"The Best Of Both Worlds" Steve Hackett's 2009 UK tour as seen through the eyes of TWR's roving reporter: Alan Hewitt
Photographs courtesy of Stuart Barnes, and Alan Hewitt ©. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
Well, for the benefit of poor Amanda who has to set this up on the site, I will keep this one short - it was FANTASTIC! There you go... Seriously though, where do I start on the subject of this latest outing from Steve and the band? Well, at the beginning is as good a place as any so here goes...
Saturday 14th November 2009: Shepherds Bush Empire Theatre London.
A busy day this one. Spent the afternoon in the convivial company of Anthony Phillips giving him a severe grilling about his recent work including, of course, his participation on Steve's latest album before making my way in the company of TWR's very own web master, Stuart Barnes to the Empire for the first of this year's extravaganzas. I had chosen not to look at any of the spoilers for the set list beforehand and so I was prepared to be surprised by the set. And, surprised I certainly was as the evening unfolded.
The intro music was a surprise in itself, being the instrumental part from Last Train To Istanbul which led us nicely into the show proper as Steve and the band took the stage and launched into a full throttle version of Mechanical Bride which to my mind isn't really a set opener but it served that purpose nicely tonight warming everyone up.
Steve and the band - Shepherds Bush Empire
Fire On The Moon had already proven itself a hit on the Italian tour back in March and it has grown commensurately in performance since then. Steve's vocal delivery accompanied by the dramatic bass and drums of Nick and Gary greatly enhanced the sheer angst of the track and it was greatly appreciated by the crowd. Every Day elicited howls of delight from the crowd, who greeted it like an old friend, which, I suppose it is. Personally, for me this evergreen classic still manages to raise the old goose bumps even after thirty years!
With a new album to finally promote, I was not surprised to see that it was going to feature heavily in the set and Emerald And Ash was our next offering. Another highlight of the new record and without doubt one of the most personal songs Steve has ever written, and the sheer intensity of the performance tonight almost took your breath away - amazing stuff! Ghost In The Glass too, brought a little Jazz to the proceedings with both Roger and Rob sharing the honours on this one.
Then a little trip back to the dim, dark, slightly damp days of the 1970's for Ace Of Wands, another track which, a bit like Steve himself, has survived the ravages of time and come out stronger at the other end. This one really defies the ageing process and sounds brand new every time I hear it. The crowd lapped it up and the entire band really flexed their musical muscles on this one. Pollution B still serves as a useful segue into the awesome Steppes. Steve has always been a painter of pictures in sound and nowhere is this better demonstrated than on this truly magnificent wide-screen epic. Slogans too, has survived very well and is still as damning an indictment of political propaganda as ever it was even more relevant today in these "MPs Expenses" ridden days.
One of the more recent highlights from Steve's shows next with the truly magnificent tribute to his artist father, Peter next. Serpentine Song was delivered with the obvious love and affection of a child for its parent and I am not ashamed to say that it brought more than a few tears to my eyes. From the sublime to the outrageous next with Tubehead, a full throttle workout for the entire band - whoever said Steve can't do rock - eat your hearts out!
Steve and Roger King - Shepherds Bush Empire
Steve and John Hackett - Shepherds Bush Empire
A Hackett show without Spectral Mornings is as imaginable as a Jethro Tull show without the mighty Aqualung, and once again, this magnificent opus continues to shine like the gem that it is. Speaking of gems; Firth Of Fifth brought perhaps the biggest cheer so far as Steve announced it. Having shied away from his Genesis past, Steve has finally begun to embrace it with a passion and tonight both he and Roger King shared the honours with two of the finest solos I have ever heard - I doubt if Mr Banks could do better and there's no higher praise than that, is there?!
Likewise, no show by Steve is complete without an acoustic section and tonight's was graced by the welcome addition of Steve's brother John who was introduced on stage for a fine acoustic performance of Jacuzzi which went down a treat. The acoustics continued as Steve ran through excerpts of some of his acoustic material leading into the evergreen Horizons which the audience loved. I am still recovering from the surprise of the next song's appearance in the set back in 2004 and I was delighted to see that it was still in the set. Hearing Steve and the band perform Blood On The Rooftops is perhaps the closest thing to a religious experience that an old agnostic like me will ever have and it didn't fail tonight either - simply magnificent with Gary taking the honours for a wonderful vocal performance.
