Jhey say a band can better secure their legacy by knowing when it’s time to get out, even though most people who say that aren’t actually in a band and have day jobs and have something interesting to do the next day, while their idols of freshly retired musicians may not.
Genesis’ latest encore took place a few weeks ago in London in front of a packed O2 Arena made up of elderly first-generation prog fans and their younger pop-era counterparts. Whether or not the last tour, which received good reviews, came too late, speculation inspired by the sight of a wizened Phil Collins singing from a stool, has been the subject of much debate among the faithful, although the group chops were still largely intact, and much of their music retained the same punch and artisanal arch that had served them well, in different settings, since the late 1960s.
Steve Hackett, who joined the band in 1971 after founding guitarist Anthony Phillips surrendered to relentless stage fright, was a central figure in the band’s rise as one of progressive rock’s most successful bands, recording six studio albums and a handful of live albums with them before. embarking on a full-time solo career in 1977. For the pre-mega-hit Genesis crowd, for whom the progressive years were often a vaguely recognized footnote, the music the band produced during the Hackett years represents the real cannon.
We asked Hackett in a brief interview a few weeks ago if he’d had the chance to attend his former band’s swan song tour.
“I didn’t, I was doing so many shows myself, there was never really a time when it was possible. One of our own [band members] caught COVID at the start of our tour so we had to put Canadian shows on hold so we’re doing it at the end of the year now.
“I had a night off where I could go see them in London if I wanted, and I figured I couldn’t risk catching COVID myself when we have this US tour coming up. . If one of ours had come down… to sit in a crowd, even with a mask on and even though I’m triple vaxxed, I didn’t want anyone else getting electrocuted.
But would you have seen them differently?
“I would have, absolutely, yeah.”
If his original band has finally bowed out, Hackett surely hasn’t. He has re-recorded and toured much of the Genesis catalog of the early and mid-70s, since its first revisit in 1996, while maintaining a steady output of solo material. There’s a little irony here, of course – Hackett left the band in some frustration at not being able to get more of his own contributions on the records, and much of the music that keyboardist Tony Banks delivered was so heavily key-based, Hackett found it increasingly difficult to find his role. Yet over 40 years later, Hackett is re-delivering many of these songs live with his own band, in combination with his own material, which more than one observer has noted sounds a lot like what Genesis could have become. if they hadn’t. found and adopted the four-minute, MTV-compatible single.
“Well, I think it’s become an abandoned place for Genesis,” he noted of years of prog. “There was a Genesis audience that loved the early classic stuff, the stuff with Peter Gabriel and the stuff we did with Phil when we were a quartet. The direction the band took, and it was hugely successful, didn’t serve what spawned it in the first place. There was a certain reliance on programming and drum machines and all that, and yeah, we knew they always had it on fire when they wanted to pull it out of the bag.
“The difference, I think, is what you get with the guys I work with is a band on fire.”
Putting aside any old-school skepticism of guitarists playing their old band’s material – we’re a bit overwhelmed now – Hackett’s band aggressively moves through much of the old material with surprising kinetic confidence. Vocalist Nad Sylvan and keyboardist/music director Roger King nail and expand Banks and Gabriel/Collins’ presence, and Hackett’s solo material, usually painstakingly arranged and forcefully rendered, demonstrates that in some ways Hackett’s band is a more confident and stylistically ambitious live unit than circa 1973 Genesis.
“Yeah. I think there’s confidence, I think there’s virtuosity at work. I don’t think it’s diminished over time. I think it’s a lot more intense, in common sense Craig Blundell (drums) is on TV in the UK, he’s amazing, he works with everybody.
“[Roger] was originally an organist, then got into film music, and yes, he’s getting better all the time. But he is extraordinary. He’s the only guy I’ve met who can transcribe Bach by ear. Very deadpan, very dry, very British humor.
“I’m very, very lucky to have these guys. It’s fortuitous for everyone in the group. It’s partly very demanding music, but it’s also music that has surprises in store, and I think we’re invigorating it, not just revisiting it.
