Faithful reproduction or exuberant interpretation? What are live gigs about these days? Well, dare I say it, age might have something to do with where you sit on the spectrum between anarchic improvisation and note perfect replication. At my age, I’m constantly drawn back to the music of my youth, no matter how good some of the recent stuff is that my early heroes are producing.. I know what I like…. hearing and remembering the music of my past, respectfully performed, even if not by the original band in full, but at least by one who was there, who helped create it, who gave me my youthful memories, who influenced my musical tastes. So. Foxtrot at Fifty? Steve Hackett? Bring it on!
“I think Foxtrot was a terrific achievement for Genesis at that time,” we’re told Steve has said. “I think there is not one weak track on the album, they all have their strong points and I’m really looking forward to doing the whole album live“
This was my first gig at York Barbican, so here’s a shout out to an excellent venue, the angled seating giving a universally great view, unless you were behind the one chap stood gesticulating in his own special way through Supper’s Ready. It was a venue where the expectation of the chronologically mature crowd was tangible. The stage low lit crimson red, the keyboard podium left, drum podium glinting right, the wind section that is Rob Townsend’s complex set up front left and a mike stand stood guard in front of the novation keyboard. Was that a Rickenbacker front right? Centre stage two Marshall amps and a guitar pedal setup wait more patiently than the audience, their expectant hum growing louder.
A roadie appears to tune a Gibson guitar. Did only I notice? Then a double neck guitar. Five minutes to go I see the seats fill with the portly, oft-bearded or follicly challenged, beer in hand. That said, the female of the species is well represented, and whilst I would never try to guess the age of a lady, I do wonder how many of them were latecomers to the Genesis bandwagon that Hackett is now singlehandedly pulling. The obligatory stage smoke fills the air, columns of smoky red lights illuminating the stage. And I find myself unexpectedly sat next to the Prog legend that is Andy Tillison. We reminisce. We’re in for a stellar concert, he says at one point.
Lights down, seconds out! Sorry wrong live tour. They seem to be coming round so fast these days….
‘Ace of Wands’ is the electrifying opener, proving so intense after a mid-song improvisation that the stage lights pitch the band into total darkness. Not a beat dropped or note fluffed as they come back on, and after the song Hackett jokes about 5 shillings in the meter. Are he and Jacob Rees-Mogg in cahoots? “Have you got a light boy?” jokes Hackett. Lights or not, that band certainly lit up the stage.
‘Devil’s Cathedral’ is proving itself a worthy stage favourite, from the operatic horror opening, through the melodic lead work, the tight riffing, the tempo and dynamic shifts, the Defector-like wall of sound, to the all-too-soon close.
And then comes ‘Spectral Mornings’. What more can be said about this classic, perfectly played, and not for the last time I am mesmerised by Hackett’s mastery of the fretboard. But then comes the 2nd track played from that album: ‘Every Day’. As pulsating and uplifting as ever, with every punter living THAT ringing, singing guitar closing section. “I enjoyed that” says Hackett. So did we.
‘A Tower Struck Down’ provides further rhythmic intensity as well as a reminder of what musical quality Genesis missed out on back in the day. Townsend is allowed loose before we get to the ending section and reflective bass notes which allows Jonas Reingold to then set off on an entertaining and varied bass solo before the band launches into ‘Camino Royale’ one of several I’ve not heard live before. So much better, and improved through great improvisational riffing mid-song.
To close the set? ‘Shadow of the Hierophant’, the closing section. The cleverness of the melody never ceases to amaze me. Perfectly played, the control of the power inherent in the song is astounding, and slowly we find ourselves encompassed by the tangibly growing sounds that vibrate the floor beneath us, cause our hearts to palpitate within our bodies and totally envelops our aural senses. An astonishing closer with the promise of what’s to come. Kudos to Blundell here as he, as he does in other places, adds his unique rhythmic complexity layer by layer. The band rightfully comes forward to recognise the ringing applause and endorsement of the receptive audience. Jonas seeks out his mate Andy in the crowd, and waves gleefully in our direction. I think Andy stands out more than me……
And so, after sufficient rest, to the second set. No introduction needed. The thrilling, ominous keyboard introduction fills the auditorium to the delight of a spellbound audience. The unique rhythmic pounding crescendos and Nad Sylvan stands aloft, majestically filling some esteemed shoes as he sings the words we all know so well. The dark power within the song is unleashed as the band race towards the ending and classic release of energy. One latent desire to hear that song live is satiated.