Two more Genesis classics were on the menu next. Fly On A Windshield and Broadway Melody Of 1974 which the band simply lapped up. Nick's bass threatened to tear the roof down at times while Steve and Gary too did their utmost to inflict the kind of punishment on their respective instruments that would normally lead to them being reported to the Society For The Prevention of Cruelty To Musical Instruments but fortunately no instruments (or musicians) were harmed during this performance - although I am sure a few eardrums might have needed attention afterwards!
Back to the new album next with a marvellous book-ending of two entirely contrasting pieces which once again emphasised the diversity of Steve's musical output. Sleepers, runs through the whole card on its own; from deliciously quiet moments to nightmarish aural assaults on the ears - the "theatre of sleep" in which all of our dreams and nightmares are brought vividly to life. As if that wasn't enough, Steve indulged himself in a little does of the blues next with Still Waters. Don't let the title fool you though, there was nothing tranquil about this rampaging beast in which Amanda Lehmann and Nick Beggs really let their hair down and if the smile on Steve's face was anything to go by, he was certainly having a good time too!
Steve and the band - Shepherds Bush Empire
How else could you end a Steve Hackett show? Well with Los Endos of course! The supercharged "Revisited" version has become the staple show closer of late and it worked a treat again tonight and here the entire band really had the chance to let their hair down and ladder their tights and they took it with a vengeance, leaving themselves and the audience breathless. Bows, taken and deserved applause given, the audience were in no mood not to demand an encore and we weren't long in getting one as Gary's metronomic introduction heralded the arrival of the "Hammer Horror" style Clocks which, like so many of its counterparts is showing no signs of its age - still gabs you by the scruff of the neck and pins you up against the back wall of the theatre.
Then it was all over for tonight, a truly magnificent first show for yours truly which did more than whet the appetite for the others to come.
Tuesday 17th November 2009: Opera House Buxton.
Steve at Buxton Opera House
After a couple of days' break in which the Hackett withdrawal symptoms were difficult to keep at bay, it was time for the next "fix" of Hackett. This time in the wonderful surroundings of the Opera House in Buxton. A fine theatre and one in which I have spent many a good night. Tonight was sadly, something of a disappointment. Nothing to do with the performance which was as energetic and entertaining as usual, but more the lack of atmosphere from an audience who were so reluctant to applaud that at one point I was prompted to ask "can we clap now?" which was met with an ironic "might as well" response from Steve. I wonder whether the ornate surroundings of the theatre may have subdued the audience somewhat, either way a strange night but you can't win 'em all!
Thursday 19th November 2009: Renfrew Ferry Glasgow.
Steve at The Ferry, Glasgow
With the weather becoming increasingly nasty, I decided not to make my usual pilgrimage to Wolverhampton but couldn't resist the lure of Glasgow. The trip up to the gig was certainly filled with its share of drama as we passed over a landscape devastated by floods and on several occasions it looked as if the train was swimming! We got there eventually however and then it was off to the venue. The Renfrew Ferry is exactly what it says; an old "roll-on-roll-off" car ferry strapped somewhat precariously to the banks of the River Clyde. Not your usual concert venue then but Steve has played here several times in the past and indeed the 2007 Genesis Convention was also hosted here so here I was to sample yet more Glasgow hospitality.
Right from the start, the difference in atmosphere between this gig and the previous one at Buxton was apparent. Tonight we had an audience who wanted to ROCK and I am sure that rubbed off on the band who certainly put in a much more spirited performance tonight. Highlights were difficult to pick out as there was so much energy coming off the stage but new tracks Emerald and Ash, Fire On The Moon and Sleepers certainly did the business for me tonight. Each and every band member had their moments to shine and the increasingly raunchy antics of Nick and Amanda during Still Waters were a joy to behold.
Friday 20th November 2009: Pacific Road Arts Centre Birkenhead.
