I bought the original vinyl double album of Seconds Out upon its release in 1977 and was intrigued to see how its tracks could be recreated by Steve Hackett’s latter-day ensemble. I also saw Genesis four times between 1973 and 1978 so had some perspective on the band’s live performance, all of which, except Knebworth in 1978, included Steve Hackett’s incredible guitar playing. As many diehard Genesis fans are aware, there are some excellent tribute bands who have sweated many hours perfecting the intricacies of the band’s back catalogue. The two elements always hardest to reproduce are the richness of Peter Gabriel’s voice and the inventiveness of Hackett’s guitar. Arguably it was the guitarist’s departure after the release of Wind and Wuthering rather than PG’s absence from this and Trick of the Tail that was the harbinger of the original band’s demise, prior to its descent into the MOR of Then There were Three. On both of Hackett’s final albums with Genesis Phil Collins did a very passable impersonation of the band’s original vocalist, thus ensuring a fairly acceptable continuity of their unmistakable classic prog-rock ethos. Seconds Out epitomises that watershed moment when Collins started to drift away from the script (just listen to his horrible ‘Artful Dodger’ vocals on Robbery Assault and Battery!) and Hackett, realising the game was up, made it his swan’s song.
The show in Stoke was the third date of a delayed celebration of the second live Genesis LP, released as a double album on 14 October 1977 on Charisma Records. A year ago, due to COVID restrictions the show was cancelled and one year on it seemed a little unreal to be actually sat next to people in a theatre, once more listening to musicians performing in the flesh. Of course there were many precautions, including ensuring everyone had been vaccinated and tested – some even wore their masks throughout the performance; however, once the show began the recent suppression of such pleasures, with all its worries and paranoia, quickly faded away.
The rather sudden start with Squonk always seemed a bit odd to me, as on Trick of the Tail it kicks in contrastingly after the majesty of Entangled. Apparently Eleventh Earl of Mar occasionally opened the set on the original tour – unfortunately with the limitations of how much you could cram onto two LPs it’s conspicuous by its absence. The set order at concerts was also different to how the original live album presents it, but Hackett & Co faithfully stuck to the same format as the record. Relistening to it now, it’s clear that Steve’s absence from the mixing desk when the album was produced resulted in him being pushed back in the mix, particularly on Carpet Crawlers, which tonight is rightly embellished with a little more of his beautiful atmospheric guitar. Wiseley I Know What I Like is reinterpreted with a jazzy sax solo replacing the keyboard variations in the 1977 template and other similar creativity throughout provides welcome deviations. Not surprisingly the duration of the Genesis section of the concert, a full two hours, was somewhat greater than the Seconds Out album itself as Steve kept his promise to play all the songs in full, the only exception being (replicating the live album) the early segue between Dancing on a Volcano and Los Endos at the expense of the up-tempo final instrumental section in the former. This strategy ensured that Firth of Fifth was preceded by the full piano introduction and that The Musical Box was resplendent in its entirety, rather than having its closing section tagged onto The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (this was actually the encore back in 1977, but is included on the album as the conclusion of Side 2).
The technology has developed immensely since the days of mellotrons that were prone to breakdown and tuning problems. Tony Banks did an amazing job with the steam driven keyboards that were on offer in the 70s, but never used a real piano onstage. Instead he gravitated from a Hohner Pianet N to the RMI Electric piano used on Seconds Out, both of which had their own merits, but offered no competition to the glories of a Steinway grand. By using samples of all these ancient instruments modern keyboards can faithfully recreate the sound of the original at the push of a button, but without the unreliability. This resulted in a wonderful authenticity in delivering the choral ending of Afterglow and near perfection in displaying the full palate of ARP Pro Soloist voices during the intricate synthesiser solo featured in Cinema Show. Not surprisingly the classic early Genesis twin neck guitars and bass pedals (two sets!) were deployed to good effect, whilst Steve stuck to his favoured Gibson Les Paul guitars, except for some beautiful acoustic 12 string at the beginning of Supper’s Ready. To everyone’s delight the masterpiece from Side 2 of Foxtrot concluded with an extended guitar solo, where Hackett built upon his recorded multitracked version with inventive embellishments, before fading out in time honoured fashion.
Earlier a forty minute ‘warm up’ set of Hackett’s own material kicked off with the ‘timeless’ Clocks and included two songs from his newly recorded CD Surrender of Silence. His current band appearing on this and the Genesis Revisited tour are vocalist Nad Sylvan, keyboardist Roger King, bassist/guitarist Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend on saxophone, keyboard and flutes, and drummer Craig Blundell. Craig is the latest and youngest recruit to Hackett’s astoundingly talented band and he confidently covers all the percussion parts laid down by Phill Collins, without slavishly following every drum fill from the original recordings. Likewise Nad has a rich powerful voice full of character and expression that mirrors both Gabriel and Collins, but he confidently adds his own phrasing and intonation that breathes new life into the songs. He also has a similar body language and demeanour to PG, but wisely doesn’t dress up or leap around, preferring to stand proudly behind the bandleader’s right shoulder, rather than compete to be an attention seeking frontman. These days Steve mostly performs standing up, occasionally returning to the seated performance of his early Genesis days. His relaxed, often self-deprecating banter between songs filled in the gaps where necessary, although most gaps between songs in the Seconds Out section were tastefully left empty – in my mind I could almost hear the crackle of the stylus on that shining black vinyl where all this began….