Steve Hackett — Seconds Out + More, GLC Live at 20 Monroe, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 4, 2022
Once again, Bryan Morey has beaten me to the punch with a live review of Steve Hackett. (My excuse this time: he had ten days head start on me.) Like Bryan, I was impressed with the energy and delight Hackett and his merry band projected as he returned to my hometown venue for the third time. “The weekend starts here!” he crowed to the capacity crowd (quoting the classic BBC-TV pop show Ready Steady Go) and boy, did he make good on that pitch! Hopefully without repeating Bryan’s many excellent points, a few more comments follow . . .
While I was delighted when I heard that Seconds Out would be the focus of Hackett’s show, I wondered how well it would work in concert — because Genesis never played this exact setlist in 1977! The original live album is a construct, with the music re-sequenced for maximum impact over four sides of vinyl (that year’s encore, “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway/The Musical Box” was moved forward to the end of side two), excerpted from onstage medleys (“Afterglow” immediately followed “In That Quiet Earth” back then, the way I heard Hackett perform it in 2013) and even flown in from the previous tour (“Cinema Show” had been recorded in 1976 and shelved).
But arguably, those interventions are part of why this album made such an impact on both Genesis fans and the broader public over the years; as it’s endured, it’s gained stature as a balanced, thorough survey of the band’s proggiest era, with an unhurried pace and flow that gradually gains in both momentum and excitement. Which explains why the whole thing did work live, this time as a multi-course banquet of Hackett’s finest hours in his defining group. And in that light, the whirlwind trawl of Hackett’s solo career that kicked things off, informed by both the poised classicism of 1979’s Spectral Mornings and the manic energy of two tracks from last fall’s Surrender to Silence, served as the perfect appetizer.
But all that’s conceptual; what about the execution? Briefly, this was the most free and most daring that Hackett and his supporting cast have been in the four times I’ve seen him. Rather than reverentially presenting the material as if fixed in stone, the players took this music by storm; throughout the night the band consistently pushed Hackett musically — and he consistently delivered.
It all started from the bottom end; bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Craig Blundell gave the underlying rhythms subtle but thorough makeovers, reinventing classic Rutherford/Collins stomps like “Squonk” with whimsical licks and devious syncopations that made me do double take after double take. Then there was Rob Townsend, reveling in his wildcard role on winds, keys, pedals and allsorts –instigating a breezy jazz-funk odyssey in the middle of “I Know What I Like”, to take just one example. Keyboardist Roger King tended to hold the fort and stick to the original parts, but when you least expected it (as on his stylish introductory duet with Townsend on “The Devil’s Cathedral”) his inherent flair and panache came through. And singer Nad Sylvan? Committed, powerful and reliable as always: tackling these ambitious epics head on, barreling through the challenges of constant shifts between vocal registers, matching the tone to the mood throughout.
When the band needed to be tight and precise, it was — though they often paraphrased instead of slavishly copying (the interweaving guitars of “The Musical Box,” “Supper’s Ready” and “Cinema Show” were done with only one 12-string, and I think King was playing samples that blended in with Hackett and Reingold’s chiming lines), and frequently modeled their renditions on the original album tracks (“The Carpet Crawlers”, “Afterglow”) instead of the live versions. Rather than reproducing Seconds Out, they reimagined it. And when they got even more loose and spontaneous — well, that was serious fun. The encore version of “Los Endos” went from strength to strength in this vein; a fiery solo by Blundell led into the classic riff, then a gleefully bludgeoning excerpt from Hackett’s metallic “Slogans”, then a willfully noisy group improv that collapsed in a shuddering heap before regrouping for the final “Squonk” reprise — with Sylvan’s vocal interpolations from “Supper’s Ready” soaring over that monstrous groove. No wonder the place erupted at the end!
What might be most emblematic about the show is this: Steve Hackett didn’t play acoustic guitar once during the set. Plugged in and ready to rock all night, his electric trademarks — the innovative fretboard tapping, the delight in making rhythmic noise, the lush, sustained single-note lines — were present, correct and better than ever, thrillingly deployed and renewed at peak moments like his solo in “Firth of Fifth” and the extended fadeout of “Supper’s Ready”. What the audience in both St. Louis and Grand Rapids witnessed was a master musician at the height of his craft and inspiration, set alight by the daring of the band he recently called “the best I’ve ever had”. There aren’t that many dates left on this tour, but what I’ve said before I’ll say again: if you haven’t seen Steve Hackett before, you should; if you have, he’s always worth seeing again.
Thanks to James Brown, bassist/guitarist/keyboardist of Grand Rapids’ own classic rock/prog band Comments of Aether, for his great cover photo!
— Rick Krueger