginning at Keswick Theatre
With Yestival this past summer, gearing up for Hawkwind’s sadly postponed tour, and now Steve Hackett revisiting his work with Genesis, it’s been a year for Progressive Rock nostalgia. Guitarist Steve Hackett was with Genesis for their glory years and then stuck around for two post-Peter Gabriel Genesis albums before striking out on his own. He’s never really ignored his Genesis heritage, but for years, he never cashed in on it either, instead concentrating on his own compositions and occasional forays into classical guitar.
But in 1996 he released Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited (re-issued as Genesis Revisited) and iin 2012 he followed it up with Genesis Revisited II. Both albums were dominated by Genesis materiel from the Hackett era with a few originals tossed in. And all featured singers that sounded nothing like Peter Gabriel. But when Hackett hit the road, he remedied that with singer Nad Sylvan from the group Agents of Mercy. With mascaraed eyes and long, curling straw-like hair, he looked like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz only in a pirate suit. Given the context, you might be fooled by his voice in a blindfold test as being Peter Gabriel except on the post-Gabriel songs where he sounded like Phil Collins. But there is a difference in authenticity between an artist’s original statement and his replicant and you could hear it here.
While Gabriel’s Genesis was always theatrical, Hackett eschewed the costumed recreations of tribute bands like The Music Box. But given that, Sylvan was overly theatrical for the occasion: peering through a spyglass on “Watcher of the Skies,” banging an illuminated tambourine and generally playing the portentous rock star. That may have worked in 1975 but for many in this audience of 50-somethings, it came off as unnecessarily histrionic in 2013.
The band played flawless renditions of Genesis tunes, but it always took off when Hackett stepped up and blazed on guitar solos. He’s far better at 63 than he was at 23 with Genesis and every piece was elevated by his performance. “The Musical Box” was sweetly performed, until Hackett swooped in like an avenging angel with a solo full of wailing sustains and serpentine bends, every note squeezed with impassioned emotion. Likewise, “Return of the Giant Hogweed” was feeling lugubrious until Hackett stormed the ramparts with some wild contrapuntal two-handed tapping. Hackett is one of those wizard guitarists who make it look easy.
The audience in this first of two sold-out nights at the Keswick, was totally engaged, singing along with many tunes, whacking tomahawk chops in the air to the “Touch me now” crescendo of “The Musical Box,” shouting out “A Flower?” at the appropriate moment on “Supper’s Ready.”
That Genesis epic was the climax of the set and the band nailed it, especially the “Willow Farm” segment with its tongue twister lyrics. Sylvan captured the nuance, drama and humor of the song better than anything else that evening. But once again, it was a Steve Hackett solo that built with volcanic intensity and exploded in a delirious climax.
This past summer I was put off by the performance of The Music Box at Yestival. Their recreation, from Gabriel’s’ elaborate costumes right down to hair-styles and stage demeanor, seemed morbid, like a puppet rendering of the real thing. Hackett could’ve fallen into that trap, and getting a Gabriel sound-alike was dangerously close, but Hackett himself, and a fine band, made this music come alive. It was an exercise in nostalgia, but there was nothing nostalgic Hackett’s dizzying forays of electric guitar magic. Hopefully, he’s gotten his history out of his system and can return to making music for this century.
John Diliberto (((echoes)))
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