By Michael Lello
Photos by Laurence Kelly
COLLINGSWOOD, N.J. – The chapel-like Scottish Rite Auditorium, ensconced in Masonic mystery, was the perfect backdrop for two highly anticipated stops of Steve Hackett’s “Genesis Extended Tour,” which finds the former Genesis guitarist leading his band through thrilling versions of selections from the progressive rock giant’s most exploratory, enigmatic — and to many fans, best — era.
Friday’s concert began with the ominous tones of “Dance On A Volcano,” taken from 1976’s “A Trick of the Tail,” the first Genesis record to feature Phil Collins on lead vocals following the departure of Peter Gabriel. Throwing a few extra licks into the familiar main riff, Hackett remained faithful to the album version but wasn’t averse to adding some new flavors. Nad Sylvan, the captivating and flamboyant lead vocalist, clad in medieval garb, mimed along with the lyrics and sang with passion and precision. A lifelong Genesis aficionado, Sylvan’s stage antics honor the lyrics and magnify the stories they tell, but in a manner totally different from Gabriel, an equally outlandish frontman known for his masks and costumes.
Sylvan’s dramatic a cappela introduction of “Can you tell me where my country lies?” signaled “Dancing With The Moonlight,” the lead track on 1973’s “Selling England By The Pound.” Hackett’s finger-tapping and volume swells were highlights, as were Rob Townsend – who played saxophone keyboards and percussion as well throughout the show – playing Gabriel’s flute lines on a tin whistle; these small changes were welcome wrinkles that helped bring out the beauty of the original compositions. Hackett reduced his volume as he played a retooled outro, and the song dissipated into silence.
The stomping “Squonk,” one of three songs Hackett has added to the setlist this tour, was triumphant; it’s Genesis’ take on the dirty stomp of Led Zeppelin, but with quintessentially Genesis aspects. Townsend’s soprano sax stood in for the original synthesizer lines.
“Do we have a Lamia in the house?” Hackett asked before the band slid into the gloriously creepy track from 1974’s concept album “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” which gets a good run on this tour. Sylvan stood frozen during a pretty Roger King piano solo, and Hackett used a slide to create an eerie Theremin-like effect. Hackett and Townsend then intertwined their guitar and sax melodies, illuminating the lyrics about the mythical snakelike Lamia.
“The Musical Box,” from 1971’s “Nursery Cryme,” the first Genesis album to include Hackett, would’ve been the centerpiece of any stage show not including “Supper’s Ready.” Nick Beggs – an invaluable band member who also played bass, double-neck 12-string bass/guitar, Chapman stick and bass pedals and sang harmonies throughout – trilled an atmospheric 12-string pattern on the Variax guitar, helping flesh out the pastoral nature of the song. Townsend added washes of flute, before Hackett unleashed a ferocious solo, sliding up and down his guitar neck with both bands and karate chopping the whammy bar – real spine-tingling stuff. The band’s work on this number earned them a standing ovation from the sold-out audience.
“I Know What I Like” featured a new, funky, jazz fusion-y interlude, and even a brief “When The Saints Go Marching In” mock-up by Hackett, before the band yielded the stage for Hackett’s hushed and breathtaking solo acoustic “Horizons.” Hackett’s delicate acoustic work equals his fiery electric playing, which is quite an impressive feat.
King’s piano introduced “Firth Of Fifth,” a prog tour de force. When Sylvan sang “till lured by the sirens cry,” Hackett played weeping notes with a slide. During the rhythmic midsection, Hackett started a crowd clap-along and pumped a fist in the air, before launching into the trademark flowing solo. King’s stately piano brought the song to an end.
“Lilywhite Lilith,” from the “Lamb” and the second new addition, was heavy, with Beggs plunking out bass lines on the stick. The proto heavy metal of “The Knife,” the third of the “new” songs, is one of the most rocking songs in the Genesis catalog, and on stage, it took on an even heavier character. Hackett tuned to exchange smiles with Sylvan as Beggs blasted out heavy bass notes over King’s grinding organ patterns. “Stand up and fight for you know you are right,” Sylvan sang, delivering the rebellious lyrics with punch and panache. Hackett has said he added “The Knife,” from the “Trespass” album, which predates his Genesis membership, due to fan request, and he and his group have delivered beyond expectation with their rendition.
“Carpet Crawlers,” yet another “Lamb” selection, was pretty and hypnotic, a calm before the storm of “Supper’s Ready.”
“Supper’s Ready,” from 1972’s “Foxtrot,” might be the signature song of the British progressive rock movement, and getting to witness the 20-plus-minute epic played by one of its originators is worth the price of admission. Drummer Gary O’Toole, a talented singer who sang lead on a few songs, handled Collins’ high harmonies during the song’s opening “Lovers’ Leap” section while standing and playing finger cymbals. Sylvan strutted during the vaudevillian “Willow Farm” segment, before leaving the stage and returning, now donned in a long, black coat, for the ecstatic and nearly Satanic “Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet).” “666 is no longer alone,” Sylvan sang, and “Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon/ In blood he’s writing the lyrics of a brand new tune.” Convulsively twitching, Sylvan produced a quill and scrawled words in the air, seemingly dictated to him by a higher – or maybe lower – power. Hackett took a showy solo, coaxing apocalyptic tones from his guitar, playing with fleet-fingered abandon, as Sylvan theatrically marched back up his platform to deliver the song’s concluding lyrics.
“Supper’s Ready” was delivered with the power and drama it deserves, with Sylvan’s arresting performance daring you to look way and the band committed to nailing every complex tempo change and tricky instrumental run.
It earned the group a well-deserved ovation as they left before an encore of the foreboding “Watcher Of The Skies,” also from “Foxtrot,” and the intricate “Los Endos,” primarily an instrumental and from “A Trick Of The Tail.” As the song reprised its album-mates “Squonk” and “Dance On A Volcano,” Townsend blew screaming sax lines, as Hackett, smiling and juking, wailed away at his whammy bar, bringing the concert to a satisfying and wonderfully bookended close.
While the tour seems to be a financial success, it serves several larger purposes than moving product and tickets. For starters, Hackett is the only Genesis member, former or not, playing these songs live, which is a treat for old fans looking to relive the glory years as well as those too young to have seen Gabriel, Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Hackett together. Secondly, Hackett, often seated onstage during that period, is now at center stage, playing with fervor and often flair, reminding the music world that he was – and is – one of its most tasteful, idiosyncratic and melodically gifted guitarists. Lastly, the project has introduced a crew of lesser-known but phenomenal rock musicians to a wider audience. These songs need to be remembered and revived, and Hackett and his cohorts’ talents and loving approach to the material is something to behold.