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    Posted: December 17 2014 at 14:47

Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited Extended Tour

December 10, 2014

Moore Theater, Seattle, WA


            If one were to think of a performance of the “Best Of” classic Genesis one would arrive at a set very much like the one Steve Hackett and band performed at the Moore Theater in Seattle on December 10, 12014.  Old time Genesis fans would find few surprises, but there were a few tracks mixed in that proved unexpected.  In fact, the set was very similar to the one from Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which I purchased (two CD, one DVD version), and even in a similar order.  If you are familiar with that release, you have a good idea what this particular concert was like.  Musical Box, Return of the Giant Hogweed, Horizons, Watcher of the Skies, and Firth of Fifth were all tracks that could not have been avoided.  I wondered whether they would play Supper’s Ready, and was pleased that they did in its entirety to close out the show.  It was as epic as can be, especially Apocalypse in 9/8.  Dance on a Volcano opened the show with a bang and stirred up the audience quite well.  One of the highlights of the early part of the show, in fact of the whole show, was Dancing With the Moonlit Knight, a song I was hoping for but not necessarily anticipating.  Nad Sylvan nailed the vocals, especially the a cappella opening, while the rest of the band performed it flawlessly.  There were also several tracks from The Lamb.  Since that album is one continuous story I tend to blur all the songs together so that my experience of it is as a singular extended composition, like a symphony or concerto, rather than as individual pieces.  Those that were performed this night demonstrated to me that the album works best as a whole rather than as a set of discreet tunes.  This is not to say the songs were low points of the show because they most certainly were not (the only low point was when the band left the stage for good).  Hackett played an extended solo for Fly on a Windshield (sung by drummer Gary O’Toole) and it was one of the few places were he truly stood out from the rest of the band in a way that was not already built into a song.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear them play The Fountain of Salmacis, arguably my favorite song from Nursery Cryme.  The band was given a short break when Steve sat down for a short acoustic set which centered on Horizons and also allowed him to do a few of his signature classical bits.  The encore consisted of Steve leading the band on an instrumental medley of some of his solo work which led into Los Endos.  Since the show began with the opening song from A Trick of the Tail, ending it with that album’s closer provided a nice set of bookends for the entire performance.

            The odd thing about this show was that Steve Hackett wasn’t so much the star as was the music itself.  Steve was clearly the leader of the band but he has long been known for playing as part of the music rather than standing in front of it, even as a solo artist, but when it is time for him to truly take the spotlight he does so.  The rest of the band was superb, but his playing was sublime.  He used so large a set of effects and tones it was difficult sometimes to determine what he was actually playing.  But then that is what this music is all about.  Seeing these pieces performed for the first time, it struck me as how insanely intricate they can get.  It also struck me how subdued Hackett was as a performer.  In many places, he seemed out of place in the lead spot, focusing his attention on his playing rather than the audience or even the other band members.  As knotty as his parts are, this is not surprising.  He did speak to us on several occasions and demonstrated a homey dry humor.  He often commented on how old the songs were, confusing the 1800s with the 1900s.  It was a self deprecating humor and I for one appreciated it.  His attitude was apologetic in a jocular manner, but this music needs no apology, not for the band and not for the audience.

            The band itself needs mentioning for each performed exceedingly well.  Roger King played keys and seemed to hold the position of the responsible one.  His job was to make sure everybody kept on track.  His impression of Tony Banks was spot-on.  Nad Sylvan has been criticized for being a Peter Gabriel clone but for a show like this I cannot think of anybody who could do it better.  Gary O’Toole handled the Phil Collins parts quite well, both as drummer and vocalist.  Nick Beggs was the bassist on this tour, and he also played some guitar, bass pedals, and Chapman stick, while doing some backing vocals.  All of this was to be expected, but the one performer who surprised me was Rob Townsend who mostly played soprano saxophone.  This added a tone that helped fill out the overall sound, but added some new tonalities in places.  He also played recorder, flute, more bass pedals, and occasional keyboards.  The fact that Steve needed one extra player, even with modern technology, to round out the old Genesis sound is a testament to the quality of the original music.  Each tune has been re-orchestrated not only to allow more room for the guitar but to also allow each player to bring his own forte into the proceedings.  The result is a set of familiar songs performed with some personality differing from the originals.  As a live performance should be.

