Keeping The Wolves At Bay: A Steve Hackett Concert Review
April 12, 2016
Another concert, another victorious scratch on the old bucket list. Although it wasn't Genesis per se, on April 9, 2016, Steve Hackett still delivered an unforgettable show, especially with the help of his backing band consisting of Rob Townsend (sax, flute, keyboard, percussion), Nad Sylvan (vocals), Roine Stolt (bass & guitar), Roger King (keyboards), and Gary O'Toole (drums & backing vocals).
This was a particularly interesting concert experience for me. When I see a concert, I am usually well-versed with the material being performed, however, the Hackett concert was different. Although I know early Genesis material relatively well, I am not as familiar with Hackett’s solo work. This created a unique listening experience in the first half.
Previous to my arrival at the venue, I was reminded of the participatory rivalry between Toronto and Montreal audiences. I thought back to how Robert Fripp of King Crimson said the Toronto audience was “joyless” in the shadows of the Montreal audience. As a resident of Toronto, I found myself slightly squinting at this unfamiliar French audience. Prove Fripp wrong, I thought begrudgingly, let’s just see how much more vibrant this city really is. Clearly the King Crimson concert affected me more than I initially realized…
The show began at precisely 8:00, making us scramble to our seats while a musical drone sounded in the darkened amphitheatre. As the lights came on and Hackett appeared on stage, the crowed was no more vociferous than what I had previously experienced in Toronto. The show was three hours in length and consisted of two acts separated by a fifteen minute intermission. The first act consisted of all solo material, while the second act was all Genesis material up to and including the 1974 album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
Hackett appeared on stage with his infamous shaggy mullet and red velvet scarf. A serious and slightly brooding look was sprawled upon his face, typical of a virtuosic musician of high caliber. He was joined by King and O’Toole and played the beginning of “Corycian Fire”. Shortly after, Townsend and Stolt joined them and launched into “Spectral Mornings”. I absolutely loved this piece. For me, it had a sense of direction with an uplifting feel. Although I hadn’t heard it previously, it stuck with me for the rest of the night. The main guitar riff seemed to soar with pristine clarity up to the rafters and into the unknown. There was something so calming and gratifying about that piece.
Afterwards, Hackett addressed the audience in all smiles and tried to speak to us in French. He was absolutely beaming, full of energy and laughter as the audience helped him with his pronunciations. “Out of the Body” proceeded and morphed into “Wolflight”. “Out of the Body” began with the howling of wolves swirling around the venue. Drums kicked off the song followed by Hackett’s signature guitar sound. It swirled around the theatre flawlessly before the main riff brought it back to centre stage. The riff in “Wolflight” was a powerful one with march-like qualities. The combination of the soft verse and driving chorus gave it a sort of “Jekyll and Hyde” quality. Each section was separated by a thunderous drum roll similar to that of a timpani sound. The same ominous sound can be heard on the studio version of “Wolflight”. The soundscape at times was overwhelming. There was so much power and energy behind the musicians that the sound they produced managed to fill every nook in the theatre. This level of sound quality built up my anticipation for the Genesis repertoire.
An introduction of the band members followed with Hackett trying to identify the French word for each instrument. Later on in the show, Hackett had a few cough lozenges, and encouraged everyone to cough in time. I really enjoyed the song “Loving Sea”. Not only did it feature Hackett playing a 12 string acoustic guitar, it also featured outstanding harmonies from O’Toole, Townsend, and Stolt that could have easily competed with the tight harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
Nad Sylvan joined the ensemble in “Icarus Ascending”, and stayed for the remainder of the set. Although Sylvan periodically left the stage during long instrumental periods, he would also leave the stage and come back after a mere twenty seconds. Since he was wearing a stark-white poet shirt against a black background, I found his movement sometimes distracting. There is no doubt though that Sylvan has an exceptional voice that captures the timbre of Peter Gabriel’s voice impeccably well. This made me wonder how much Sylvan would personalize the upcoming Genesis material, and how much of it would be mimicking Gabriel’s previously set stage personas.
