Issue 2020-088: Day 18 — Steve Hackett
October 2020 sees the 25th anniversary of DPRP.
A quarter of a century of uninterrupted reviews, interviews and features across the progressive genre is quite some landmark. To celebrate the occasion, we shall publish one review edition every single day during this month - 31 editions!
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In addition to our usual in-depth, independent reviews, our team has compiled a collection of interviews, artist features and several of our ever-popular Duo and Round Table Reviews. Over 40 different albums will be covered.
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Round Table Review
Steve Hackett — Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings: Live At Hammersmith
Fans have not been left-wanting for Steve Hackett live releases. This is the seventh in the last ten years. That said, these documents of his tours are always entertaining. This particular release may be more of a cause for celebration, due to the lack of concerts in 2020. Live video releases have never been such a gift as they are now. So play this one on your big screen television, turn it up and enjoy!
With Hackett staying significantly focused on Genesis music, the set lists on these releases can mirror each other to some extent. However, the specific themes of each tour guarantees that a few rare tunes will be performed. This show, recorded in September 2019 is mainly dedicated to the Genesis classic, Selling England By The Pound and the 40th anniversary of Hackett's solo album, Spectral Mornings. A few tracks from his most recent studio release, At The Edge Of Light are also included. As a testament to the quality of his new material, these songs don't sound out of place amongst the classics.
Steve has become the true ambassador of Genesis's progressive rock heyday. The music has been good to him in recent years and he has surely been good to it. Along with pleasing long-time fans, these tours have introduced the early music of Genesis to many who were previously uninitiated. The performance of the Selling England album is exceptional and provides the rare opportunity to hear/see live versions of More Fool Me, The Battle of Epping Forest and After the Ordeal. The band, consisting of Hackett, Roger King, Nad Sylvan, Rob Townsend, Jonas Reingold and new drummer, Craig Blundell (Frost*, Steven Wilson) are impeccable. The Genesis songs all sound great and they also bring a newfound energy to the Spectral Mornings material.
Extremely well-filmed and expertly edited, this release fully captures the essense of what is special about a Hackett live show. The performance taking place at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon provides an added visual treat. The fans in attendance are enthusiastic throughout and honestly, why wouldn't they be? This is a great concert and another excellent live release from Steve Hackett.
Is it essential? I guess that depends on what your definition of what that word is. If watching several of the world's best musicians perform some of the finest music ever written qualifies as essential, than yes, this release is absolutely essential.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Steve Hackett's 2020 tour was prematurely cut short in March, prompting a hasty return from America to London. Since then, he's been entertaining fans online with regular solo guitar performances and "track-chat" videos from his home studio. In June, he announced the recording of a new acoustic, orchestral album, although it's not expected until 2021. Touring is also due to resume in April next year.
By way of consolation, on 25th September 2020 he released his latest live album Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings: Live At Hammersmith. The unwieldy title is self explanatory. The 1973 Genesis masterwork is played in its entirety, as is most of the seminal Spectral Mornings, celebrating its 40th anniversary. Songs from Steve's most recent studio effort, At The Edge Of Light are also included. Dance On A Volcano and Los Endos (the opening and closing tracks on Genesis' 1976 A Trick Of The Tail) provide the encores.
It was recorded on 29 November on the final night of the 2019 UK tour. Like the 2013 Genesis Revisited: Live at Hammersmith album, the venue is London's Eventim Apollo (formerly the Hammersmith Apollo). The line-up is mostly the same, with the exception of the rhythm section. Jonas Reingold takes over from Lee Pomeroy on bass and Craig Blundell replaces drummer and vocalist Gary O'Toole. The latter had been with Steve for almost 20 years before his departure in 2018. Otherwise it's Steve (guitars), Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (saxes, flutes) and Nad Sylvan (vocals). Ironically, Steve's brother John (flute) and his sister-in-law Amanda Lehmann (guitar, vocals) are listed as 'special guests', even though they have toured and recorded with him for many years.
The first part of the set combines tracks from At The Edge Of Light and Spectral Mornings. Following the taped introduction to Tigermoth, they hit the ground running with stage favourite Every Day. The first thing that strikes you, is how astonishingly vibrant it sounds. This is one of the best recorded and balanced live albums I've ever heard.
