Fittingly for a gig from one of the country’s most prestigious music colleges, legendary guitarist Steve Hackett gave a masterclass of progressive rock to a knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience.
Backed by an accomplished band, the former Genesis man made several dips into the back catalogue of “that band” as he playfully referred to them, alongside plenty of material from his recent solo release, Beyond the Shrouded Horizon.
And, during a bravura performance extending well over two hours, he powered majestically through a set marked throughout by astonishing skill, variety and musicianship.
A showcase of songs from the new album kicked off the show, with the metal-tinged drama of ‘Loch Lomond’ merging into the more melodic ‘The Phoenix Flown’, followed by the sweeping combination of ‘Prairie Angel’ and ‘A Place Called Freedom’.
Much of Hackett’s 36-year solo career was revisited, from 1979’s coruscating ‘Every Day’ to the gentle ‘Serpentine Song’ from 2003, tracks marked with beautiful harmonies among the band, who seemed to have an almost telepathic understanding throughout.
Drummer Gary O’Toole and guitarist Amanda Lehmann frequently shared lead vocal duties with Hackett during the set, while Rob Townsend was a one-man woodwind and percussion section, variously displaying mastery of the harmonica, saxophone, oboe, flute and whistle as the need arose.
Perhaps a highlight of the night was an expert rendition of ‘Shadow of the Hierophant’, the final song from Hackett’s 1975 solo debut Voyage of the Acolyte and a fine example of his influential virtuoso style.
Capable of simultaneously sustaining the sweet tone of a classic Dave Gilmour track and drawing on the raw arpeggiated power of Glenn Tipton, Hackett’s pioneering guitar work has become undeservedly overlooked, possibly a legacy from his time in the perennially unfashionable Genesis.
Damned initially by critics for their prog rock ambitiousness and damned again for ‘going pop’ after Hackett left in 1977 and ‘selling out’ in the 80s under Phil Collins, that such misguided snobbery could affect people today is a terrible shame.
A near full-house at RNCM showed not everybody remains ignorant to the talents of Hackett however, and the excellent versions of Genesis classics ‘Carpet Crawlers’, ‘Firth of Fifth’ and ‘Blood on the Rooftops’ could help to persuade non-believers to revise their opinions of both his consummate skill and the band’s classic 70s output.
After a rousing rendition of ‘Spectral Mornings’ rounded off the show, one of prog’s most enduring and under-rated veterans had made sure anyone present unaware of his brilliance had definitely learned their lesson.
Photography by Lee Millward