March 13th 2004, The Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, UK
March 18th 2004, Town Hall (Crypt), Middlesborough, UK
Charlie Farrell and Bob Mulvey
Hackett returns with 2 'Special Guests'
By Charlie Farrell
Given the great reviews that Steve Hackett and his current touring band garnered on their Autumn 2003 tour it was a very pleasant surprise to see a further series of dates scheduled so soon afterwards. Instead of the two gigs that he played in London last time around at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (sadly conflicting with the final Camel gig in the capital) and the following day at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon, we had just the one gig at the slightly larger (2000 capacity) and grander Shepherds Bush Empire.
Though the venue was some way off its full capacity, there were a healthy number of fans both young and old present to see a fine set that was considerably changed from that of the last tour. Kicking off with the excellent instrumental Valley of the Kings, Hackett then welcomed the crowd and, affecting a cockney accent declared how happy he was to be playing "down the old bull and bush" again. The following number Mechanical Bride from the To Watch The Storms album was quite a contrast, showing a darker and heavier side, while at the same time incorporating passages that varied between almost jazzy to almost industrial.
In fact Steve appeared to be in a very garrulous mood, quipping that he'd been told that he resembled legendary UK rock DJ Tommy Vance, blaming it on the shades that he was wearing to enable him to read the setlist. Curios of Becoming and two further songs followed during which one could clearly hear the 'Genesis-like' elements to his music - most noticeably that of his own guitar playing, but also in the keyboards of Roger King. Equally impressive were the lovely vocal harmonies between Steve, bassist Terry Gregory and drummer Gary O'Toole, while the woodwind and percussion added by Rob Townsend providing an interesting spice to the mix.
Next up was the first surprise of the evening in the form of "The first track off the first solo album", i.e. the excellent Ace of Wands from Voyage of the Acolyte, and this produced the biggest cheer of the evening so far. Once again Rob contributed some pleasant woodwind before stealing the show during the following tune with some delicious oboe playing.
Steve then declared his intention to "take it down a peg" and "to do an acoustic number or two". In fact he played 3 tunes on his acoustic guitar, including the inevitable Horizons and a Second Chance on which his brother John joined him to play some flute. Steve then took the opportunity to wish his brother "Happy Birthday" and invited the audience to pick up a copy of John's most recent album Velvet Afternoon.
As John left the stage and the rest of the band returned, Steve introduced a song "originally written for a drummer. Tonight another drummer is going to sing it - this is our version of Blood on the Rooftops". The cheers that greeted this news were very loud and drummer Gary O'Toole acquitted himself very well. However the cheers for the following number Fly on a windshield were even louder. It may be almost 30 years old, but it sounded surprisingly modern, Steve's guitar soaring above atmospheric keys and the heavy driving bass of Terry Gregory.
The darkness and drama invoked by that tune were then blown away by the lightness and brightness of Please Don't Touch, which segued neatly into the closing section of Firth of Fifth. Steve's famous solo was impeccably executed and the crowd were delighted.
The set then moved on to feature some of Steve's more recent material including the spooky Darktown from the album of the same name, during which Steve's vocals sounded eerily like those of Arthur Brown, and the catchy Brand New. Having previously only heard the edited version of this tune on an Inside Out sampler, I was rather taken aback by the synthesiser solo that appeared in the middle of the song. Most unexpected!
The band closed out the set with a pleasant Every Day and the excellent Clocks. However with the clock edging closer to the 11PM curfew, there was no time left for the band to leave the stage and return, so Steve declared that they would go straight into the encores. First up was the crowd pleaser Spectral Mornings featuring some delicious guitar from Steve and a very nice flute solo from Rob, before they moved on to an extended jam based around Los Endos.
By this time I was beginning to wonder if the previously announced 'Special Guest' was ever going to appear, but as the jam morphed into Squonk, Steve moved to the microphone stand and made the announcement that we had all been waiting for, "Please Welcome, Mr John Paul Jones". The legendary Led Zep bassist wandered onto the stage and taking up a position between Steve and Terry Gregory, he proceeded to play a small, low-slung, Steel Guitar in the manner that one might play a pedal steel. I had been expecting him to play bass, but then, given the vast array of instruments with which he is familiar, I suppose that it was not surprising that he should chose to play a different instrument to those already present on stage. I personally didn't consider it to be the most 'tuneful' version I'd ever heard of the song, but it certainly made for a unique climax to an excellent gig.