Particularly impressive is the infectious Under The Eye Of The Sun with its layered harmonies, a monumental Clocks and Spectral Mornings. Steve's legendary soloing in the latter has rarely sounded sweeter. My only minor niggle is Fallen Walls And Pedestals and Beasts In Our Time; although they are strong album tracks, the latest album contains better material. On a brighter note, John adds his flute talents to the pastoral The Virgin And The Gypsy and the elegant The Red Flower of Tai Chi Blooms Everywhere, which is introduced by a flourish of classical guitar.
Forty-six minutes into the set, Selling England By The Pound is played from beginning to end as it was originally released back in 1973. The Genesis faithful packing the sold-out Apollo would have had high expectations, and Steve, along with keyboardist Roger King in particular, don't disappoint. It's an impressive combination of contemporary stage dynamics and a respectful adherence to the original. Only during the "party" song, an extended I Know What I Like, do they stray from the script, turning it into a semi-improvised jam.
Steve's most performed stage song, Firth Of Fifth, opens the second CD. He glides through his best known guitar solo with dexterous ease, while King makes the tricky piano introduction seem effortless. Despite The Battle Of Epping Forest being crammed with too many words and Peter Gabriel's vocal caricatures, Swedish singer Sylvan rises to the occasion and has to be applauded for a confident interpretation.
The highlight of the second half of the set however is The Cinema Show. When performed by Genesis, Steve and Gabriel would conspicuously exit the stage, leaving Banks, Collins and Rurtherford to play the instrumental sequence. Here, Steve reverts to rhythm guitar, leaving Townsend's soprano sax to supplement King's grandiose synth melody.
The main part of the set concludes with Déjà Vu, which never made it onto Selling England By The Pound and remains one of the best songs Genesis never recorded. Even though it doesn't quite equal the Genesis Revisited version sung by Paul Carrack, Sylvan gives a touching rendition of this melancholic ballad.
There is a stark change of mood for the encores, where an incredibly tight Dance On A Volcano is followed by an explosive Los Endos. Steve has fun here, playing fast and loose with the original by incorporating a manic intro and his own instrumental Slogans from the Defector album. Following an ecstatic ovation, the deliriously happy audience make their way into the cold London night.
Combining as it does three of Steve's all-time favourite albums, this show was sure to be a winning formula. But no matter how good the material, it all falls apart if the performances are not up to scratch. There's no risk of that here, Steve and his band have never failed to impress, and on this occasion, the culmination of a successful tour, they are in stunning form. 'New boys' Blundell and Reingold in particular should be commended for dove-tailing so seamlessly into the band.
Although my review is restricted to the audio tracks, it's available in multiple formats and combinations including 2CD/DVD, 2CD/Blu-ray, 2CD/Blu-ray/DVD with artbook, 4LP/2CD and digital download.
I was very excited to get the chance to review Steve Hackett's latest live album, as I finally got to see him live for the first time during his most recent tour in the fall of 2019. I think Selling England By The Pound is the greatest album ever made, and there was no way I was going to miss it. The band was great on the night that I saw them. The crowd less so. Too much alcohol, too much talking, and too much general noise-making. Even Hackett said a sarcastic "thank you" to someone who shouted something incoherent between tracks. The cool thing about that particular show was that Nick D'Virgilio was in attendance. Hackett mentioned he was there, and then I saw him walk right past me at intermission. I didn't bother him.
Bryan, get to the damn review and quit rambling.
Overall this show at Hammersmith is an improvement over the show I attended, if only because of the far more polite crowd. The inclusion of Steve's brother John Hackett and his sister-in-law Amanda Lehman, neither of whom played on the North America tour, also add to this live album's appeal. So far I've only had the chance to listen to the audio from the show. The expensive blu-ray, DVD, and CD earbook that I bought is still making its way across the Atlantic.
While Hackett's touring band typically changes slightly from tour to tour, the relative consistency of players has made this a finely-tuned machine. The setlist for the night is quite exceptional.
In addition to all of Selling England By The Pound, they play selections from two of Hackett's best solo albums, Spectral Mornings and At The Edge Of Light. Some of Hackett's best guitar solos are in his solo work. Every Day's solo has a way of digging into my head and playing on repeat, which gets no complaint from me. The version here is great. In Beasts In Our Time we get something completely different, with a much heavier groove. The variety keeps the first half of the show a real treat.
The inclusion of the brief instrumental track, The Red Flower Of Tai Chi Blooms Everywhere, took me by surprise when I saw the show live last year. I thought that would be the one song from Spectral Mornings we definitely wouldn't hear. Since it is such a short song, I didn't get much of a chance to reflect on it at the time. Now that I've had the chance to listen to the live album many times, I think it was actually a good choice to include it. It sounds so different from the other songs played in the show, offering a bit of a breather before the considerably heavier track, Clocks, closes out the first set.