During “A Tower Struck Down” I found myself stuck in the infectious groove. Unlike the studio version, it had almost a “Psycho” sound with staccato cello-like effects outlining the main melody while the flute danced above the melody line.
The second part of “Shadow of the Hierophant” closed the first set with outstanding drumming. Since the main melody consisted of three notes alternating in different pitches, the drums had plenty of opportunity for improvisation. Every drum fill was different, and O’Toole would even alternate the time signature of the piece from 3/4 to 4/4 and back. He would change the tempo of his drumming as well, and the poly-meter melody would happily fit in between the lines every time. O’Toole’s drumming was exceptional and remained flawless through such rigorous time and tempo changes. The piece ended with a standing ovation and rapid applause. Hackett thanked the audience, and assured they would be back in “dix minutes”.
FoxtrotSelling England by the PoundThe Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (Lamb)LambThe Genesis act opened with “Get ‘Em Out By Friday” and followed with “Can-Utility and the Coastliners”, both from the 1972 album , in which four songs were featured. “After the Ordeal” began with Hackett sitting on a stool and playing some brief improvisations on a classical guitar before launching into the song. Stolt later joined covering the lead electric guitar before Hackett retrieved his Fernandes and continued lead. The two guitarists harmonized with one another beautifully, and traded solo sections. Just like the album, “The Cinema Show” and “Aisle of Plenty” followed with vocals by Sylvan. “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” came next, but much to my chagrin, it was the only song from that album. Since the tour specifically advertised that the material would specifically cover up to and including , since they bothered to specifically mention it. Prior to the show, I had built my hopes up for certain songs to be played, such as “Fly On A Windshield”, “Cuckoo Cocoon”, and “Hairless Heart”. Don’t get me wrong, their rendition of “Lamb” was spectacular! The vocals were spot on, and the overall soundscape was breathtaking, just like “Wolflight”.. The majority of songs came from the 1973 album , I thought there would be more of an emphasis on
“The Musical Box” picked up where “Lamb” left off. The crowd went wild as the sound of a musical box played in the background. With the previous sound quality of “Lamb”, I was bouncing in anticipation for this rendition of “The Musical Box”. I knew all of the ins and outs of the piece, as it was the song that got me into Genesis. To my surprise, the sound was very airy. There were moments where the instrumentation was quite thin and isolated. Like the holes in a slice of irresistible swiss cheese, there were sound holes in this performance where something seemed missing or under supported. The blast of sound that was experienced previously in the show simply did not materialize in this piece. Tis a pity. On the plus side, it was rather amusing to watch grown men above the age of sixty screaming “Why don’t you touch me! Touch me! Touch me! Now! Now! Now! Now! NOW!"
“The Musical Box” closed the second act and left the crowd standing in the dark for about thirty seconds before the encore kicked in. The encore opened with “Clocks” and closed with another song from Selling England By The Pound, “Firth of Fifth”. While “Clocks” got the audience onto their feet again, it was “Firth of Fifth” that kept them standing.
People around me shook with anticipation, uttering with great delight, "This is my favourite Hackett solo ever!" As with the Gilmour show from earlier this month, another erogenous moment was had during "Firth of Fifth". As soon as the keyboard riff in the middle section started to slow down in tempo, Hackett's guitar wafted through the amphitheater on a high all its own. After the usual trill, Hackett sustained the infamous F# note even longer than the album version, causing myself and others to shiver in anticipation of the great release. Feeling the tension himself, Hackett gave us the most rewarding plummet after what felt like standing at the edge of a cliff forever. We were gliding in the wind, falling from the high point Hackett put us. Just when we think we can't fall any longer, Hackett's guitar climbs back up the scale and such incredible speed, and screams emotion once it reaches the top of the scale. The guitar quivers and throbs as Hackett himself squints and thrusts his head back. Even he cannot fully comprehend the raw sentiment pouring out from his very fingers. At this point, I too have completely lost myself in sheer ecstasy. Somewhere between the leap off the cliff and the soaring of the guitar I am swirling, completely engulfed in the moment. Every note on Hackett's guitar has become its own entity, and seems to last a lifetime before it carefully morphs into the next. I am paralyzed with what the French would call "Jouissance". Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The second climax is reached with the roll of the drums and the resolving of chords. The guitar sings its final few phrases, each phrase getting further and further apart. The tempo slows, the bass asserts itself, the vocals return, and I am back. With less than a minute to go, each beat get more and more emphasis. The weight of the emotion that just transpired still lingers. Each stroke of the guitar remains heavy and full of power until the piano resurfaces. The piano plays its repeating melody, which seems light and cheerful in comparison to the moans of the guitar. The piano trails off into the unknown...and with it...the concert.
