Steve Hackett @ The Symphony Hall, Birmingham – Friday 30th October 2015


Review by Paul Quinton

This was Steve Hackett’s fourth visit to Symphony Hall within the space of two and a half years, but the first in which he’s played a show not built solely around his years in Genesis. The previous three visits were on his hugely successful Genesis Revisited and Genesis Extended tours, whereas this one was at least partly in support of his most recent studio album, ‘Wolflight’, although Genesis did feature in the tour publicity, and even on the ticket for the show, with the tour being billed as ‘Acolyte to Wolflight, with a sprinkling of Genesis.’ Interestingly, while the Genesis shows had been in great demand, Symphony Hall wasn’t sold out for this show, with the top, or Grand Tier being closed, although the rest of the hall looked pretty well filled.

In the end, it was a bit more than a sprinkling as it turned out, as the show was the proverbial gig of two halves, with the opening segment devoted to his solo work, and the second to his work in Genesis. Compared to the Genesis shows, the opening was quite low key, an intro track of the instrumental ‘Corycian Fire’, from the new album, accompanied the band entering a darkened stage, then straight into ‘Spectral Mornings’ from the album of the same name. Interestingly, this was played without the one main difference in the band’s line-up compared to the Genesis tours. Roine Stolt, of Transatlantic, The Flower Kings and Agents of Mercy, among others, was filling the role of bassist and second guitarist on this tour, previously played by Nick Beggs, but he emerged in time for the first of the new songs, the title track of the album.

The two albums featured in the tour billing. Voyage of The Acolyte and Wolflight, formed the bulk of the first half, topped up with songs from some of the earlier solo albums in Hackett’s career, and almost every song in the opening set had something memorable about it, like the gorgeous guitar solo in ‘Everyday’ and ‘Loving Sea’ being played with Gary O’Toole coming out from behind the drum kit to contribute to the Crosby, Stills and Nash style harmonies.  Then there was the surprise of ‘Jacuzzi’, from the ‘Defector’ album, where Hackett was joined by his brother John, who played a peculiar looking wind instrument that looked like a flute that had been bent several times in the middle. Near the end of the set came the first appearance of Hackett’s now regular vocalist, Nad Sylvan, for ‘Icarus Ascending,’ before the first set finished with four tracks from ‘Voyage of the Acolyte.’

It might have been thought a brave decision to  finish the first half with what effectively were three instrumentals, but when they’re of the quality of ‘Ace Of Wands’, ‘Tower Struck Down’ and the epic concluding section of the song with the proggiest title of all time, ‘The Shadow of The Heirophant’, I don’t think anyone was complaining. The climax of ‘Shadow…’ brought Symphony Hall to its feet, and such was the intensity of the music I think a lot of people were secretly relieved when Hackett announced a 15 minute break.

Steve Hackett
Steve Hackett

The second half was devoted to Hackett’s old band, but admirably he left out almost all of the standards from his previous Genesis tours, instead going into some of the further reaches of the back catalogue to revive some of the songs that had rarely been played even when newly released. Opener ‘Get ‘Em Out By Friday’ a song with the unlikely subject of residents and property developers, nevertheless has lyrics that seem even more relevant today than when the song was written, and saw Hackett himself playing one of the vocal parts. Then it was time to unveil some surprises. ‘Can-Utility and the Coastliners’, from Foxtrot, which saw Nad Sylvan whirling around like a ballet dancer,  and ‘After The Ordeal’, from Selling England by the Pound, were genuine surprises, ‘Cinema Show’, while played more often in recent years, was still an emotional delight, with some superb keyboard work from Roger King, then another surprise in ‘Aisle of Plenty’.  Finally there were a couple of stalwarts from the Genesis tour to finish, ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, which brought huge roars of recognition from the crowd, and ‘Musical Box’, a deeper song, which apart from the big finish, was perhaps an unusual song to finish the main set.

As if to acknowledge that some people might have been unfamiliar with the music in the second half of the show, the encore comprised two of the man’s best known songs, ‘Clocks/Angel of Mons’ from his solo career, full of riffs and colour, and then to everyone’s delight, the Genesis song ‘Firth of Fifth’, which includes what’s become Hackett’s signature guitar solo, a fine performance from Nad Sylvan and in which the piano intro gets a huge cheer all of its own.

Steve Hackett has had a long and varied solo career, but in this country at least, he seems to be going through something of a renaissance, although it’s equally true to say that a lot of people are coming to hear Genesis songs that were largely ignored by the band after he left. But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that he still has a lot of creativity to offer, his new album is full of imagination and versatility and, of course, some sublime playing. Live, he’s surrounded himself with gifted musicians he trusts implicitly and this gives him the confidence to show that same imagination and versatility in his shows, not to mention a showcase for his superb guitar playing. His gigs always deliver.

Steve Hackett’s Website