Hackett, Steve - Auckland Town Hall (NZ), July 28th 2017,
Now, as my children will tell you, I’m really old – although I do sometimes wish I was a little older. I missed most of the progressive bands of the Seventies due to a combination of my age and geography, Devon never was a hotbed of the live scene. But at the tender age of 17 I managed to see Genesis in concert as they undertook a small halls tour, but this wasn’t for any of their amazing Seventies album but was for ‘Duke’, by which time the band had of course been reduced to Phil, Mike and Tony plus Chester and Darryl. Most Genesis fans seem to fall into either the Gabriel camp or the Collins camp, but I would like to tender another option for consideration, namely that the “real” Genesis was the line-ups that included one Stephen Richard Hackett.
In the nineties the stars aligned and I finally saw the man himself in concert at a tiny village hall in Whitchurch. The landlord of the local pub was a proghead and he had managed to convince some of the underground bands such as Galahad, Freewill and Pendragon to play at the hall opposite the Red Lion. Then, amazingly, he convinced Steve that it would be a great place for a warm-up for the next British tour. I made sure I was in the hall for the soundcheck, and soon realized that instead of playing a few bits and pieces to ensure the gear was working, Steve and the band were instead playing their full set. So I saw the full set in the afternoon, and then saw it again that night! Awesome.
Fast forward a few years and I moved from the UK to NZ, which immediately improved my quality of life, but also curtailed my gig going. For those of you who know little about the country apart from the all-powerful All Black’s, then here’s some context: the land mass of NZ is a little larger than that of the UK, and comprises two main islands plus many smaller ones. The population is a little more than 4.5 million, with more than a quarter of that situated in and around Auckland. I live close to the third largest city, Christchurch on South Island, which has a population of approx. 450,000. So, when it comes to the number of people who live here there are very few, so it isn’t really profitable for bands to come here, although many are now either starting or ending tours here so that they can either brush off the cobwebs or stay for a holiday. So, when a band comes then it is a matter of grabbing the opportunity, and when Steve announced he was coming to NZ for the very first time it was a case of buying both concert and airplane tickets as there was no way I was going to miss out on this.
Auckland Town Hall is not a venue that many bands play, and it was my first time there for a gig. With a huge organ as a backdrop, the guys weren’t using any curtains or backdrop, and while there were some lights on stage and a small amount hung in the air, it was obvious that tonight was going to be all about the music. No support band either, but that was okay, as tonight was going to feature two quite different musical legacies, an introduction of Hackett material to warm us up for the main event, Genesis. Tonight’s line-up was one that will be recognizable to fans of Steve. On bass, pedals, guitars and backing vocals was Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo, Iona), drums and lead vocals was Gary O’Toole, keyboards was Roger King, while Rob Townsend provided the kitchen sink (flute, sax, keyboards, pedals, percussion, vocals). Centre stage was the man himself, on guitar and vocals, and of course they kicked the evening’s festivities off with “Every Day”. Given how long these guys have played together it was no surprise that they were incredibly tight, and while Rob disappeared at times when his skills weren’t required, it was amazing to hear just how strong these guys were and how the blend of voices was wonderful.
Steve apologized for having taken 67 years to get to New Zealand (I seem to recall Chris Squire making the same type of comment and then they returned a couple of years later, so I live in hope that Steve will be back). We were then treated to some newer songs from Steve’s canon, until he ended the section with a blistering totally over the top version of “Shadow of the Hierophant”. Then it was time to introduce singer Nad Sylvan (Agents of Mercy), and the guys kicked it up a gear with “Squonk”. The reaction from the crowd was immediate, as here was the music that they had come to hear. Genesis may be no more, and there are arguments as to who has had the best solo career of all of them (in terms of musical quality Hackett beats the rest hands down), but the music lives on in the hearts and minds of many. It was obvious that Nad was having issues, and that he was struggling to hit all the notes, something rather unexpected given his reputation, but it is a long way to come in an air pressured tin can, and this was the first night of the tour.
During “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight”I honestly felt that the band were getting ready to move into “Clocks” but sadly that wasn’t the case. Instead Gary took the lead for “Fly On The Windshield”, which turned into something far heavier than I could ever have imagined – the man is awesome and I am going to search out more bands he has been involved with, as he is really quite exceptional. There aren’t many drummers that can fill in for Collins and seem totally at home. “Firth of Fifth” had people clapping along and got the band their first standing ovation of the night, something that was then repeated at the end of each subsequent number. “Musical Box” was turned into something even more magical than before with the addition of saxophone, but all too soon it was time for the final number of the night. By now Nad’s problems had resolved themselves, but that didn’t really matter as every person there was singing for him “Walking across the sitting room, I turn the television off….”
More than two hours had flown by, and of course it couldn’t end there and the band came back on for a steaming version of “Los Endos”. The guy next to me was upset that they hadn’t played “I Know What I Like”, while someone else wanted “The Musical Box”, but with classics such as “Eleventh Earl of Mar” and “Carpet Crawlers” being aired I walked away a very happy punter indeed. Will Steve and the guys come back to the land of the long white cloud? I have no idea, but I can only hope. This was one of the best gigs I have ever attended, with no stage trickery, just a few lights, great musicians performing classic songs. Maybe next time he can come back and play no Genesis material at all, but highlights of his solo career, now that would be a gig to fly for all over again.