Steve and the band - Pacific Road Arts Center, Birkenhead
Steve and the band - Quays Theatre Lowry Centre Salford
Back home (well almost - Birkenhead is across the river from Liverpool after all) but the venue is marvellous - a converted tram shed. First a ferry, now a tram were the venues imitating the "transport/travel" of the new album? I don't know but either way once again, the band put in a magical performance which was greeted by a enthusiastic crowd who lapped up the new material with as much excitement as the older stuff - a sure indication that the new album is a bona fide winner.
Saturday 21st November 2009: Quays Theatre Lowry Centre Salford.
A trip up the M62 to that place which, as a proud Scouser, I am forbidden to name! Seriously though, the Quays Theatre is a magnificent setting for a gig and tonight was no exception. A sell-out too which was great to hear. Musically, the band continued their excellent performances although Steve did have some problems with either his guitar or amp during the first half of the show, especially during Every Day which led to him using some surprisingly "industrial" strength language at times. It didn't spoil the momentum of the gig though and I was quite surprised when at one point towards the end of the show I turned round from my vantage point behind the mixing desk, to see Chris Squire standing beside me, nodding away approvingly so it couldn't have been that bad!
Sunday 22nd November 2009: Picturedome Holmfirth.
Steve, Gary, Nick & Amanda - Picturedome Holmfirth
Up to the land of "Last Of The Summer Wine" next although the weather was anything but summery and there was no wine - only beer! Nonetheless, a cracker of a gig this one. The Picturedome has only been open as a concert venue for a couple of years as far as I am aware but it certainly had the kind of vibe which was lacking at some of the other venues on this tour. With a well-earned break coming for Steve and the band after this gig, they were obviously up for some fun and we certainly got it. Once again, Steve's brother John joined him on stage as he had done at both London and Salford but there was the added bonus that Steve's dad was in the audience tonight and he certainly looked proud as his boys entertained the crowd with yet another truly marvellous performance. Nick and Amanda continued to turn the heat up in more ways that one but the rest of the band weren't far behind them either. A great ending to the tour proper.
Tuesday 1st December 2009: The Assembly Leamington Spa.
Steve, Gary and Nick - The Assembly, Leamington Spa
Last gig of a tour? Well... it would have been rude not to go now wouldn't it? Of course it would! Leamington Spa is another one of those places which I had never been to before - at least the travelling broadens the mind if nothing else! Tonight's venue was another standing gig which always seems to lead to a far better vibe among the crowd and it was certainly the case tonight. I was delighted to see quite a few familiar faces among the crowd tonight and once again, the band led us through a glorious resume of many of Steve's finest musical moments. No last night changes to the set but even so, you could not possibly be bored hearing marvellous versions of Every Day, Blood On The Rooftops and Spectral Mornings to name but a few of them. Once again though, it was the newer material which shone through with the likes of Fire On The Moon, Emerald And Ash and Sleepers rapidly acquiring classic status within Steve's live cannon. As usual, each and every band member gave 110% to the show and the enjoyment was infectious as the crowd responded in kind. We even had something of a rarity in so far that a very dear friend of mine finally had the courage to propose marriage to his fiancee during Serpentine Song - and then asked me to be the Best Man! So, an unusual night all round. Even the backstage setting was somewhat out of the ordinary. I did not expect to be greeted by a caravan in the backstage area. No ordinary caravan though - Tammy Wynnette's tour caravan apparently! Don't you miss it, Tammy?!
So there you, go. A few more fleeting moments in the life of a Hackett fan. Strange to think that it's just over 31 years since I first was infected by "Dementia Hackettitis" and thankfully they haven't found a cure yet! Anyway, once again I would just like to express my sincere thanks to everyone involved; the band members, Jo Lehmann and Brian Coles for all their help and encouragement. To Ben Fenner, "Tigger" Matthews, Steve Barnett and Richard Buckland for all their hard work behind the scenes. To Nathalie Pointer for handling the merch and for giving me the tour off. Finally, to the fans; Steph Kennedy, Kevin Fearn, Clive Beesley, Stuart Barnes, Brian and Alison Lancaster, Kevin Powell, and Rachel "The Brat", Steve Hammond and Steve Llewelyn, and to all those people who came up and said "hi" and who bought the book - thanks for all your support. Hey, let's do it again - next year, perhaps, Steve?
A selection of UK show tickets, courtesy of Alan Hewitt & TWR