When Hackett last came over several years ago to perform at the Boulder Theater, we were quite surprised to hear some of Genesis’ more obscure and challenging tracks placed alongside Hackett’s solo album. at the time, the spooky and transcendent Wolflight.
“Can-Utility and the Coastliners”? This infuriatingly arranged and oddly titled nugget (sneakily referencing King Canute, the Danish king who ruled Britain in the early 11th century) from 1972 Foxtrot?
“With ‘Can-Utility’, I ended up writing the part of the song and doing the lyrics to it. There’s a writer, a lady named Joanne Harris, who wrote the novel Chocolate, and she is a fan of this piece, which I just read recently. It was very pleasant to hear. But I think we played it a couple of times with Genesis and we just gave up, I think it was too complex. We threw in the towel, but not with these guys. They do a wonderful job with that.
And fortunately, technology has caught up with some of the ambitions of this first group. The long and decidedly odd narrative track “Battle of Epping Forest”, from 1973 Sell England by the pound, was legendaryly removed from the band’s live setlist, forever exiled as a deep cut. Another track they just couldn’t get on stage.
“We started playing that one live in the US, and we dropped it. I was using an Echoplex at the time, and I couldn’t get it to work properly. It was 1973 , a long time ago. But we’re doing it now because I know it has some power. But you have to have a very, very specific group to do it right. There’s a lot of contrapuntal stuff out there. At this period, the rhythm section, Phil [Collins] and [bassist Mike Rutherford] did anything but played frankly. It was kind of a 5-on-1 situation. “What time signature are these guys playing in?”
But if Genesis alumni’s delight is in the old stuff, Hackett’s solo material, especially his latest, is a revelation in itself. His latest (which, to be fair, Hackett might not even have mentioned himself if we hadn’t brought it up in our 20-minute chat, in a weirdly non-self-promotional turn) is called Abandonment of silence, and for anyone who might view Genesis covers as performative nostalgia, Hackett reveals himself on this unrestrained record as a grand statement, a grand arrangement, a grand soldier of instrumental programming of massive ambition. From the eerie ‘The Devil’s Cathedral’ with King’s furious organ overture and Sylvan’s menacing voice, to the grand piece for strings and choir ‘Natalia’, the shady world music ‘Shanghai to Samarkand’ and the most touching ‘Esperanza’, featuring Hackett’s deft and underrated nylon string playing, it’s progressive rock at its most mature, gloriously indulgent and meticulous form. Hackett is a believer. He never stopped being a believer.
“It’s a very intense album. There are albums that I can listen to from start to finish, but this one, the energy just keeps on overwhelming you. It’s a very rock album, but with a bit of world music. Tracks like ‘Natalia’ or ‘The Obliterati’, you get that kind of… is that rock? Is it classic? Is it a heavy metal orchestra? But yes, I am very proud of the arrangements.
The Financial Times, who recently released a nice piece on the latest Genesis show, also had a piece about how progressive rock was having something of a moment with a resurgence in the genre (especially in Europe), and in some ways coinciding with the recent Toby Amies documentary on King Crimson. It reminded us that we had read a weird tidbit about Crimson history not long ago that Robert Fripp, pressured by some fellow musicians to resurrect the band during one of his hiatuses, suggested someone or another that Steve Hackett should take over as guitarist for the mighty Crim. We asked Hackett if he had ever heard this himself.
“Well,” he laughs, “he never phoned me to ask if I would replace him in King Crimson. I think ultimately any version of King Crimson without Robert would be “The king has disappeared”.
“Unfortunately, my great pal from King Crimson, the brilliant and talented Ian McDonald, has just passed away. live, before they do In the court of the Crimson King; his work was magnificent. He could play an incredible sax, an incredible flute, a devastating mellotron. Just to die.
The heart of Robert’s brain?
“Yes, in some ways I do. They were a brilliant band when they burst onto the scene, and I think they paved the way for Genesis in a big way. I think we were all fans of this band, which seemed to arrive fully formed. While other groups have taken longer to establish themselves. Genesis took its time to evolve, but suddenly there was this big bang called King Crimson.