So sorry for the lack of posting, friends and guinea pigs. I had a pretty severe workload crash into the weeks, in preparation for a week of vacay. Funny how you work your ass off in prep for taking time off, then come back and work your ass off to catch up, isn’t it? Well, we called it a vacation, but a better term might be tri-state crime spree. No need to quibble.
And after flying back into town, apparently well ahead of pursuit, I was scheduled to meet the Zelmeister for a show. Steve Hackett, no less, guitarist for Genesis from 1970-1977. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? but it was a fertile time for the band, writing some of the best prog music that some very young, mostly self-trained youngsters ever made, including what has been voted as the Best Prog Album of all time, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. I wrote about seeing The Musical Box re-create that album at the old blog, which is closed, so you can’t read my timeless gushing. Take my word for it , it was moving.
Anyway, much as I loved that Musical Box show, in the end they were a glorified cover band, and we all know how I feel about them.
I popped for the good seats. Here was our POV:
The band walked out on stage without much fuss, and launched into the opening organ chords of “Watcher Of The Skies”, one of the earliest Genesis touchstones. Zelmo turned to me and said “GOOSEBUMPS. FUCKING GOOSEBUMPS” to which I replied “Down my fucking SPINE!” The song, stripped of the theatricality that The Musical Box has made their stock in trade, became a Thing; palpably eerie and at the same time, a loud physical thing.
Hackett took his place at the center of the stage, and rightly so; while that spot is normally occupied by the singer, he was the Name, and the Author of these songs. As such, he eschewed the typical Guitar God poses. He did occasionally smile, and I hoped it was because he felt things were going particularly well; because we certainly did.
Hackett’s guitar work with Genesis was always unusual. During early days, he played while sitting, focused on his fretboard and effects. His guitar work was unusual; while relatively fluid, it ranged far afield from the modified-scale solos many guitar players rely on, and worked within the realm of making noises as well as melody. Last night, he used his forearm as a bow at one point. He wrote one of my single favorite guitar solos ever, within the song “Firth of Fifth.”
One of the things it pointed out most prominently to us is that while Genesis survived quite ably when Gabriel left, the loss of Hackett really hurt them much more. Not just as a writer, but as a musician; his playing on Sunday night really showcased his best contributions (as you might expect) but some of the best songs they ever recorded relied on his guitar work, as much as they relied on Tony Banks keyboards or Gabriels showmanship. Maybe more.
There have always been several songs that I knew I would never see played live by Genesis. Either they were canceled out by more prominent songs, or too hard to play live; but last night, several of them came forth. Aisle of Plenty. Unquiet Slumber For The Sleepers. Horizons, the acoustic guitar solo that was slotted in before Supper’s Ready on the Foxtrot album. The Fountain Of Salmacis, introduced by Hackett as “the fucking hardest song to learn” and that it was universally loved by the band, and universally hated by the audiences. Well, maybe the audiences in those old days, but at the Pabst, we loved it, including the two teen girls sitting next to us, who knew all the lyrics INCLUDING THE LAYERED HARMONY LYRICS. Which even I can’t remember.
I have seen at least three different bands play Supper’s Ready, in toto or partially. Each one of them was a world-class band, truly exception performers. But I think Steve Hackett led his band through the most definitive version I have seen. Not only was it note-perfect, but it dispensed with the troublesome ‘stage fade-out’ volume funk, allowing Hackett to use a guitar coda to retire the song; I always hated the fade out, I felt it was barely acceptable on the studio recording, but doing it in a live setting is just kind of nasty. This version was not nasty. I love Supper’s Ready in many forms, and this one is the most loving-er-est.
Have you ever seen a band have a breakdown on stage? Whether because of personnel goofiness, or mechanical failure, or having a chicken thrown on stage. In fact, Genesis had so many problems with their equipment in the early days that Gabriel’s stories became a necessity to cover the time necessary to tune and repair their jury-rigged equipment mid-performance. Their first live album actually catches some of this (“that was an unaccompanied bass pedal solo by Mr. Rutherford”) and the Musical Box incorporate them into their shows. And in an unplanned nod to those earliest difficulties, the keyboard MIDI apparently went insane between songs, requiring re-booting all the equipment, as far as we could tell. Hackett, to his credit, dealt with it with humor and grace, playing a short blues jam based on a shouted audience suggestion, then doing a more full-fledged prog/jazz jam with the rest of the band, until it got sorted out. It helped that they then launched into The Musical Box.
One of the things I loved about the show is that as a Hackett joint, the guitar was given just a bit more prominence (not as much as you might think) and the slight shift in emphasis really added a level of toughness and aggression that wasn’t present in those old days. And it served well. So, so well.
I do feel like a stereotypical middle aged white guy in loving this music so much, but as I found myself shivering in goosebumps., crying in joy or laughing in delight at the band, I decided I didn’t care. We love the music we love, for reasons that don’t have to make sense to anyone but ourselves. My good friend and I enjoyed ourselves mightily, and the band did too. It was a magnificent time.
Oh and for the record, as much as I loved Hackett’s version of that searing guitar solo, Zelmo and I agreed that it was ripped the fuck up by local man Daryl Stuermer when he played with Genesis: (Stuermer played with them in the post-Hackett days)
But in any case, they also played what is one of my most singular favorite Genesis songs, because I am an old softy romantic. [during the planning for our wedding, I mostly didn’t intervene, but I wanted the singer to do this one in the ceremony. He refused, unable to figure it out by ear and it was WAY before you could find notations for just about anything on the Internarfles. It would have been so cool though]
I promised Zelmo that I was going to do a late-night post and get this out, but after the jet-lag, and Packer loss and musical overload, I just couldn’t. Sorry, man. to make it up, here’s the setlist:
- Watcher Of The Skies
- Dancing Out With The Moonlit Knight
- Fly On A Windshield
- Broadway Melody of 1974
- The Lamia
- instrumental breakdown jams
- The Musical Box
- Blood On The Rooftops
- Unquiet Slumber For The Sleepers…
- …In That Quiet Earth
- The Fountain Of Salmacis
- I Know What I Like (in your wardrobe)
- Dance On A Volcano
- Supper’s Ready
- Firth Of Fifth
- Los HackEndos