Steve Hackett is getting his music releases into a very tasty groove, and this live one is an exquisitely judged balance of solo material and Genesis tracks. It’s exhilarating and virtually faultless.
Label: Inside Out
Set 1: 8 Tracks + documentary / 61 + 33 mins
Set 2: 10 Tracks + 3 videos / 86 + 20 mins
Given that this live album partly celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Genesis album Wind and Wuthering, it’s hard to think of a better title than Wuthering Nights, but there’s much about this package that is hard to beat: band, set list, sound and vision are just a few.
The two halves of the show are given separate discs: a CD/DVD set for Hackett’s solo material, and a set for the Genesis songs.
The solo set majors on the latest album, from which several tracks are proof that Hackett has lost none of his compositional prowess. “El Niño” is a gutsy, riffy instrumental; “Behind the Smoke,” with its Eastern flavours, is a seriously personal look at migrant journeys; and “In the Skeleton Gallery” displays Hackett’s wider sonic approach.
But he also plays tracks back to “Shadow of the Hierophant,” which grows from delicate – helped by brother John Hackett’s flute – to soaring and then blistering. The exceptional, lyrical opener “Everyday” is nearly as old. Amanda Lehman joins him for some wonderful twin lead and then woodwind player Rob Townsend comes over to share the melody. You don’t hear much of him here over the guitars, but he gets to shine in “The Steppes,” with its oriental edge. Nick Beggs’ spot-on fretless bass is key to the track’s success and he is superb throughout the show, also playing double-neck and singing.
The Bonus feature is a decent, unpretentious behind-the-scenes documentary. As well as the banter, Hackett talks about his family, including the refugees from recent generations, and how important it is to him that we appreciate our common humanity.
The Genesis set starts with five from Wind and Wuthering, which was a border release between two eras. Behind it stood a majestic body of work, full of invention, mystery and adventure; beyond it lay a poppier approach that saw track lengths shrink as long instrumental passages were rarely allowed out to play.
Where exactly it stood at that border is arguable. Some see it as the last great Genesis album; others of us are less impressed. “Afterglow” has always been up there with the band’s best quieter songs and “One for the Vine” has a superb instrumental break (that, and “In this Quiet Earth” are very Camel-like), but the other two – even the epic "Eleventh Earl of Mar" – are among this show’s less exciting songs. “Blood the Rooftops” has regularly appeared on his acoustic albums, but doesn’t stand out above his solo material.
The non-Wuthering songs are either rare (“Inside and Out” is a Spot the Pigeon EP first-time live recording) or classic, and he clearly plays mighty tracks like “Firth of Fifth” and “Musical Box” with delight and pride, rather than as a reluctant fan-pleasing exercise.
Nad Sylvan takes the vocals, because he can replicate the Gabriel / Collins timbres. The playing is note-perfect, too. Hackett is more of a car mechanic than a racing driver, preferring to get right every tone of every note from his gold Les Paul, rather than prance around and shred the neck of his guitar.
The mix honours that precision and delivers pristine sound (unlike the Royal Albert Hall release), while the visuals match it for brightness and clarity. Camera angles change at a civilised pace and there are plenty of close ups.
The bonus features on this disc are three Night Siren music videos (cheesy visuals, but very fine musically).
In the behind-the-scenes documentary, Sylvan and Hackett both remark that the band has never been happier. The show bears that out. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves on this set, not least Nick Beggs.
Hackett is the only man keeping the Genesis flame burning, but this not just a reminiscence exercise. The new material has legs too. If you enjoy classic rock or prog, this superb package is pretty much a no-brainer. Recommended.