In what seems like it’s becoming an annual tradition, me and my friend Shawn managed to score tickets to a Genesis-related concert; usually it’s the fine tribute band The Musical Box, but this time the real deal was coming through town: Steve Hackett with his Genesis Extended show. And we were pretty dang chuffed (or “pumped”, as my fellow Canucks would say).
Hackett has been carrying the flag for the “historical” Genesis material for quite a while now, starting with a couple of albums a few years back and then his tours of mostly Genesis material, and now all-Genesis material up to 1976. I’ve read some unkind reviews from the UK written by snooty hipster music journos about this topic, which gets me blood a-boiling. Perhaps these journalists have forgotten that Hackett was IN THE BAND at the time; he helped compose and arrange these tunes. They are his to play, which means that while there is an element of nostalgia to the shows (naturally), if anyone can bring this material to life, it’s him, especially considering that of all the former Genesis members, a) his solo career is closest in style, generally speaking, to classic Genesis, and b) the others clearly have no interest in playing this music, either due to their indifference or scorn for it. Which is not fair to fans, is it?
I saw the reunion tour of 2007 and enjoyed the concert immensely; I was happy to hear “Land of Confusion”, “Home by the Sea”, etc., and grateful that they played “Ripples”. Nonetheless, Phil, Tony and Michael basically turned their backs on almost all of the Gabriel-era material after the release of Seconds Out. That’s their prerogative, but it doesn’t mean that Hackett shouldn’t be allowed to feel more affection for it — as does most of the passionate Genesis fanbase.
And that fanbase had Massey Hall packed. I have an old concert ticket in my house, blown up, framed and used as wall art, of a Genesis ticket from the Massey Hall concert of nineteen seventy something (a gift from a friend — neither of us was alive back then). The average age of the crowd made my 40-year-old self feel pretty young, so I’d say some of these guys must have been at that show! And boy, were they into it! The rapturous welcome accorded Steve and band really showed the affection that Genesis fans hold for Hackett and his music, which has unfolded throughout a prolific and varied solo career.
On this night, though, it was all Genesis, rendered perfectly by a crack band of hot shots. You can find the set list in order elsewhere online, but I can tell you it was an overflowing cornucopia of classics, including “The Fountain of Salmacis”, “The Musical Box”, “The Return of the Giant Hogweed”, “Fly on a Windshield“, “Horizons”, “Firth of Fifth”, “I Know What I Like”, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight”, “Watcher of the Skies”, “Squonk”, “Dance on a Volcano”, “Los Endos”, “The Knife”… um, oh yeah, and, of course, “Supper’s Ready”. I’d have love to have heard my personal fave, “Entangled”, but beggars can’t be choosers. “The Musical Box” and “Firth of Fifth” were particularly intense and riveting.
What a setlist, though, eh? And this band is HOT. It includes mega-bassist Nick Beggs, who I saw with Steven Wilson a couple of years ago (read the concert review); singing drummer Gary O’Toole, who damn near outplays Phil; saxophonist/flautist Rob Townsend; super-dexterous keyboardist Roger King, who reproduces the old parts perfectly and with probably more panache than Banks would; and flamboyant Swedish vocalist Nad Sylvan.
Sylvan, I have to say, was very clearly born to prog, with his dramatic, expansive gestures and his astonishing collection of puffy pirate shirts, fancy waistcoats and robes. He’s a “character”, they’d say down at the pub, but his voice, which is half-Gabriel, half-Fish, is perfect for this stuff, and the fact that he obviously takes this music very seriously but also is having a great time singing it is very infectious.
Beggs, a monster on both the bass and on Rutherford’s old guitar parts, also has an interesting sartorial style, featuring some man-leggings and a long coat; hi, 1985!
Honestly, while I point these things out with amusement, I also feel it’s totally appropriate for these guys to be eccentrically larger than life; with chops like theirs, I give them full license! Kudos also to Beggs for proving his membership in the Tony Levin Master’s Club by breaking out the Chapman Stick.
Finally, there’s the master axeman himself: Hackett is a guitarist like no other, as any fan can attest. Sure, he’s got some chops, and he works his pedals well to create all kinds of interesting effects. But it’s that distinct Hackett-ness of his technique that astounds. His playing is a mixture of peculiarly choppy, angular creations with fast runs, the odd bluesy lick, tapping and atmospheric effects — sometimes all within the space of a few bars! There is no other player like him, and for me, few players can trigger the pleasure centres of the brain like he can (nothing sexy there, Steve, I swear, just spiritual chills). Money spent watching and listening to Hackett is money well spent.
Hackett presided over the concert with good humour and wit, evidently having a great time on this tour and basking in the goodwill of his following.
After several standing ovations, the faithful of Toronto went home sated. I like most of the music that Genesis and its former members have made, but Hackett should know he is performing an important service in keeping this music alive and vital by playing it live — these aren’t relics; this is some of the greatest music ever composed and recorded, and hearing him play it is like hearing Chopin playing his own compositions (that is NOT hyperbole).
I’m grateful for the experience.