It was with no little trepidation that I took my seat to watch Steve Hackett’s latest tour, Genesis Extended. I last saw him at Hammersmith Odeon back in 1983, a gig I still have on tape somewhere and during which I took several photographs, as one could in those days.He’s always been a favourite of mine, even though he’s oddly limited as a player, in the purist sense. I think it’s his innovative approach, his willingness to experiment, make noise, and above all his sheer lyrical melodicism I love. Like Zappa, he’s a musician who happens to be able to operate the instrument we call a guitar rather well.
The first bars of Dance with a Volcano erupt and I’m initially unconvinced. The sound is awful (but then, it’s the Brighton Centre, which is a dreadful venue), the drummer’s trying too hard, and the vocalist, hmm. Let’s just leave that for a moment. It’s also only the band’s second gig.
Things improve markedly as the repertoire gets older, and the band settle down. What’s immediately apparent is that this is no Steve Hackett show, this is a Genesis revival. Hackett is admirably restrained, allowing those parts he created all those years ago speak for themselves. I mean, why mess with The Return of the Giant Hogweed? Hackett was, and still is, a fine guitarist who more than anything understands the importance of being an ensemble player. His parts are often complex and innovative, but never try to take over the tune.
Some of the songs are perhaps more difficult to make work without a true frontman of Gabriel or Collins’s class, I Know What I Like falling a little flat (and I do mean a little), but the tunes that work (and most of them do), oh my lord. The Fountain of Salmacis, for example, is simply stunning. Hackett noted that it used to be a song people would ignore, which I find amazing – I still remember when I first heard it, tiny earphone rammed in my ear during a family holiday to France in 1979. It simply blew me away, though it took time to appreciate its majesty, its power, its ambition. Live it was a different beast, and how … if it’s this impressive now, how must it have sounded forty years ago?
The set list is well thought out, and to my personal taste. Eventually we wind our way to Supper’s Ready. It’s good if a little patchy but in parts astounding, Willow Farm especially comes alive as performance art in a way it never has before – I really felt like I understood it for the first time.
A word about the band. Keys and woodwind are professionally indistinct, doing their job well without the sort of flair that can cause trouble. This may sound damning, but actually is meant as a compliment – they could both so easily have overplayed but instead they understand that this music, complex as it can be, doesn’t lend itself to grandstanding.
The drummer improves steadily as he stops worrying about Phil and Chester and Bill and just plays the tunes – he also provides vocals for Fly on a Windshield and a couple of other tunes with great aplomb. As for the bass, Mike Rutherford has always been much unappreciated, I feel, his playing powerful and complex without dominating proceedings. Twenty years ago you would have laughed at ‘Kajagoogoo/Genesis collaboration’, but Nick Beggs not only makes a fine, and authentic, Rutherford, but he really enjoys playing this music. He’s really rather rock and roll. Hackett is just himself, and thank heavens.
If the musicians show what a tough gig this is, the vocalist seals the deal, I’m afraid. Sadly, he has neither the cheek, sass, phrasing or range of either Gabriel or Collins. His rhythmic awareness is poor, as evidenced by his embarrassing tambourine playing, his understanding of the drama of the lyrics, or indeed their narrative, rather dubious. His range is totally wrong, breaking into falsetto at inopportune moments, and he sings on top of, rather than inside, the song. Plus he’s not in any way a natural performer. Sorry, but it’s the truth.
But anyway, give ’em ten shows to really get crackling, and a singer who understands the gig, and by god, this band will leave any Genesis fan speechless. As it stands, it’s merely a damn, damn good show.
My short review:
Steve Hackett – Genesis Extended
Incendiary guitar cuts through the thick waves of mellotron while sinuously muscular bass wraps itself around multiple time signatures … yes, it’s 70s prog rock. But wait a minute, these aren’t po-faced musos, they’re actually having fun. This show isn’t about ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett re-living former glories, or even reminding the audience how innovative and beautifully melodic a player he was, and still is, but about celebrating a hugely influential band. And loving it. If pieces such as Fountain of Salmacis stun with their power, ambition and freshness now, just imagine how they must have sounded forty years ago.