Progarchy’s Artists of the Decade: Steve Hackett

In pondering ways to celebrate Progarchy’s tenth anniversary, Steve Hackett was one of the first names that came to mind when thinking about top solo artists in the progressive rock world over the past decade. Of all the artists and bands from the “golden age” of progressive rock still hitting the touring circuit, Steve Hackett and Yes stand out in terms of output and the quality of live performances. What pushes Hackett into the lead, in my opinion, is the stellar solo material he has released over the past ten years in addition to the magnificent “Genesis Revisited” live tours and live albums. Other artists in the contemporary scene may have more of a direct influence on the prog scene today (I’ll leave it to my friends here at Progarchy to talk about some of them), but Hackett has been a shining example of someone who both embraces his musical past while still exploring new musical territory in an engaging way. 

It all started back in 2012 with the release of Genesis Revisited II, a double album of Genesis songs and a few Hackett solo tracks re-recorded by Hackett and a revolving cast of top-tier progressive rock artists. The subsequent live tours and live albums (Live at Hammersmith, 2013; Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 2014) showed that audiences were hungry to hear Genesis’ classic catalog in a live setting with an original member of the band. The following years have seen five more live albums and as many solo albums.

The icing on the cake for the live shows was Nad Sylvan, a phenomenal Swedish singer whose voice bears an uncanny resemblance to both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins while still retaining its own signature tone. The closer you listen, the more you realize he has his own voice, as his brilliant solo records have shown, but in a live setting, it doesn’t get much closer to the real thing than Hackett’s touring band with Sylvan on vocals. Collins can’t sing like that anymore, and Gabriel won’t touch the material with a ten-foot pole. Thankfully Hackett and company have no such restrictions or reservations. 

Roger King and Rob Townsend have been the other two stalwarts of this touring band over the past decade, with both (particularly King) playing prominent roles in Hackett’s solo material as well. King is an underrated wizard on the keyboards, matching Tony Banks note for note. Townsend’s arsenal of blown instruments adds extra layers to the Genesis music, as well as offering a fresh and unique take on some of the tracks with the inclusion of saxophone. Even purists have to admit that Hackett’s subtle tweaks to the songs don’t take away from the magic of the performance. 

Hackett’s band has also featured a rotating cast of bassists, all of whom have been phenomenal. Whether it was Nick Beggs, Roine Stolt, Lee Pomeroy, or now (my favorite) Jonas Reingold, they’ve all blown the roof off.

Steve Hackett

Longtime Hackett drummer Gary O’Toole played with the band for most of the decade and for many years prior, and while he’s a talented drummer, I always felt he didn’t quite match Phil Collins’ playing style. Craig Blundell has been playing on the last couple of tours, and I’ve been blown away on both occasions I saw the band live. To be fair, I never saw the band with O’Toole on drums, but I have watched all the live albums. Blundell is one of the top drummers in the progressive rock scene today, as evidenced by his work with Steven Wilson and Frost*. He’s an absolute joy to watch behind the kit. His drum solos at the shows I attended were the finest I’ve ever seen in person. He manages to make them melodic and interesting. Rather than being bored after a couple minutes, I was drawn in and along the entire time. I can’t help but wonder if that’s how audiences felt watching Phil Collins play back in the early 70s. 

But obviously the star of the show is Steve Hackett, one of the best guitarists of all time. His unique guitar tone and style of playing have influenced countless musicians, and that influence still pops up in the progressive rock world today. He’s one of those rare guitarists where you can tell it is him even if it’s a song you’ve never heard. I find that fun when I’m listening to a new album from an artist or band and I recognize the guitar tone before looking it up to confirm that it is indeed Hackett playing as a guest. 

Hackett’s vocals have also improved with age, and he’s used his voice to wonderful effect on his solo albums. “Peace” off 2019’s At The Edge Of Light was an absolutely perfect vocal performance, displaying both clarity and power. 

We at Progarchy have gushed at length in various concert reviews about how great Hackett’s live shows are – both the Genesis material and Hackett’s solo material (see here and here for reviews of shows from this year). Hackett’s solo albums have also received plenty of our attention, for good reason. Hackett could have easily made his albums sound like Genesis in order to sell records, but instead he has chosen to let his music reflect his passion for travel. He has masterfully incorporated musical splashes from around the world in a way that rarely feels cheesy. The primal edge in the music, especially in the drums, stands out as being particularly unique in the progressive scene. In his records Hackett has sought to unify people in lyrics and collaborations, something for which he should be commended in these divisive times. 

One of my favorite tracks from his albums of the last decade is “The Devil’s Cathedral” off last year’s Surrender of Silence. Featuring Nad Sylvan on lead vocals, the song is the perfect example of why Hackett’s live band is so good. An album of material written by the entire band with Nad on vocals would be brilliant, as this song shows. When the band played it live in St. Louis, it got great feedback from the audience, most of whom had likely not heard it before. They also played “Held in the Shadows,” a song that follows “The Devil’s Cathedral” on the record. It shows how well this band plays together, with Hackett as the centerpiece. The band can jam like few others. So smooth and seemingly effortless, yet so full of groove. 

One could be cynical and say Hackett’s Genesis Revisited touring and biennial live albums are just a big money grab, and it might be. But when the results are this good, who cares! His band is the best thing touring right now, and his solo albums frequently appear near the top of my end of year “best of” lists. Steve also happens to be the most approachable of all the former Genesis guys. You can buy signed albums directly from his web store at regular retail prices. He’s very active on Twitter, interacting with fans and generous with his retweets. He must have seen my review of his show earlier this year, because a few members of the band ended up sharing it on their social media accounts (including Steve), and I got a direct message from Craig Blundell on twitter thanking me for my kind words about his playing. Sorry, but you’re not going to see Mike Rutherford or Tony Banks doing that. I haven’t interviewed Steve personally (yet – here’s hoping I get to some day!), but Progarchy has interviewed him a couple of times, and from what I’ve heard, he’s been extremely kind and generous – far more than you’d expect from an artist in his position. All that to say, in addition to being a brilliant musician, he’s also a great guy. 

I could probably keep going, but I think I’ve covered why I think Steve Hackett is one of the finest artists of the last decade. More so than any other progressive rock artist of his generation, he has blended the classic music of the 70s with contemporary music of the highest caliber. He has been a stalwart in touring circles, and he has made frequent appearances on Cruise to the Edge, arguably the prog event of the year. 

Thanks, Steve, for all your hard work. I think I speak for the whole prog community when I say how much we appreciate you bringing all of the classic Genesis material back to the stage with such a brilliant live band. Thank you for continuing to challenge yourself as an artist by exploring new musical territory and continuing to make new records. It keeps your live shows sounding fresh. I look forward to what the next ten years have in store. 

Steve Hackett
Photo © Jerry Lofaro Selling England By The Pound & Spectral Mornings 2019 Tour

6 thoughts on “Progarchy’s Artists of the Decade: Steve Hackett

  1. lukesassypants

    Bryan, I agree 100% with your comments about this fabulous band. I saw Genesis last year in Chicago, but honestly, even they don’t hold the power of Genesis the way this band does. They are all fantastic, but what tilts this is Nad. His unique voice captures both the best of Peter and Phil, but there is also another dimension there. Truly magical to watch this band perform. I have said many times that this is the best band touring over the last 10 years. Thanks for putting in writing exactly how I feel.

    Liked by 2 people

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