Issue 2018-009

Steve Hackett - [2CD]

Steve Hackett - Wuthering Nights: Live in Birmingham
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2018
Time: 66:26, 72:23
Track List:
CD 1: Everyday (7:01), El Nino (4:08), The Steppes (8:01), In The Skeleton Gallery (7:00), Behind The Smoke (7:17), Serpentine’s Song (7:39), Rise Again (5:25), Shadow Of The Hierophant (11:01), Eleventh Earl Of Mar (8:56)
CD 2: One For The Vine (10:54), Acoustic Improvisation (0:34), Blood On The Rooftops (5:50), In That Quiet Earth (5:06), Afterglow (4:34), Dance On A Volcano (6:54), Inside And Out (6:40), Firth Of Fifth (10:34), The Musical Box (11:33), Los Endos (9:59)

Releasing his album The Night Siren would have been a fairly good reason for Steve Hackett to hit the road, especially since reviews vary from good to splendid. But that alone was not the only reason why he and his band embarked on a tour last year that took them from Mexico through to the USA, New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. The 40th birthday of the last album he did with the band that made him famous was the other reason. In 1977, Wind And Wuthering saw the light of day less than a year after the phenomenal A Trick Of The Tail, the first album that presented a Mr. Collins as lead vocalist, but is as convincing as his predecessor. The album is still considered one of the best Genesis ever produced, albeit that it was also the swan song for the phlegmatic guitarist who decided to go his own way into unknown territories as a solo artist. The rest is, as we all know, history.

The tight band accompanying Hackett on this tour consisted of long-serving musicians that have proved to be a more than competent bunch of talented musicians. Roger King (keyboards), Gary O’Toole (drums, vocals), Nad Sylvan (vocals), and Rob Townsend (saxes, flute, woodwind, percussion, keys, vocals) stayed on, while bass player Nick Beggs replaced Roine Stolt again.

For this special gig in the gorgeous Symphony Hall in Birmingham special guest Amanda Lehmann (vocals, guitar) joined the band. Her vocal contribution is a real asset in Everyday, In The Skeleton Gallery, Serpentine song, and, especially, in the long version of Shadow Of The Hierophant. That song gets an absolute top-notch rendition with bass player Nick Beggs's banging his bass pedals during the rousing instrumental second part, supported by O’Toole, who plays a totally different rhythm; fantastic.

The depth of these songs is simply deeper when a female voice is added; too bad she wasn't there when I experienced Mr. Hackett playing De Boerderij in Holland in April last year! And there was another remarkable difference between these gigs. Sylvan’s voice in Eleventh Earl Of Mar is far from convincing on this live recording: he sounds too restrained, too high pitched, clearly out of his vocal comfort zone and that wasn't that obvious in April. Yet he recovers and does a pretty good job in the other classics like One For The Vine, Inside And Out, Firth Of Fifth and The Musical Box, which apparently are in more appropriate musical ranges for him.

The set list contains only three songs from his latest studio album. Now that I am more familiar with these songs I like them a lot more than I did back in April. In The Skeleton Gallery convinces most with its bluesy guitar solo and Hackett’s mouth harp interplay with Townsend’s sax gently changing into a beautiful, almost cheering mood before ending in a fierce guitar solo by the master himself.

El Nino and Behind The Smoke are fine songs that get a solid performance here but I doubt if they’ll stay long on the live set list. The same will be true for Rise Again from the Darktown album, with its nice melody, uplifting guitar solo and inspiring lyrical content but it lacks something special to make it remarkable. There are so many great songs to choose from and two of them formed the true highlights of the first set. As said, Shadow Of The Hierophant was phenomenal and pleased the audience enormously, to Hackett’s clear pleasure. But also the mellow Serpentine Song with beautiful flute playing by second special guest John Hackett, gets an absolute awesome version and is for me the second highlight.

Then it is time to pay attention to that classic album, starting of with _ Eleventh Earl Of Mar_. That opening song is one of my favourites on the album but because of Sylvan’s mediocre vocals it doesn't do much for me here. The other personal favourite, One For The Vine, gets the performance I hoped for; more than 10 minutes of the best music one can imagine with lots of changes in mood, pace, weird percussion and driving instrumental passages. Blood On The Rooftops is sung by O’Toole who does it splendidly. Played live this song is just as melancholic as it was originally meant to be.