Although the audience continued to clap after the song finished, the lights came up rather quickly, even though the intensity still lingered in the room. Much to my chagrin, after the lights went on, the hoopla died - instantly. A chill came over me. This was the end. I wasn't ready to pop back into reality. I was still trying to digest what just happened, and eternalize the moment. Although I have tried here, no words could possibly depict what I felt. The intensisty of "Firth of Fifth" that night was far beyond the album version or any other version I have encountered over the years.
I found no difference between the audience’s behaviour and the behaviour of a Toronto crowd. If anything, the Montreal crowd seemed eager to leave, while Toronto crowds tend to cheer longer at the end of concerts, stay in their seats to watch the equipment get disassembled, or run to the front to see the stage. Hardly anyone was at the stage when I went down to check out the gear.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed Sylvan’s vocal performance, I felt like he was riding on the coattails of Gabriel. He didn’t try to personalize the performance or put his own spin on things. Instead, he seemed ego-driven. Sure Gabriel had ego as well, but he also tried to act out the characters he would perform through masks, costumes, and hand gestures similar to miming. At the very end of the Genesis act during "The Musical Box", Sylvan came out wearing a hat with a long, pointy brim shaped like a beak. However, I could not fathom the correlation between the old man character and the hat. With Sylvan, some gestures were used, but in my opinion they were not representative of characters or of narration. I feel as though they were there to boost his ego, and make him appear like an all-knowing deity before the crowd.
I was most disappointed in the Genesis song choices. Although I absolutely loved what I did hear, it just wasn’t what I expected to hear. I would have liked to hear more from the 1971 album, Nursery Cryme and Lamb instead of hearing four tracks from Selling England By The Pound. Even one song from the first two Genesis albums would have been nice. Perhaps this is just my personal preference talking, but for my first Steve Hackett concert, I would have loved to experience a more well-rounded Genesis concert.
That being said, I loved what I heard. O’Toole was a phenomenal drummer with a beautiful voice. His drumming on “Shadow of the Hierophant” blew me away. Townsend’s playing really captured my admiration as he was pulling out all the woodwind tricks with smears and circular breathing. I also liked that he kept busy. Unlike most woodwind players that wait seventy-five bars for their eight bar solo to appear, Townsend was always playing and adding wonderful harmony that wasn’t on the studio albums.
The Steve Hackett concert was definitely a musical experience that stands out above others. He played with such depth and emotion that every song seemed to tell a detailed story and take the listener on a journey far from the walls of the Théâtre Maisonneuve. Although I was unfamiliar with Hackett's solo material, I was left captivated by it, and loved every moment I witnessed. I have been exposed to a whole new world of music, and I will forever be thankful. Thanks Steve!
Act One (Solo):
Corycian Fire (intro only)
Out of the Body
Wolflight (followed by band introductions)
Love Song to a Vampire
The Wheel's Turning
Loving Sea (Steve on 12 string acoustic)
Star of Sirius
Ace of Wands
A Tower Struck Down
Shadow of the Hierophant Part 2
Act Two (Genesis):
Get 'em Out by Friday
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
After the Ordeal (with guitar solo by Roine Stolt)
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
The Musical Box (followed by band introductions)
Clocks - The Angel of Mons (with drum solo)
Firth of Fifth