Live Reviews Music

Steve Hackett takes Seconds Out

As Steve Hackett revisits the Genesis live album Seconds Out over three nights at The London Palladium, Nils van der Linden finds a musician who’s not done exploring the intricacies of these songs.

Seconds Out is an inspired choice for Steve Hackett to revisit in concert. Not only the guitarist’s swansong with Genesis, the live album is a ready-made greatest hits collection of his tenure with the band.

Recorded on the 1977 tour supporting their second Phil Collins-fronted LP, it showcases songs from the previous year’s A Trick Of The Tail and The Wind & Wuthering alongside choice singles and fan favourites from the Peter Gabriel era. So, over 90-something minutes and 12 tracks that he had an integral part in creating, Hackett can retrace the six-year journey from 1971’s Nursery Cryme to his decision to go solo full time.

That ongoing solo career is represented by an opening set, described as “music from the heart”, that blends the old and the brand new. The sinister Clocks – The Angel Of Mons, immediately showcases the guitarist’s adventurous style as he slides his hand up the fretboard to coax more sonic textures from his Gibson Les Paul.

The sunnier “old friend” Every Day, also from 1979’s Spectral Mornings, finds him exploring alternately brighter and, on the still devastating solo, more ethereal tones. During the finger-flying instrumental section, Hackett is tracked note for note by guest guitarist Amanda Lehmann, who sings lead on 1976’s Shadow Of The Hierophant – possibly the only track ever to incorporate baroque (acoustic guitar, flute, harpsichord) and finger tapping.

The sense of adventure is still evident in the two selections from this year’s Surrender Of Silence. Held In The Shadows, described by Hackett as “kind of a rock song, kind of a love song”, is both tender and aggressive (cue swelling keyboards, scorching guitar licks, pounding drums, and soaring vocals). And Devil’s Cathedral transforms from sax and church organ intro to mid-tempo rocker to the musical equivalent of a high-speed car chase complete with shredding solo.

After a 30-minute intermission, it’s time for the main event, a masterclass in musicianship that’s all about the combined effect of a band playing in unison rather than backing a star. Even though he’s centre stage and his name’s on the marquee, Hackett treats Seconds Out (and his own legacy) with the respect it demands. So, while arrangements haven’t been changed to allow him to rewrite history or needlessly show off, this is by no means the kind of slavish recreation you’d get from a soulless tribute act.

Squonk sets the scene, with Nad Salvan’s towering vocal, Craig Blundell’s rolling drumming, Roger King’s effortless take on those quintessentially Tony Banks keyboard parts, plus that concluding underwater-sounding guitar riff. And Rob Townsend’s seemingly endless collection of saxophones, flutes, whistles, and other blowable things allows for some elements of the studio recordings to be worked into the woodwind-less Seconds Out renditions.

A tender Carpet Crawlers is masterfully sung by Salvan, whose voice is closer to Gabriel’s but has a greater range than both, as the seated guitarist lays down ethereal textures, before a nimble Robbery, Assault And Battery takes full advantage of a swinging rhythm section rounded out by Jonas Reingold.

The steadily ascending Afterglow plays out against the classic backdrop of white spotlights all pointing down (as immortalised on the Seconds Out cover) and reminds just how tasteful a player Hackett is. Blundell’s fills are equally impeccable, but it’s the endlessly shapeshifting Firth Of Fifth that really allows Steven Wilson’s drummer to display his jazzier touch. With its extended instrumental sections, the ten-minute opus also gives King a prolonged workout and boasts the most extravagant Hackett solo in Genesis’ catalogue. Of course, he still nails it – and the cheers from The London Palladium audience are the proof.

I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) bounces more than the version recorded live at Paris’ Palais Des Sports in 1977 and features an unexpected Townsend penny whistle solo, but Salvan’s theatricality and the crowd’s rhythmic clapping are fully accounted for. So is the dramatic and inspired fusion of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’s title track with The Musical Box (Closing Section), distilling two sprawling pieces to their emotional core. The latter, with its pleading refrain of “why don’t you touch me, now?” is a particularly powerful set up for what follows: almost 25 minutes of Supper’s Ready.

A song suite in seven parts, with enough time changes for six Dream Theater albums, the prog rock Rosetta stone must be infernally difficult to get through just once without stumbling. And yet the six men on stage seem to enjoy it almost as much as the audience mouthing or air drumming along. Enraptured in silence, apart from the obligatory “a flower” call and response halfway through, they finally respond with a standing ovation.

Most bands would have ended on that. But Genesis always had more to say. So, on their 1977 tour, they closed the main set with The Cinema Show. Clocking in at a mere 11 minutes, it expands from an almost pastoral introduction to a major keyboards and drums spectacle. It concludes with Hackett’s first spoken words of the second set as he introduces his long-term band members.

They’re soon back for more, as the encore gets underway with a thunderous Dance On A Volcano: more unusual time signatures, a full-blown drum solo of ’70s proportions, and a melody so memorable that it’s still being whistled outside the venue afterwards. It segues into the instrumental Los Endos, which once again finds Hackett getting as much as possible out of that Les Paul, this time sawing the strings with the side of his hand. Even though these songs are nearing 50 years old, he’s clearly not done exploring.

Steve Hackett
The London Palladium
20 September 2021

Photo: Simon Reed

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