So there you have it, almost 2 hours of excellent material spanning 30 years of career and a perfect reminder of how fine a guitar player Steve Hackett really is. The current line-up of his backing group is also very good indeed and his new material holds up very well too. The only disappointment for me was that so many of the audience chose to leave before the end of the show. Nevertheless, this performance certainly demonstrated that he and his band are enjoying a fresh wave of interest amongst prog rock fans and I, for one, found that this show has rejuvenated my interest in his music.
March 18th, Town Hall (Crypt), Middlesborough, UK
By Bob Mulvey
Six months to the day since I travelled to see Steve Hackett in concert up at the Newcastle Opera House, and
I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised to have this opportunity so quickly... and even nearer to my home. It was good to see some of the faces from the previous concert, and along with the numerous "bald heads" :0) were a great number of younger faces!
As with the previous concert the line-up of the band remained unaltered, with Steve Hackett (guitars and vocals), Roger King (keyboards), Gary O'Toole (drums & vocals), Rob Townsend (sax, flute & vocals) and Terry Gregory (bass, bass pedals and vocals). Having been totally knocked away by the previous show I was buzzing at the thought of a second chance. A slight change to the advertised gig with the concert being moved from the main hall to the crypt. In my opinion a better move as there is a warmer and more intimate atmosphere in this room. Not sure what Steve and the band made of this change, as the stage in the crypt is considerably smaller. It did look a little cramped, but all the equipment seemed to be wedged in nicely, although due to the very low ceiling the lighting had to be positioned in some peculiar positions.
The evening opened in less frantic style than the previous show, this time with a shortened version of Valley of the Kings, but no complaints here. Then we moved into the manic Mechanical Bride, even more absurd than I had remembered - this really is "musical karate". The first half an hour or so of the concert was done without a break and I couldn't help wonder if this was to do with the move from upstairs. However the audience was very appreciative and Steve seemed to warm to the surroundings.
As the evening proceeded a number of things came to mind. Firstly that perhaps the band were not quite as tight as last time (please note these guys are incredibley tight), but certainly after the initial thirty minutes seemed to be much more fluid with the material. And perhaps mindful that they had recently played in the area, much of the set was changed. Steve still played his acoustic set, much shorter this time, with Horizons taking up most of the piece and only a snippet of Classical Gas. The Genesis moments, which were missing from last year's show, were Watcher of the Sky and Hairlesss Heart, however their replacements were equally as well greeted. We were all taken aback by the Steve introducing Blood on the Rooftops. A track that Genesis rarely (if ever?) played and even if they had, I fear they would have struggled to match this performance - a truly wonderful moment. Gary O'Toole took on Phil Collins' role in the vocal department - a nice touch as well. We moved back a couple of years from Wind & Wuthering, to the Lamb... for the second offering in the mid-section of the show and an extended version of Fly on a Windshield.
New and old material flowed effortlessly together with The Serpentine Song, Brand New and the beautiful Walking Away from Rainbows equally at home with Spectral Mornings, Please Don't Touch and Every Day. Steve even returned to track one of Voyage of the Acolyte and gave Ace of Wands an airing. In true style the evening finished with a stunning version of Los Endos
Again all five musicians played brilliantly and I sat in wonder of it all. Gary O'Toole was spectacular and formed a wonderful rhythm section with Terry Gregory. Hats off to the sound engineer, who grasped the music and I certainly felt Terry's bass pedals - an experience in itself. Roger King might not use the biggest keyboard set-up I've ever seen, but all the sounds were there, the samples were superb and so was he! Finally Rob Townsend, who really impressed me last time, only gained greater admiration from me this time around. I don't really need to say anything about Steve do I - if you are reading this article you already know.
I made the following comment in the last article:- "Quite some time has elapsed since I last saw Steve Hackett (and band) playing - let's hope it will not be too long till the next!" Well I have not been disappointed, neither by the time that has elapsed or the quality of the music and the musicians. A truly memorable evening - not one to be missed under any circumstances!
Valley Of The Kings
Circus Of Becoming
Frozen Statues (Inst)
Ace Of Wands
Hammer In The Sand
Acoustic Set: Horizons Etc.
Blood On The Rooftops
Fly On A Windshield / Broadway Melody 1974
Please Don't Touch
Firth Of Fifth
A Dark Night In Toy Town
Air Conditioned Nightmare
Photos by Bob Mulvey ©DPRP 2004