Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Saturday August 4, 2017 :
It is hard to believe that I have been listening to Progressive Rock for exactly fifty years – it is even harder to believe that I have had to wait almost that long to hear some of the best progressive rock songs being played live in Sydney. Well, “all good things comes to those that wait”, someone once said.
Back in 1967, I was being educated at a Catholic boarding school and I found the best way to take my mind off the strict, regimented life was to immerse myself in my music. Pink Floyd’s Piper At the Gates of Dawn and the The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed were platters that could transport me to another world and it has seen Progressive Rock become the soundtrack to my life.
That said, Australia has long been known as the Antipodes because of its physical location on the opposite side of the world from England and Europe where Progressive Rock first began. Because of the vast distances at that time, very few progressive rock bands came to Australia and thus for the last fifty years it has been extremely hard not to see my favourite bands play live.
While Genesis did have a tour to Australia in December 1986, it mainly centred around their eighties, more commercial material with Phil Collins on vocals. Of the 16 songs played at the Sydney gig – only one, ‘In the Cage’, came from their more iconic early work. My second child was born less than a month before this gig so there were no spare pennies left to see the band which on reflection, made Steve Hackett’s concert all the more anticipated.
Steve Hackett was the second guitarist in the Genesis line up, signing up in 1971 and spending the next six years with them. To me he joined the classic line of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins, and this saw him record seven albums with them. Tonight, Hackett was to play sixteen songs – the first five were his own solo work and then the remaining eleven were from his Genesis Revisited roster.
While I was familiar with his opening tune, ‘Every Day’, the opening track from his 1979 Spectral Mornings platter, the following three ‘El Niño’, ‘In the Skeleton Gallery’ and ‘Behind the Smoke’ were from his latest offering, The Night Siren. These songs had shown that Hackett’s work has developed dramatically with a jazz-fusion edge that was capably handled by the assembled players. While these tunes were from his 25th studio album he followed it with ‘Shadow of the Hierophant’ from his debut album, Voyage of the Acolyte, a great way to finish this part of the set.
Looking around the room it was safe to say that nearly all those in attendance were in their sixties and as such were there to hear Hackett’s Genesis Revisited portion of the show, as was I, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. This was marked by vocalist Nad Sylvan coming on to the stage uttering “Can you tell me where my country lies? Said the uni faun to his true love’s eyes, It lies with me! cried the Queen of Maybe For her merchandise, he traded in his prize”, The opening lyrics from ‘Dancing With the Moonlit Knight’ with all the assembled fossils letting out a collective sigh at hearing these familiar forty four year old lyrics.
I always think that the mark of a good song is that it takes you back to where you were when you first heard it, and these eleven Genesis tunes saw me being taken back to some of the most important times of my early life over the next hour and a half. This became readily apparent with the opening bars of the iconic, ‘Fly on a Windshield’, from what I believe was Genesis’ best work, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
Thanks to the internet over the last twenty years, I met a fellow called Jim “Papa J” Harrell who organises CalProg, a celebration of all things Prog in California. Harrell told me that he had been in the audience at the Shrine Auditorium Los Angeles, California on 24 January 1975 for the live performance of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway that was later released in 1998 as part of the box set of Genesis Archives (1967-75). When I first heard this live version, I thought to myself I’ll never get to hear any of these tracks live. Wow – was I wrong and how.
‘Fly on a Windshield’ was joined by the ‘Broadway Melody of 1974’ and ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ in a tour de force of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tracks in all their glory, played to perfection much to the collective cheers of all those in attendance. Then came the ‘Eleventh Earl of Mar’ and ‘Afterglow’ before the Trick of the Tail stand out song ‘Dance on a Volcano’. The audience continued to lap up this sentimental walk down memory lane.
The first Genesis album I ever heard was Selling England By The Pound and I clearly remember playing it back to back about ten times when I first bought it so when the opening bars of ‘Firth of Fifth’ sounded out, I was again taken to 1973. You would swear that you were being taken back to a performance by the original musicians – such was the capability and dexterity of the assembled players.
I had seen bass player, Nick Beggs with Steve Wilson’s band in October last year and he is a more than capable player and looked imposing with his double necked Mason custom bass and 12 string guitar standing to the right on stage. Behind him was drummer Gary O’Toole who looked like he was swallowed whole into the mouth of his enormous drum kit. He had learned his chops after time with Bucks Fizz and China Crisis and played the entire night in a full suit and tie. He certainly loved hitting the bejezus out of his big old china cymbal along the way.
Some of the best musicians are those that you have never heard of and such a fellow was keyboard player Roger King. A session musician who had also played with the likes of Gary Moore, Snoop Dogg, Jamelia and Peter André, and he had Tony Banks’ best work down pat. Rob Townsend was a jack of all trades, hanging out on the left side of the stage as he played a vast assortment of instruments. This included Soprano and Tenor Saxes, flutes and assorted percussion instruments.
Vocalist Nad Sylvan sounded so much like Peter Gabriel it was uncanny. He originally hooked up with Hackett in 2012 for the second Genesis Revisited album and has been an important part of bringing the classic Genesis sound to the world ever since. This brings us to the man himself, Steve Hackett.
Hackett was chosen by Guitar World magazine as one of the Top 15 Prog Rock Guitarist of all time in early 2016. Saying then “Hackett’s early explorations of two-handed tapping and sweep picking were far ahead of their time, and influenced Eddie Van Halen and Brian May, among countless others”. He spent most of the night with his hands around his beautiful 1957 Gibson Les Paul “Goldtop”, that was joined on one occasion by a Zemaitis 12-string acoustic guitar, both played with incredible dexterity.
This brings us to the highlight of the night, the last three songs, all followed by a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. ‘The Musical Box’ started off so softly and quietly with Sylvan setting the scene for what would be a classic prog song, building up to a crescendo of sound and energy that almost sounded better than the original.
This was followed by ‘Supper’s Ready’, the seminal track from the mighty 1972 Foxtrot album. This song is another that begins and ends in a soft manner but has a middle section that features a sound that builds to a crescendo calling on the talent of its players in an odd timed Progressive Rock kind of way. I was joined on the night by my mate Kenny and at the end of this song he said to me “It is just like I’m back at University in the ‘70s again – it took me right back”, he stated shaking his head unbelievably. The song was followed by an almost deafening round of cheers and clapping as everyone stood for the band as they filed off stage.
It was clear that Sydney had finally seen and heard the very best of seventies prog rock excellence as all in attendance clapped louder and louder in order to have the Hacketteers return to the stage. Their efforts were soon rewarded as the musicians appeared for their encore. Fittingly the final track was to be ‘Los Endos’ with a few variations. This just capped a night that took this scribe into a place that I have rarely been before – certainly this would be in my top five gigs in the thousand or so that I have attended.
In the Skeleton Gallery
Behind the Smoke
Shadow of the Hierophant
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974
The Carpet Crawlers
Eleventh Earl of Mar
Dance on a Volcano
Firth of Fifth
The Musical Box
Reviewer + Photographer : Jon Van Daal