            I did feel some disappointment in what was not played.  Nothing from Wind and Wuthering, my favorite Genesis album, was performed, not even Unquiet Slumbers/In That Quiet Earth, one of Hackett’s signature pieces.  Even though I did not expect to hear anything else from that album, the absence of this two-in-one was a great oversight.  I am pleased to see that several songs from this album were performed at the Albert Hall concert.  It was the only album absent from the show, but fortunately they played The Knife from Trespass, an album Steve is not even performing on.  I must say, however, that it was the most furious performance of it I have ever heard.

            Special treat: Some smart-aleck requested Close to the Edge.  Steve said that was appropriate since Alan White was sitting in the audience.  We all applauded him and stood to get a look, but I couldn’t see him.  Not surprisingly, they did not play the song.  That would have added another 20 minutes to a show that was destined to last 2 ½ hours.  Besides their sophistication and complexity, the concert also brought home to me the idea that these are not so much songs in the popular sense as they are composed pieces within a rock context.  This is perhaps the most important aspect of progressive rock which separates it from other forms of rock.  Improvisation is not right out, but room for it has to be built into the pieces as they often stand as extended solos.  This concert provided a few of those kinds of moments and that is what makes a performance a special event.

            Audience participation: One highly appreciative fan kept shouting “Thank you” after certain songs.  I think this is the same guy who requested the Yes song.  Nad Sylvan offered the audience to shout out one key phrase: “A flower?”  That was cool.

            Seattle’s Moore Theater is the oldest operating theater in the city and is now over one hundred years old.  It holds around 1500 people.  The show was not sold out but most seats were filled.  The band was reasonably loud but not so much that it overwhelmed this august venue.  The sound was not optimal but the engineers managed to keep it pretty clean.  One of two complaints I have is that Steve was mixed too low.  I could not always clearly hear his solos but would have liked them to have been louder, especially during Firth of Fifth.  One of the reasons for this problem could come from the fact he used so many effects and that each setting, or combination, comes with its own volume controls.  I have recently read that the Moore is haunted, that people have experienced a foul smell and/or a sudden cold chill.  I found the theater quite warm and the only smell that was noticeable was the now legal-in-this-state-yet-still-controversial smell of a certain weed.

            The other aspect of this show I have a complaint about is one that has been bothering me at concerts for several years now, and that is the tendency for the audience being lit up from the stage.  To me, this is poor staging.  I used to work lights for a local theater company and have long thought they should illuminate the performers only.  The problem with me now that I have aged beyond the upper side of fifty is that bright lights in my face are really annoying.  I had to leave one show a couple years back early because of the headache they were causing.  The unfortunate thing about this show was that Steve himself tended to be backlit during his key solos.  I know this looks good from certain angles, but it also blinds audience members.  I was apparently not the only experiencing this issue for many people in front of me frequently held their hands up to block the light.  As a guitar player, and a longtime fan of Hackett, the difficulty of closely watching him at these moments was downright frustrating.  So, any of you stage and lighting managers reading this, performers too, keep the lights on the stage.  The audience is paying to see the band, not themselves.  I have stopped going to certain venues because of this problem running rampant and it may very well curtail my concert-going.

            Overall, this was a stellar show despite my complaints and the technical issues.  Hackett is a better guitarist now than he was when he was part of Genesis, which allowed him not only to play what was originally written but to enhance those pieces.  As the leader of the band he had plenty of opportunities to show his stuff, whether soloing or playing within the music itself.  The band could not have been better unless they were Genesis themselves from the 70s reformed entirely.  This is music that is standing the test of time.  There were many songs from the 70s that were more popular.  Most of them were all right, some of them were terrible, while others were actually quite good.  This is some of the best music of the era and will continue to be worth listening to in its own right once people forget the hits of the moment.  I believe that this music will survive the generation which produced and will be listened to by their descendants.  I highly recommend catching this tour, or if that is not feasible, catch Hackett next time he comes around.  He is at the top of his game, and that is most certainly worth seeing.

The world of sound is certainly capable of infinite variety and, were our sense developed, of infinite extensions. -- George Santayana, "The Sense of Beauty"
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