But the real highlight is the live performance of a song that never made it on the album which was, with the wisdom of hindsight, obviously the wrong decision. Inside And Out is a gem, both musically and lyrically, for which Hackett salutes his former band mate Collins. He makes it very clear that he deeply regrets the fact that this song was only released as part of a three song EP that was quite hard to obtain and that therefore many fans only got to know it many, many years after its release. According to the enthusiasm with which the song is welcomed many in the audience are now very familiar with it and cherish it as much as Hackett himself. As far as I know this is the first time this song is released in a live version by one of the members of Genesis who wrote and recorded it originally. That alone may be a good reason to purchase this set. Luckily you also get valuable live versions of classics such as The Musical Box and Firth Of Fifth as well as of Afterglow, Dance On A Volcano and In That Quiet Earth.

Yet not all is good on this set. Hackett traditionally closes his gigs with Los Endos, a song I love. But his interpretation that includes parts of Slogans and a loud, atonal, chaotic middle piece that forms a very ugly break in this pumping song has never attracted me. The song loses its flow and with that something significant from its charm. I still think that this version doesn't do the song justice alas and that is an awkward conclusion as it is the closing song which leaves you with slight disappointment. Hearing all those other great songs however, there is no real reason for disappointment.

Steve Hackett is enormously active these days and will continue to do so. For prog that is very, very good news for he succeeds in developing himself through his new music without denying his classic past. This set proves again his talent, charm and drive but also the big change he has gone through in the 40 years since his departure out of Genesis. It is marvellous to see and hear him and his band and thus this extensive set warmly advocated.

Steve Hackett - [DVD/Blu-Ray]

Steve Hackett - Wuthering Nights: Live in Birmingham
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2018
Time: 199:25
Track List:
Every Day, El Niño, The Steppes, In The Skeleton Gallery, Behind The Smoke, Serpentine Song, Rise Again, Shadow Of The Hierophant, Eleventh Earl Of Mar, One For The Vine, Blood On The Rooftops, In That Quiet Earth, Afterglow, Dance On A Volcano, Inside And Out, Firth Of Fifth, The Musical Box, Los Endos
Bonus: Behind The Smoke (Video), Fifty Miles From The North Pole (Video), West To East (Video), Behind The Scenes Documentary

It is clear that Steve Hackett is enjoying a bit of a career resurgence since his first large scale Genesis Revisited tour five years ago. This recognition is well deserved and Steve has continued to play to large crowds around the world. Audio/video releases of these tours have been consistent, with Wuthering Nights: Live In Birmingham being the fourth live Hackett product since 2013. It could be argued that the regularity of these releases lessons their overall impact, but each has been unique in terms of the theme and/or the musicians involved. Also, the recordings act as an effective souvenir of each tour.

In my opinion, the DVD/Blu-Ray releases are generally more essential than the CD releases and that is certainly the case here. Focusing significantly on the 40th anniversary of the album Wind And Wuthering, Hackett has again created a captivating live video presentation. As usual, he is surrounded by a top notch group of musicians including Roger King (keyboards), Gary O’Toole (drums/percussion), Rob Townsend (saxes/flutes), Nick Beggs (bass, stick & twelve string) and Nad Sylvan on vocals. The performance also includes special guests, John Hackett and Amanda Lehmann.

One slight challenge is that Sylvan's voice (and theatrical performance style) seems better suited to emulate Peter Gabriel and his tackling of the Phil Collins era material does not compare as favorably. It bears mentioning though that I believe the original recordings to be extremely close to perfection. For as much grief as Collins sometimes gets from prog fans, his work initially after taking over for Gabriel is truly outstanding. To be fair, comparisons to either of these talented Genesis singers is a lot to overcome, but ultimately Sylvan does good work here.

Wind And Wuthering is an excellent Genesis album, but with the exception of Afterglow, its tracks were not often played live by the band. That, in addition to Hackett's fondness for the album, makes these performances all the more special. It is also a pleasure to see and hear a rare live performace of the underrated B-Side, Inside And Out. Hackett's enthusiasm for all of the material is clear and a definite highlight of the DVD/Blu-Ray is watching these gifted musicians drive each other. It is apparant that they are having a great time performing together and as usual, Hackett provides a master class to any aspiring guitarist. He makes it look so easy.

As it relates to the other Genesis and solo Hackett material included, there is some repetition from previous Hackett live releases, but that's to be expected. That said, this set list does add excellent renditions of several recent solo works, including the stunning, Serpentine Song. It's no small task, but the band perfectly captures the wonderfully intricate vocal harmonies of the original studio version of this track.

This entertaining concert, recorded at the grand Birmingham Symphony Hall in May 2017, delights from start to finish. In addition, it is well filmed and edited in an effectively straightforward way. The Special Edition 2CD + 2DVD/Blu-ray is certainly recommended and is a great addition to any Hackett and/or progressive rock collection. The cause for celebration is that Steve Hackett continues to captivate his audiences in a special way. Wuthering Nights: Live In Birmingham stands as a validation of that and is another excellent release from this prog legend.