This live version of Selling England is simply wonderful. After years of excellent 'Genesis Revisited' shows, it was nice to finally get an entire album all the way through, kind of like Yes has done for many years with their classic catalog. Hackett's band sticks to the way it was played on the album for the most part, but there are a few subtle changes. Rob Townsend's saxophone replaces some of the flute and keyboard lines, as it has on some of these tracks in Hackett's band for a few years. It works rather well, and it doesn't feel jarring. I Know What I Like has an extended instrumental section that has a bit of an improv' feel. Extreme purists might not like it, but I think it was a cool way for the band to relax a bit and show what they have to offer. They didn't change the original parts of the song. They just added to it, within the musical framework of the Genesis track.
Right after they finish Selling England they also play a track called Déjà Vu, which was originally written by Peter Gabriel during the Selling England recording sessions but was finally finished by Hackett for his 1996 Genesis Revisited album. The show finishes up nicely with a couple post-Gabriel-era Genesis tracks.
Musically you couldn't ask for a better band than this. Every player is at their peak performance. This show in particular finds them all on the same page. The live show I saw in person, had a couple moments with timing issues, but I don't notice anything like that with this show.
Craig Blundell's drum solo in the middle of "Clocks" is fantastic, and it demonstrates why he's the perfect drummer for this touring band. He has the chops and jazz groove that made Phil Collins the perfect drummer for Genesis. I know Gary O'Toole played with Hackett for a very long time, and he is a very talented drummer, but based on all the live DVDs and Blu Rays I watched of the Hackett performances, I never felt like he was the right drummer to play Genesis' music. It always felt like the delicate side of Collins' playing never really came through. With Blundell, that's all there, and it's so nice and crisp.
Reingold's bass has a magnificent tone. I was listening to the new The Flower Kings album the other day, and his bass popped out to me immediately on that record. It's much the same way here. His tone isn't identical to Mike Rutherford's, but it doesn't have to be. I find that it's a little more noticeable in the mix, which makes the music come to life a bit more in a live setting. His precision manifests itself clearly on Firth of Fifth. Obviously the highlight on that song is Hackett's magnificent guitar solo, as well as Roger King's exquisite piano intro. Even with the blistering brilliance of Hackett's solo, which may well be one of the best of all time, Reingold's bass manages to shine. His rhythm with Blundell helps lift Hackett's solo even higher.
How could I not mention the mighty Nad Sylvan? He's absolutely perfect. While he obviously sounds like Gabriel and Collins, his voice is still all of its own, and he sings the Genesis tracks beautifully. He also brings a unique stage presence that lends itself to the music. He's not copying Gabriel at all. It is Sylvan's own personality shining through, and it adds a layer to the show.
One of the greatest things about this setlist is how balanced it is. It is almost exactly half-and-half Hackett solo material and Genesis material. If you've read Hackett's recent autobiography (which I highly recommend), you'll know how much his solo music means to him. Anyone who's listened to Hackett's solo output knows that, for the most part, it really doesn't sound like Genesis, even though it has that unique guitar tone. The two different sets of music offer a diverse array of sounds. Plus we get to hear Steve sing lead. I think his voice has gotten better with age, and he certainly sounds great on this live record. He really shines on The Virgin And The Gypsy, which is probably the most Genesis-like track off Spectral Mornings.
All-in-all this latest live album from Hackett is a must-listen. Musically I find no flaws. Maybe once I watch the live footage I'll find something nit-picky to moan about, but that won't detract from the music.
As Genesis fans we've been blessed these last seven years to get so many amazing live concerts from Mr. Hackett. We even got a very much needed remix of the 2013 Albert Hall show earlier this year, as well as a live show with an orchestra late last year. We're spoiled fans, and we love it.
Perhaps I've given up my objectivity in this review, but I honestly can't find much negative to say about this live record. Ok maybe one thing - the audio version cuts out Hackett talking to the audience, which isn't uncommon in the audio-only cuts of a live show. I imagine those parts are included in the video. I feel those interactions help capture the energy of a live show. This band is so good that their live shows almost sound like they could be in a studio, so the narration from Hackett could help in that respect. But that's a little complaint, and other than that it's fantastic. If you're a fan of Genesis and Hackett you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not checking this out.