Steve Hackett band at Shepherd's Bush Empire

Steve Hackett at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Photo © Alan Hewitt

It had to be done, didn't it? TWR has not missed a London Hackett gig since 2003 (well, apart from the Royal Albert Hall show but we don't mention that do we...?) . And so it was that I found myself coach bound for the big smoke as we from "up norf" call it (among other things!).

The first surprise that greeted us upon our arrival at the hallowed Shepherds Bush Empire was that the venue had decided to install seating in the stalls - not popular with everyone but it certainly meant that I for one got a better than expected viewpoint of things as they unfolded. I had already been given a sneak peek at the proposed setlist several months before the tour got under way and having avoided spoilers on the Internet, I was prepared for some things to have changed and to be surprised in equal measures.

Surprised I certainly was as Steve and the band emerged on stage to a backing tape excerpt from Last Train To Istanbul from the excellent Beyond The Shrouded Horizon album (when are you going to make this fan happy Steve and play this one in its entirety eh?). The show itself got under way with a blistering rendition of Spectral Mornings. Now, to open a show with what many regard as your best track might lead you to think that the rest of the show would go downhill rapidly but worry not dear readers this was definitely not the case tonight!

Steve Hackett band at Shepherd's Bush Empire

Amanda Lehmann and Roine Stolt at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Photo © Alan Hewitt

After almost three year's worth of exorcising the Genesis ghosts from his system, Steve has wisely decided to begin to reinstate his own considerable musical heritage to his audience and so the first half of the proceedings consisted of a wonderful mix of the new, old and VERY old. The new album; Wolflight was represented by the title track which saw Steve and the band really rock out with some ferocious playing all round. Love Song To A Vampire too sounds even better in the live context than it does on the record although to my ears there were some technical problems on this one as I could barely hear Amanda Lehmann's vocals which is a great pity as she was evidently singing her heart out throughout. The Wheel's Turning, Loving Sea and Out Of The Body were also given an airing tonight to an enthusiastic if somewhat restrained reception from the London crowd and I was delighted to hear the new material fitting so seamlessly in between such classics as Every Day which still sends shivers up and down my spine after all these years.

Speaking of things fitting in. I bet you didn't think anyone would notice your incorporation of a snippet from William Walton's coronation march, Crown Imperial into the proceedings at one point did you Steve? And it sounded damn fine in the rock context too I can tell you!

Steve Hackett band at Shepherd's Bush Empire

Gary O'Toole & Steve Hackett at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Photo © Alan Hewitt

We were even taken back to where it all began for Steve with a healthy portion from his first solo album, 1975's Voyage Of The Acolyte and if there were any problems with Amanda's vocals earlier in the show they were more than redeemed by her flawless delivery of Shadow of the Hierophant which was one of two real stand out performances from the first half. The other was an astonishing performance of Star Of Sirius by Nad Sylvan who managed to sound incredibly like the late great Richie havens on this classic slice of Hackett and gained well deserved applause for his efforts to boot.

It was also good to see Steve joined on stage by his brother John for a truly delightful acoustic interpretation of Jacuzzi and Hands of The Priestess which gets better each time I hear it.

New boy Roine Stolt acquitted himself manfully on both bass and double neck but to my ears the one thing missing from many of these tracks was the presence of bass pedals which would definitely have given the tracks that little bit more power but no one can fault the performances themselves as the entire band were evidently having a real blast on stage with much grinning and laughter which is always great to see.

Roine Stolt at Shepherd's Bush Empire

Roine Stolt at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Photo © Alan Hewitt

The band took a deserved break before returning with a fresh selection of Genesis material and Steve is to be applauded in his decision to place the emphasis this time on some of the less frequently performed tracks from the early days of the band. So we were treated to the cod social commentary of Get 'Em Out By Friday which the band seemed to be really enjoying performing. With no visual effects apart from lighting to speak of this year, the music had to speak for itself and it certainly did during the likes of Can -Utility & The Coastliners and the truly magnificent After the Ordeal which featured some of the best acoustic playing I have ever heard from Steve . Standards such as The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Musical Box and Cinema Show were performed with evident relish by the band and greeted with equal relish by the crowd in a show at just short of three hours' worth of top class music proved once again that Steve and this band simply cannot be beaten.

Nad Sylvan at Shepherd's Bush Empire

Nad Sylvan at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Photo © Alan Hewitt

Three hours flew by in practically the blink of an eye and the show was over but time always does fly by when you are having fun, doesn't it, and this show definitely was fun in the truest sense of the word - well done to all involved!

Alan Hewitt