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Steve Hackett

Live in Bethlehem, PA (NEARFest 2010), June 2010

Review by Bill Knispel

Steve Hackett headlined NEARfest alumni night, Friday 18 June 2010.  This would be his second appearance at the prestigious progressive and art rock festival, following a headlining set in 2002 at the festival’s second venue, the Patriot Theatre in Trenton NJ.

The core of Hackett’s band from 2002 joined him on stage at the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem PA.  Of that 2002 line up, Rob Townsend (sax, flute), Roger King (keyboards) and Gary O’Toole (drums) continue their association with the former Genesis guitarist.  Added to this formidable band are Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo, Iona, John Paul Jones) on bass and stick, and Amanda Lehmann on guitars and vocals.  These two new faces contribute a lot to this sextet’s rich, full sound, adding vocals not often heard in Hackett’s solo repertoire.

In fact, the first thing that really differentiated this set for me from the NEARfest 2002 performance was how vocal heavy the selected songs were.  Not only that, but Hackett and band elected to perform full versions of several Genesis classics, where in the past only instrumental sections seemed to get aired out.  This was to be a very different performance, even if much of the band was familiar.

Much like the 2002 show, the band came out in darkness and opened with the powerhouse “Mechanical Bride,” one of two holdovers from Hackett’s 2003 release To Watch The Storms.  This, and the later performed “Serpentine Song,” have distinctive sounds recollecting early King Crimson; “Bride” hearkens back to “21st Century Schizoid Man” while “Serpentine Song” evokes comparison to “I Talk to the Wind,” both from Crimson’s 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King.  Neither song is a copy of the earlier piece, but there are similarities in structure and feel, and I doubt many people would deny that.  “Mechanical Bride” is a powerful opener, and the strong performance here boded well for the rest of the set.


Bill Knispel
     
Hackett’s solo shows are far from nostalgia trips, even if he has an extensive catalogue of songs to select from, and this night’s performance would be no exception.  Touring behind his newest release, Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth, Hackett led the band into a solid rendition of “Fire on the Moon” from that release.  He’d revisit this release for three more songs throughout the rest of the set, showing his work to be as vital and energetic today as it has always been.  He then elected to take a side trip back to the early days with a wonderful rendition of “Every Day,” from 1979’s Spectral Mornings.  This song gave the audience the first chance to really see what new band members Beggs and Lehmann would contribute to the performances, as the song had excellent vocal performances, while Hackett and Lehmann would offer up some nice (and unexpected) harmony guitar during one of the solos. 

The setlist would continue in much the same way throughout the performance, with newer tracks (“Emerald and Ash,” “Sleepers,” “Still Waters”) scattered amongst classics from his studio albums (“Ace of Wands,” “Spectral Mornings,” “Clocks”) and a surprising number of tracks from his days in Genesis.


Bill Knispel
     
The Genesis tracks merit some extended discussion.  Hackett has never shied away from his past in Genesis, but for the most part, his renditions of Genesis songs have either been limited in length (mostly instrumental bits, often in medleys) or limited in the period of time they were performed (i.e., the Tokyo shows with Wetton/Colbeck/McDonaldThompson).  This time the audience was treated to a diverse selection of Genesis classics, played opening note to final cadence.  I’m sure that people thought we might be in for something special when Hackett and band followed up the new track “Emerald and Ash” with a pleasant rendition of “Carpet Crawlers,” but it is doubtful that anyone could guess that there’d be a full 8+ minute take on “Firth of Fifth” (complete with the famous 2-hand tapping solo, years before Eddie Van Halen took the stage), nor that we’d head back to The Lamb… for a great version of “Fly on a Windshield” and “Broadway Melody of 1974.”  The Lamb… tracks were handled beautifully, with “Fly on a Windshield” being especially massive in sound.

But things didn’t end there.


Bill Knispel
     
Hackett also worked in a lovely rendition of his classical guitar piece “Horizons” from Foxtrot, leading right into an emotional take on “Blood on the Rooftops” from Wind and Wuthering.  It’s likely by this point that there were few dry eyes in the house, even from people who had seen the 2002 NEARfest performance, as this night was turning out to be something incredibly special.

The band closed things out with a medley opening with “Myopia” from Till We Have Faces, moving into two more Genesis bits from “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight” and “Los Endos,” before concluding things with a full on rendition of the classic “Clocks” from Spectral Mornings.  Wrung out and exhausted, the band took their bows before patiently meeting and greeting the equally exhausted audience, who had certainly witnessed a special performance that would be talked about for years to come

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Bill Knispel
     
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