Steve Hackett - Vicar Street, Dublin
18th May 2013 (with Jim Knipe)
When you miss the chance to see a band in London, your home city, what do you do? Go to Dublin, of course. When my wife told me that Steve Hackett tickets were on sale in the autumn of 2012 for concerts the following spring, I didn't associate this with the Genesis Revisited II tour and wondered why she was telling me about something that seemed so far off. It took some time to click and by the time my brain had engaged a couple of months later, tickets for the Hammersmith gig had sold out. However, a quick scan of the internet revealed tickets still available for Dublin, in the highly regarded Vicar Street, conveniently on a Saturday evening and conveniently close to friend Jim's birthday. A boys' weekend out was duly arranged. The one drawback of the proposal was the unfortunate coincidence of a weekend of European rugby in Dublin - not that the Stade de France, Leinster, Toulon and Clermont fans were any trouble but the streets were crowded and the bars overflowing.
Vicar Street is a modern venue that holds around 1000 people, seated at cabaret style tables and arranged around the periphery in pew-like seats. The high roof lends something of a TV theatre feeling. Our table was just off centre towards the rear of the floor, but pleasingly close to the mixing desk. We arrived shortly after doors opened and were informed that Steve Hackett would be signing merchandise for 20 minutes before the show, commencing almost immediately. We dutifully bought tour programmes and lined up, retiring to the bar after exchanging brief pleasantries with the man himself and walked away with signed programmes. The show commenced right on time and after a short welcome to the Dublin crowd, during which he praised the outgoing nature of the locals compared to the repressed English and gave a brief introduction to the purpose of the evening's entertainment, the lights dimmed and the opening mellotron chords of Watcher of the Skies kicked in. This has become something of a staple of the Steve Hackett touring band but this was the best I’d heard it played. Vocalist Nad Sylvan, reinventing the rock-god look and, it has to be said, sounding pretty good too - an interesting cross between Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins – moved around wielding a telescope in what could almost be called a theatrical manner, but it was hardly Gabrielesque. Indeed, this level of theatrics was not surpassed in the in entire show but as Paul Stump might say, the music’s all that matters. Next came the first of a remarkable number of tracks from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway: Chamber of 32 Doors (also included in the set were Fly on a Windshield, Broadway Melody of 1974, and The Lamia.) The last band I went to see was in fact The Musical Box, performing a stunningly accurate live version of the entire Lamb Lies Down album. The difference between that show, recreating a performance as precisely as possible and this was the presence of one of the original composers/performers and a less strict approach to interpretation. The musicianship of the two bands could not be questioned, and though I’ve now seen the entire Lamb Lies Down show live, it didn’t quite match up to the performance of the Steve Hackett band. The set list really shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise if you’d listened to Genesis Revisited II. Highlights for me were the quintessentially English Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, the disturbing undercurrents of The Musical Box featuring a little bit of Gabriel-like play acting, the expansive, sweeping grandeur of Firth of Fifth with its breathtaking guitar solo, and Supper’s Ready, encapsulating all that’s best of prog in a mere 23 minutes. The inclusion of Afterglow in the set was something of a surprise, though it does feature on the album. This track in particular represents the moment of shift from Genesis prog band to Genesis pop band, coming as it does at the end of Wind and Wuthering. However, I must confess to enjoying the tune which reminds me of a former flame who asked me to record some music for her. This song, more than any other Genesis track up to that point bar the poppy Your Own Special Way on the same album was a basic love song that encouraged interest from potential female fans. Sadly, it worked and all progressive traits were shed as the band rocketed to AOR stardom.
Photographs of Genesis playing live circa 1973 almost invariably show a seated Steve Hackett. The solo Steve Hackett is more often than not standing, centre stage, well lit. This is fitting because as a youth I regarded Genesis as a keyboard band (let’s forget the 12 string pieces for a moment) where the electric guitar didn’t get much of the limelight but was rather used for adding colour and the occasional raw break; I now see the music as being more balanced with the guitar playing a more dominant role, simply because I can see his technique, and fit it to the notes. He did sit for the acoustic-based numbers, Horizons followed immediately by Blood on the Rooftops and this was slightly disturbing because I expected Supper’s Ready after Horizons!
The band were really tight, apart from what I believe was a vocal miscue from Gary O'Toole on Chamber of 32 Doors, but then Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend and Lee Pomeroy have all been part of the set-up for some time. The sound was clean and clear, not over loud and from our perspective, pretty well balanced. Maybe Lee Pomeroy’s strummed guitar was a little over dominant at times (he was nearest to us) and the keyboards could have been tweaked up a notch when all the other instruments were in full flow, but these were exceptions, rather than the rule. There were some terrific band moments, for instance on the Los Endos blow, though the only bit I was disappointed with in the whole show was its rather straightforward rock 'n' roll introduction, but that was hardly of any consequence.
The idea of a Boy’s Weekend Away for the gig was a brilliant concept. The gig was immensely enjoyable in a really good venue with an appreciative audience mostly of around my age. (The ratio of males : females in the crowd was close to what you’d expect from a prog concert, unless it happened to be a Hatfield and the North show!) Forget the Ian Gittins review of the London concert in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/may/13/steve-hackett-review, there is a point to an ex-member of Genesis playing music from his back catalogue; the songs are complex, stand-out musical forays and need to be heard.