There are to be no song introductions at all it would seem, as the band perfectly play one track never played live before: ‘Time Table’. I’ve often thought that this, alongside ‘Can Utility’, suffered inevitably by default against the ‘epics’ and so it was an immense pleasure to hear this hold its own, such clever chord structures, phrasing and that delightful toy piano sounding melody ringing clear as Sylvan tells the tale.
‘Get ‘em out by Friday’ is a joy to observe, perfectly played, and the live performance not only enables us to realise how much Gabriel’s flute added, but also how remarkably complex, and devastatingly intense and integral Rutherford’s bass was throughout the album. Both parts remarkably well replicated by Townsend and Reingold respectively. And hats off to Sylvan filling Gabriel’s singing shoes so well.
With just enough time to metaphorically turn over the LP and place the needle in the groove, Hackett flexes his fingers on the acoustic guitar before the famous harmonics of ‘Horizons’ ring out. Perhaps unwanted by some in the band at the time, it is a delightful palette cleanser and precursor for the inevitable climax to come…..
‘Supper’s Ready’. Do I really need to describe how epic this track really is? Such an intense journey of mood and mystery, sturm and drang, light-, darkness and back to light. The audience is lit up to collectively announce the flower. Nice touch. I do my best to keep up with the fantastic 9/8 section, my imaginary bass pedal pounding 3,2 then 1 and repeat, as I listen to King’s extraordinary rendition of Banks’ classic keyboards. Did he just slip a beat? Nah….but I lost my way, both rhythmically and within the emotionally powerful musical development I was watching and living through. Just like I did 50 years ago. Just like I always do when I hear this song. The euphoric ending comes all too soon and lifts some people out of their seats, the rest of us mesmerised and clinging religiously to every closing climactic note before rising.
And that was it. Foxtrot. Fifty years old. And yet as fresh, powerful, clever, and fulfilling as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Made new by the reverent and joyfully respectful performances of Hackett and his stalwart players who so clearly enjoyed their roles and displayed a delightful camaraderie throughout. But what could they do to follow that….?
An encore of ‘Firth of Fifth’ that’s what.
The euphoric musical high (who needs drugs, as Hackett had told us earlier!) was maintained as King played the classic piano intro, Townsend brought the gorgeous flute melody back to life, King played the Banks part so, so , so well …….. and Hackett played THAT guitar solo, wheedling every ounce of emotion from his glorious guitar, bringing people to their feet at the end.
And to close, one final highlight. The iconic mad riff from long-forgotten tune ‘Myopia’ led us into the closing section of ‘Dance on a Volcano’ via a detour of ‘Slogans’ before the phenomenal ending of ‘Los Endos’. And a real and loving standing ovation that deservedly went on far longer than those fake political party conference ones. Fully deserved. The least we could do. They’d given it all. Well, almost…. Reingold even balanced his bass on his chin, head close and body up high – is there nothing this band cannot do?
So how was this live gig? Hackett and team delivered elements of anarchic improvisation within totally note perfect replication. He took the audience on a journey back fifty years, stopping off on the way to give us some superb highlights of our long-forgotten memories. He touched emotions we’d long buried and gently brought them to the surface for one last airing. He delivered a star performance. Andy, just as you said it:
1. Ace of Wands
2. The Devil’s Cathedral
3. Spectral Mornings
4. Every Day
5. Camino Royale
6. Shadow of the Hierophant (pt 2)
1. Watcher of the Skies
2. Time Table
3. Get ’em out by Friday
4. Can Utility and the Coastliners
6. Supper’s Ready
Firth of Fifth
Los Endos medley
Steve Hackett – guitars, vocals
Roger King – keyboards
Jonas Reingold – bass, guitars, vocals
Rob Townsend – saxophones, flutes, keyboard, pedals, percussion, vocals
Craig Blundell – drums & percussion
Nad Sylvan – vocals, telescope, quill pen