Steve Hackett – Live at Symphony Hall (Atlanta)

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My concert buddy and I were discussing within the past 6 months which artists remained on the list which we would like to see in concert.   Shortly after, Presto!   Steve Hackett announced not only a North American tour, but a stop in Atlanta.

Hackett was the guitarist for Genesis from 1971 to 1977, the era that I would hope all progressive rock fans would agree as thuntitled-56-4eir best years, before the band’s sound began to lean towards contemporary influences under Phil Collins’ leadership. 

As Hackett’s discography is much longer as a solo artist since he left the band, it was a further surprise that Hackett would play only Genesis songs.  Maybe that’s what it would take to fill seats in the U.S.; I’m not sure when the last time he toured here.

So, we booked early, 2nd row on a balcony.  Good stuff.  Sadly, I guess there’s not as many classic Genesis fans in the Atlanta area as I might have surmised, or the advertising for the show was particularly ineffective.  In any case, we were directed to better seats on the lower balcony, in the center, which was a fine deal for us.  I’d guess there were about 1,000 present in a venue that seats 1,762. 

This is where I would say that the seats were very comfortable, which they were, and that the sound was excellent, which it wasn’t quite, and overall that the venue was awesome (the staff were excellent).  However, on that last point, the ventilation system wasn’t quite adequate to overcome the wafting body odor of the fat bastard two seats to my side.   It wasn’t the untitled-56-2venue’s fault, I suppose. 

The concert began with rousing applause... and a false start due to the lack of a bass feed.  This was handled fairly graciously, at least in the apology for “swearing so close to Sunday.”  After that, it was off to the races.

The band’s stage set was basic, of the variety that can be affordably hauled around on a foreign continent.  The stage lighting, though was good and literally added color throughout the show.  This may seem trivial or expected, but, like his previous band, the performance of Genesis music tends to be a static thing.  There’s little stage movement.

Also, when people are paying to see and hear Steve Hackett, there’s an awkwardness about the required vocalist.  I can’t fault Hackett for being front and center.  As he would demonstrate throughout the evening, he’s one of the premier guitarists in shaping sounds and controlling tone (as opposed to being as fleet fingered as the prodigies abounding today).  What he does suits the music perfectly, which should be every musician’s intention.

That said, it falls to Nad Sylvan for the unenviable task of singing lead parts formerly performed by Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.  Unenviable in that many of the lyrics, though obviously firmly bound with cherished songs, are laughable, silly, precocious and/or simply dated. 

So, with the weight of that chore, singing from mid-stage rather than in the front limits his ability to engage the audience.  By the time the closer “Supper’s Ready” came around, he chose his “acting” moments well and finally had the audience drawn in.   Otherwise, his vocals were appreciated, but it’s awkward for the audience to look beyond the musicians to find the singer.  That said, Hackett avoids the potentially distracting parade of costumes that Gabriel wore back in the day, which is best left to the many Genesis cover bands

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Sylvan’s voice was more than suitable in mimicking both Gabriel and Collins in that he is apparently naturally a blend of them both.  In fact, he came to some recognition for just that in a Genesis inspired release called Unifaun in 2008.   That said, the vocals weren’t as clear as they could be, which was surprising considering the venue.  While it could have been better, with some consideration of the state of sound systems and venue design back in Genesis’ heyday, it’s likely that Hackett era Genesis probably never sounded so good.

Regardless of the lyrics, the “voice” fulfills an instrumental role, and it’s always been Genesis’ music that has drawn me in.  Hackett’s band had this in their pocket. 

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To give Hackett credit, he didn’t simply choose songs that highlight his playing, but rather traditional favorites that were played in concert.  That said, the songs I enjoyed the most were the ones where he has the space to be heard, namely “Squonk,” a biting “Fly on a Windshield,” and an absolutely gorgeous “Firth of Fifth.”  Also, “The Knife,” a rocker that the band recorded the year prior to his arrival, was a nice surprise.

Of note, the music wasn’t simply re-presented.  The tour is advertised as “Genesis Revisited,” and the jazzy treatment of “I Know What I Like” was exceptional.  In fact, Rob Townsend, who primarily played sax and flute, added a very fresh dimension to the music (notably replacing a number of keyboard leads with his sax) and is obviously a comfortable spar for Hackett on stage. 

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I used to wonder looking at Genesis’ live album “Seconds Out” why they had two drummers playing at once.  To a point this was because Phil Collins sang and at times played drums, but during the concert, I kind of “got it.”  A second drum set would have rounded out the bottom end among a lot of other instruments being heard, which is a separate thing than just adding “punch.”

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A remaining observation is that Hackett didn’t have a rack of guitars.  Other than his acoustic guitar, he played his Les Paul throughout the show.  To supplement this, he has a massive pedal array, and the view from the balcony was perfect to watch him manage his sound in each song.

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Lastly, a quote (as I remember it) on his experience touring with a Mellotron: “When she sings, she’s a beautiful thing.  But you tend to start in one key and end in another.”

In any case, this was a great concert for those who love Genesis and progressive rock, and seeing Steve Hackett is not an opportunity that often comes around.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Set List:

Dance on a Volcano
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
Squonk
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974/The Lamia
...In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
The Musical Box
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Horizons (acoustic)
Firth of Fifth
Lilywhite Lilith
The Knife
The Fountain of Salmacis
Supper’s Ready

Encore:

Watcher of the Skies
Los Endos Medley (incl. solo song “Slogans”)

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