What’s to like?
“The Eleventh Earl Of Prog” performs Genesis’ iconic live album Seconds Out in its entirety, to an audience more than ready for supper after the longest of absences. The kind of experience that reminds us why we go to gigs.
The low down
“Bringing the warmth of new life, and the sound that echoes all around me, I caught a glimpse of in the night.”
This was always going to be a milestone experience in so many ways. My first gig in eighteen months, and the first signs of a return to a way of life that I thought might never happen. But this night also was also the first time I’d seen Steve Hackett since 1983, in this very same venue, when he was touring his Highly Strung album.
So it was an emotional return on several levels, and perhaps something we all felt as the crowd slowly grew outside the venue doors. And it felt incredibly surreal sitting at the front of the circle and peering out across the stage.
But reality kicked in when Hackett and co ambled onstage and the audience gave them a heartfelt welcome. It was time to put aside everything else and enjoy this celebration to the fullest.
The first set focussed on Hackett’s solo career, with a handful numbers split between his Spectral Mornings album and his latest work Surrender Of Silence, and capped off with the closing section of Shadow Of The Hierophant from his first solo album. This brief set allowed band and audience a chance to loosen up in anticipation of the main event, but also gently reminding them that Hackett is still writing quality new material, and not solely looking backwards. The grand guignol of The Devil’s Cathedral sounded particularly good live.
And from the outset, the audio mix was excellent. Just the right side of loud to feel it spike your adrenaline, but rarely distorted, and every instrument and vocal beautifully clear. The drums and bass had real heft to them, and the bass pedals brought the rumble, but never overwhelmed the other instruments. Normally I wear earplugs, but the sound was so well balanced on this occasion that I was able to enjoy the show without them, and no obvious after effects. And it was such a pleasure to listen to an entire performance with the audience so focussed on the music – no one chattering loudly. Perhaps they were all as determined as I was to savour every musical moment?
And so to the main event.
Seconds Out. All Of it. Played live in front of you.
Genesis’ definitive live album has been such a cornerstone of my music collection since the early eighties, but I was too young to see that tour, but fortunately not old to catch this recreation of it. The fact that I knew exactly which songs were going to be played and in which order did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm – in fact, quite the contrary.
As the band thundered through the closing section Supper’s Ready, I would normally be expecting the set to wind down towards the end, but not tonight. Instead, we then had The Cinema Show, Dance On A Volcano and Los Endos to look forward to. As a fan, it really couldn’t get any better, and instead of wasting vital moments trying to second guess the running order, I could just settle into the moment and enjoy every emotion coursing through my veins as the musical box of delights unfolded across the evening.
Hackett was on top form, pealing out those familiar solos and sounds from his Les Paul, and his obvious pleasure could be felt radiating across the theatre. His pride in his musical legacy with Genesis remains undiminished by time, and he manages an impressive balancing act, playing the songs as we’ve come to expect them, but still able to add little personal quirks and reinterpretations that help keep the music fun to play, even after 50 years!
And the band were clearly enjoying themselves too. Even from a distance, I could see them exchanging looks and smiles, as they steered the evening’s course under the benevolent guidance of their captain. Each player was given plenty of latitude to add little moments into the music, but without compromising what made the original Seconds Out interpretations so special. Again, a tricky balancing act, as each member will have been mindful just how big a deal it was for the audience to hear this album performed as close as possible to the way it was released in 1977.
What was particularly fascinating for me, was discovering how each instrument contributed to each song. I know the music inside out, but the absence of video footage from that tour meant that this was the first opportunity for me to see which parts were shared across two guitars, when bass pedals substituted for bass guitar, and how often sound effects were being created by Hackett on his guitar when I’d originally assumed it was all being done by the keyboards. And the more I concentrated, the more I realised how challenging it must be to play this stuff. (You try keeping up with the bass and drum tempo during Apocalypse In 9/8 while trying to focus on the keyboards!)
It’s no surprise that Hackett picked the players he did, and they all rose to the occasion. Roger King performed all Tony Banks’ parts with aplomb, particularly that tricky piano run at the start of Firth Of Fifth which I’ve seen throw other players off mark. Jonas Reingold proved equally adept on bass and guitar, keeping those off-kilter tempos under control, but then he’s had years of experience as a member of fellow prog band The Flower Kings.
I wasn’t familiar with Rob Townsend, but I really enjoyed his woodwind contributions, and the clever way that they doubled up and partnered Hackett on melodies that would previously have needed twin guitars. If you’re familiar with Hackett’s solo material, you’ll recognise his affinity for adding woodwind to the sound, and it was fun to hear familiar Genesis moments benefit from these alternative arrangements.
It was also great to hear Craig Blundell on drums. I’d seen him a couple of years earlier drumming for Steven Wilson, and was very impressed at the way he handled the diversity of the music that night, as Wilson can be very demanding. However, his apprenticeship has paid off and he turned in a terrific performance for Hackett, managing to overcome the handicap of recreating music originally performed by two drummers in synch. His mini-solo during the segue into Los Endos was like a calling card of everything he’s capable of on a drum kit, and I’m interested to see who signs him up after this tour.
And a special mention should go to singer Nad Sylvan. It’s not an easy gig performing songs so closely associated to Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, but over the last few tours, Sylvan has taken these songs and subtly woven his own personality into them. With a genteel and slightly flamboyant stage presence, and a good voice, he brought the lyrics to life, without any need for stage props or costumes, taking his turn in the spotlight but respectfully stepping back when not needed during the instrumental section. He also coined the best phrase of the night:
“Steve Hackett, the Eleventh Earl of Prog!”
When an artist sets out to perform a much-loved album in its entirety live, it might seem like an easy win for band and audience, but based on tonight’s performance, a lot of thought and rehearsal has gone into this rendition of Seconds Out, exploring alternative ideas to keep the music fresh, while still ensuring that all those special moments, melodies and drum beats are present and correct.
Hackett has been adopting this approach to Genesis’s studio material for several tours now, but has now raised the bar by tackling an iconic live album in its entirety – a bold move that was warmly appreciated by the audience when the lights went up.
For me personally, this gig was a triumph, and a fitting way to celebrate our first live experience after such a long absence.
Clocks – The Angel Of Mons, Held In The Shadows, Every Day, The Devil’s Cathedral, Shadow Of The Hierophant (closing section)
Squonk, The Carpet Crawlers, Robbery Assault and Battery, Afterglow, Firth Of Fifth, I Know What I Like, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, The Musical Box (closing section), Supper’s Ready, The Cinema Show, Aisle Of Plenty
Dance On A Volcano, Los Endos (including Slogans)