Steve Hackett leads his band through a rocking rendition of In The Skeleton Gallery, from his eclectic current album The Night Siren. The three-part harmonies between himself, bassist Nick Beggs and drummer Gary O’Toole are delicious; in one fun section Hackett swaps his Les Paul for a blues harp and indulges in a musical duel with sax player Rob Townsend, and the song’s rhythms are as captivating as they are tricksy.
After the applause dies down, Hackett banters mischievously with the sold-out room about Brexit, then announces that, “We’ll shortly proceed with the nostalgia part of the show, which I sense is what you might be happiest with.” Some cheer in the affirmative, but there are slightly disgruntled noises off. Does he think we’re all here just for the golden oldies? That we resent him playing his newer material? From the back of the room comes a polite but indignant shout: “You’d be surprised!” Those of us who feel a little harshly judged clap by way of agreement, and Hackett smiles, feigns falling over with joyful surprise. “Thank you sir. It’s great to have a voice for modernity!” And, as if reassured, he launches into Behind The Smoke, The Night Siren’s exotically-charged song about refugees.
While there’s an appetite for such material, Hackett’s resurgence is admittedly underpinned by his old band’s achievements; his whole tour is billed as Genesis Revisited With Classic Hackett. If anything, the latter is under-represented in tonight’s set (a monumental Shadow Of The Hierophant sees Beggs cross-legged on the floor, playing his bass pedals by hand, and Slogans kickstarts the encore).
The evening opens with the new album’s Every Day, El Niño and The Steppes. Still to come are the gorgeous Serpentine Song – inspired by his artist father selling his paintings on the railings of London’s Hyde Park – and Rise Again. Completed by his regular collaborator, keyboardist Roger King, Hackett’s band are extraordinary throughout, and his own fingers elicit blizzards of notes and tasteful feedback; a touch of his whammy bar adds articulation; a flick of the foot pedal takes notes soaring into the heavens. His masterful guitar playing just seems to get stronger.
That promised nostalgia comes after an intermission, with the pleasingly eccentric (and uncannily Collins-like) Nad Sylvan joining the ranks on vocals. His is a tricky role in this set-up, but he pitches it right, performing the songs enthusiastically while mindful of whose stage this is. In this anniversary year of Wind & Wuthering, the six tackle Eleventh Earl Of Mar, One For The Vine brilliantly. A frisson hits the room as Hackett sits with a classical guitar in his lap, his exquisite improvisation morphing into Blood On The Rooftops, as sanguine light drenches the stage. O’Toole takes the vocal here – what an asset he is. As is Townsend, whose alto sax doubles Hackett’s lead lines on a thrilling In That Quiet Earth.
The guitarist pays tribute to Phil Collins’ contribution to Inside And Out, and laments that this ‘Cinderella song’ never made Wind & Wuthering, illustrating his point with a lovely read. Roger King delivers its synth flurries well, Beggs shares its early, plangent arpeggios on guitar. The bassist really shakes his mane on the rapturously received Dance On A Volcano, while Firth Of Fifth gets the biggest cheer of the night, the crowd clapping along before being treated to another highly expressive guitar solo.
The lights waltz along to The Musical Box, and the gig closes with a standing ovation. Then an imperious Los Endos leads to another at the encore, as fans clamour at the stage to shake talented hands. Think such joy is more about nostalgia than witnessing sheer brilliance? You’d be surprised.