VENUE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL, LONDON
Once again we are going to witness Steve Hackett and his exemplary band revisit the earlier work of Genesis, a gift the self-professed “keeper of the flame” has been giving us for six years now. But this time there’s a difference. Sitting behind them is the 41-piece The Heart Of England Orchestra, conducted by the enthusiastically bouncing Canadian Bradley Thachuk.
In theory, this should make some of the biggest soundscapes in art rock history even bigger. It sort of works, and makes for some exhilarating moments, although oddly – and despite the evidence of them fiddling busily away in front of your very eyes – the orchestra aren’t always audible. Perhaps it’s because the band are so colossal that there’s no space for them, or perhaps it’s just a mixing flaw, but the orchestra are generally present only as an underlying added flavour, rather than bringing any new, unanticipated spice.
This isn’t a major problem, as of course Hackett’s band are deft and powerful in their presentations of the hallowed canon. Opening with a throbbing Dance On A Volcano – and just to get the reservations out of the way, this writer always finds the Festival Hall’s sound so pristine that it can be too perfect, lacking the edges that snag you – they deliver two sets which revive the classics, while punctuating affairs with a sprinkling of the guitarist’s solo material. Serpentine Song, where Hackett’s brother John joins in on flute for a song about their artist father, is the pick of these, and the monumental Shadow Of The Hierophant, sung by Hackett’s sister-in-law Amanda Lehmann, is its ever-escalating self, wherein the bombast of the orchestra (audible on this one) feels like Tchaikovsky showed up and shook, rattled and rolled.
In truth, everyone sits up more eagerly for the chapters from the Genesis bible. Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (which Hackett declares a favourite) has developed a limber skip in its step with this ensemble, and a lovely Blood On The Rooftops (sung by drummer Gary O’Toole) is the epitome of English melancholy. The sweep from …In That Quiet Earth to Afterglow showcases the towering talents of first the band (Jonas Reingold on bass, Roger King on keyboards, saxes/flutes by Rob Townsend), then of vocalist Nad Sylvan, who’s now very comfortable in his wellgauged fop-meets-steampunk theatrical role.
Sylvan tackles the stirring home straight of Supper’s Ready (at the end of which Hackett delights by soloing extensively and dazzlingly) and the encore of The Musical Box with aplomb. This is an old Jerusalem we’re being led to, but there’s a joy to its guaranteed eternal sanctuary.
“THE ORCHESTRA ARE GENERALLY PRESENT ONLY AS AN UNDERLYING ADDED FLAVOUR, RATHER THAN BRINGING ANY NEW, UNANTICIPATED SPICE.”
SYMPH ROCK: HACKETTAND HIS ORCHESTRA.
HACKETT REMAINS THE FOCAL POINT OF THE SHOW.