Steve Hackett (vocals, guitar), Nad Sylvan (vocals), Roger King (keyboards, vocals) Rob Townsend (saxophone, flute, keyboards, percussion, vocals, Jonas Reingold (bass guitar, vocals), Craig Blundell (drums), Amanda Lehmann (additional guitar, vocals)
Reviewed by Ben Hogwood
Nearly 50 years to the day after it was released, Genesis‘ album Foxtrot is back for another turn. With Peter Gabriel as lead vocalist, it proved one of many peaks from the group’s defining line-up on its release, and to this day retains an air of exploration – both musically and lyrically – and a sense of peculiarly English mystery.
Steve Hackett was an integral part of the group when it was recorded, his role as principal lead guitarist a key driver for the music’s melodic content, sonorous acoustics and semi-classical demeanour. Since he left Genesis in 1977, Hackett has maintained a richly productive solo career notable for its consistency and elegance. We heard a number of excellent examples in the first half of this concert, some of them springing from the sessions for the Foxtrot album itself.
Nowadays, Hackett’s live band speak as he does, with little fuss made during their virtuosic contributions – save perhaps for multi-instrumentalist Rob Townsend, prodigiously talented through turns on saxophone, flute, keyboard, vocals and percussion – and the first to get the audience on side as part of the theatre. Behind him sat Roger King, an authoritative presence on keyboards who brought new orchestral elements to A Tower Struck Down along with the deep-throated roar of the organ sound on a thrilling performance of The Devil’s Cathedral.
Bassist Jonas Reingold was part of a solid foundation with the fluid drumming of Craig Blundell, and both were afforded lengthy solos in the concert which, while impressive, didn’t always complement the material. Less was definitely more here, as we found out even when Amanda Lehmann joined as an extra guitarist and vocalist. As a seven piece the band delivered one of Hackett’s calling cards, Spectral Mornings, with a mixture of mystery and grace. This segued nicely into the bright pop of Every Day, its five-part vocal harmonies dressing a tune with more than a passing resemblance to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
The first hour made a strong impression, Hackett’s solo material unquestionably up to the task, though many of the audience sat up noticeably after the interval for a second half account of Foxtrot. Now it was vocalist Nad Sylvan’s turn to take the lead, which he did impressively, his voice intriguingly balanced between early Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel – a nice fluke, since he sang naturally throughout. There was some theatre, too – a telescope pointed emphatically to the heavens at the end of a powerful Watcher Of The Skies, where laser eyes were also in play. His attention to detail was commendable, while never trying to imitate his predecessors.
The band allowed plenty of room for the weird and wonderful lyrical content of Foxtrot to come through, still drawing sharp parallels to the current situation in the UK, where little about human nature has changed in 50 years. Get ‘em Out by Friday was sharply observed, with its references to the new town of Harlow and property evictions around. The more reserved Time Table, found King’s piano ideally weighted, Sylvan’s voice emotive in response. The singer also held Can-utility And The Coastliners in his grasp, initially wistful but handling the song’s unusual melody with commendable control. The guitar sound, spearheaded by the modest Hackett from centre stage, was a constant joy, a lovely blend of acoustic and electric with intricate detail to bring out the album’s slightly pastoral leanings. The syncopations and changes of time signature were expertly handled by the band, to whom this album is now second nature.
The album’s key track, Supper’s Ready, was a fitting summit the band scaled with poise and intensity. A firm fan favourite after all this time, its ebb and flow was compelling, Hackett clearly enjoying himself with a wry smile now and then. The blistering finale turned everything up to eleven, Sylvan nailing the high notes if slightly backward in the audio mix.
A Genesis encore double included Firth Of Fifth, where King excelled on electric piano once again, and Los Endos / Slogans / Los Endos, starting languorously but growing to a flurry of colourful activity, and showing in the process how adventurous this music still sounds, five decades on.
Hearing the whole of Foxtrot without a break was a thrill, like sitting through an orchestral symphony, and witnessing Steve Hackett’s satisfaction was a considerable boon too. With his 25-date tour now complete, he continues as one of the hardest working man in progressive rock. This particular instalment showed him to be a modest and deeply caring musician, at his happiest when playing guitar centre-stage. That kind of thrill looks set to stay with him for a long while yet.
For more on Steve Hackett, visit his website