Steve Hackett catches the Genesis zeitgeist in Cambridge
Cambridge Corn Exchange. 15 September 2021
It’s a sobering thought that Steve Hackett left Genesis, the band for whom he was an integral part and a huge part of their rise to success, a head-scratching forty-four years ago. With this current tour, he pays tribute to the last official release the band issued with him as part of the line-up, playing the seminal live album Seconds Out in its entirety.
Steve Hackett – Seconds Out & More
Cambridge Corn Exchange
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
It’s not clear if Hackett has a portrait tucked up in his attic, but he looks the same as he ever has and certainly, his performance was one full of youthful passion and vigour, the years falling away and transporting the sell-out crowd back to those heady days.
Before settling into the main part of the evening, though, the guitarist and band treated the audience to a cherry-picked stroll through his solo back catalogue, from the seminal Spectral Mornings through to selections of the newly released Surrender Of Silence.
Thrust straight into the drama from the first chords, the classic Clocks – The Angel of Mons hit hard, its chiming notes and dark power struck the audience bringing a mix of emotions as the joy of seeing the performance and the serious subject juxtaposed beautifully, creating a sublime tension.
Pounding new track Held In The Shadows reiterates that Hackett has never been content to let the grass grow under his feet, always striving forward. Its perfectly layered composition sees some great harmonies between the main man, singer Nad Sylvan and singer/guitarist Amanda Lehmann making her first appearance on the tour tonight. The musicianship is dazzling with the interplay between the six stringer, keys player Roger King and Rob Townsend’s sax like a firework to the synapses.
Every Day brings even more harmonies, and The Devil’s Cathedral has all the makings of a future classic stamped all over it. The new track’s dramatic and cinematic quality seemingly compresses a whole film soundtrack into a scant few minutes.
After the tumult, this first section closes with the pastoral beauty of Shadows Of The Hierophant, Lehmann’s vocals and Townsend’s flute painting something otherworldly and utterly captivating before the song comes to a huge crescendo. A short interval later and it was time for curtains up on the epic second act.
Essentially a greatest hits set, Seconds Out caught Genesis arguably at their peak, Phil Collins move from drummer to fully-fledged frontman with remarkable aplomb, his own style replacing his very theatrical former bandmate Peter Gabriel cemented on the original live opus.
Throughout this transition, Hackett continued to stamp his identity on their work, his playing soaring to new heights as he sought to ever widen his musical palette as he balanced both his work with Genesis and his fledgling solo career. Whilst the tour was to be the last one he did with the band, leaving during the album’s mixing, there is nothing of the tensions that may have existed back then in tonight’s performance, seeing the guitarist, band, and audience wreathed in smiles throughout.
A joyous Squonk and a still enchanting The Carpet Crawlers rightly treated like old friends, the musicians digging well and truly into the groove, hitting the highs and perfectly grazing the tonal lows. Robbery, Assault and Battery romps, Craig Blundell’s drums and the bass of Jonas Reingold skittering and driving with quicksilver ease.
As always, Afterglow is utterly sublime, Hackett’s fretwork showing such soul and the whole aches with a rare beauty that truly lifted and transported.
Following that, the pomp and grandeur of Firth Of Fifth was greeted with such stamping of feet and clapping along that the building shook and dust fell from the high rafters. This, along with a brilliant rendition of I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), was the epitome of English whimsy and highlighted, if ever it was needed, just what a brilliantly unique storyteller Gabriel is and how inventive the band were in that era.
The latter, replete with box sax and flute solos, was stretched to glorious length, seemingly neither the band nor the audience wanting to let go of the moment as they rode the wave. Despite the running time of some of their pre-And Then There Were Three material, Genesis never went in for the sort of extended instrumental passages that some accused fellow Prog Giants Yes of “noodlingly meandering” such was the episodic construction, and the set tonight highlighted this.
Eons away from the navel-gazing approach taken by some of their peers, The Lambs Lies Down is positively jaunty and The Musical Box achingly magical, drawing you in as it weaves its ancient spell, the connection with the audience complete.
It’s a testament to Hackett and the band that their playing is able to convey this fantastical world with such sublime transposition. Special mention must go at this point to Sylvan, his vocals capturing the spirit of the original without merely aping them.
Whilst everyone had their own personal favourites, the reception reserved for Supper’s Ready was something else entirely. It’s virtually impossible to fully convey the transfixing effect this most celebrated, but equally maligned by some at the time, track has as the utter joy of being wrapped in warm embrace touched all present. There was no other choice but to let it wash over and into you. The standing ovation that greeted its close was the only reaction left, the journey both emotionally exhausting and triumphantly joyous.
Whilst a virtually impossible act to follow, set-closer, The Cinema Show was rightly epic. Its multi-sectioned and panoramic score-like movements brought things to a suitably climactic crescendo. With an encore of the punchy and driving Dance On A Volcano, the lyrical guitar riff climbing ever upwards and the stratospheric Los Endos spiralling into the clouds and beyond, it was a perfect end to a perfect evening, another standing ovation assured for the onstage creators of these delights.
In such trying times, one of the finest musicians we have, Steve Hackett, certainly catches the zeitgeist, the spirit of happy nostalgia and moving forward onto new things the perfect summation of where our hearts and heads should be.
This evening brought all that and more.