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(Image: © Frank White)

Steve Hackett at the Playstation Theater, New York - live review

Steve Hackett rolls out both the classics and The Night Siren on his North America tour

It’s been 40 years since Steve Hackett left Genesis to pursue a solo career, but his past is just as alive as his present tonight. It’s a grey, rainy night in New York, and the 67-year-old guitarist is here, towards the end of a short US tour. It’s billed as Genesis Revisited With Hackett Classics, but he’s also here to promote his not-quite-released new record The Night Siren.

There’s no support act to warm up the audience beforehand – instead, Hackett appears onstage with little fanfare and launches into the appropriately wintry but nevertheless uplifting Every Day, from his 1979 album Spectral Mornings. His guitar playing is typically effortless, taking centre stage while the band – drummer Gary O’Toole, keyboard player Roger King, saxophonist/flautist Rob Townsend and bassist Nick Beggs – help him to create a swirl of visionary sound to rip-roaring applause. And that’s just the first song of a performance that lasts for two and a half hours, divided into two sets.

The first set consists only of solo material – there’s the dramatic, tumbling drums and searching guitar of El Niño and the futuristic energy of In The Skeleton Gallery. Both those cuts are taken from Hackett’s new album, but sound as if they could have been born decades before.

A particularly poignant moment comes on another new song, Behind The Smoke. Hackett introduces it as being “about refugees now and refugees then”, before explaining that his family were refugees from Poland and that he wouldn’t be here today had they not fled. Given the political climate of the USA right now, it’s an incredibly pertinent and powerful point, and he plays through its chugging riffs and flourishes of nuanced psychedelia with perhaps more purpose than at any other point of the evening.

The evening’s first half comes to an end with an impassioned rendition of the closing segment of Shadow Of The Hierophant, from Hackett’s debut solo album. It culminates with Beggs sitting on the stage floor pounding pedals with his hands while Hackett soars into a euphoric solo that causes some members of the crowd to leave their seats and rush to the front.

“So no one liked that one?” Hackett chuckles, once the standing ovation dies down.

Without much of a pause, the ensemble onstage are joined by vocalist Nad Sylvan for the second portion of the performance. Immediately, the vibe becomes much less contemplative and more upbeat, as the six-piece launch into Eleventh Earl Of Mar from Wind & Wuthering. In celebration of that record’s 40th anniversary, the band play another four songs from it – including an impressive version of Blood On The Rooftops; it begins with just Hackett indulging in some mesmerisingly graceful guitar work, before O’Toole takes up lead vocal duties from behind his imposing, towering drum kit. It’s somewhat odd to watch the drummer sing ‘We always watch the Queen on Christmas Day’, but it works, and the crowd love it.

There’s a trip slightly further back in time with the proggy, zany groove of Dance On A Volcano, and then the band play Inside And Out, an outtake from the Wind & Wuthering LP that restores a sense of tender calm to the proceedings before that song then explodes into a frenzied burst of noise and Hackett’s guitar playing once again steals the limelight.

It might be 40-odd years since these songs were written, and they might exist in a different guise tonight, but they still burn with the passion with which they were created. As if to prove that point, Firth Of Fifth, from Selling England By The Pound, practically takes off into space, swelling into a joyous and celebratory cacophony of atmospheric melody before the gently lilting strains of a lone piano bring it back down to earth.

It feels like a fitting end, but Hackett and the band aren’t quite done, and the flute and guitars of The Musical Box transport a now-nearly delirious crowd back to 1971 and the Nursery Cryme album. Hackett and Beggs – who’s switched to guitar – both shred away as the ethereal sounds of the flute drift over the top and layer upon layer of sound build for the night’s most intense moment yet.

There are calls for an encore, and the band oblige with A Trick Of The Tail’s Los Endos, which allows Hackett to once more show off his skills as spotlights surround him and the night soars to a truly majestic, euphoric end that’s entirely worthy of the standing ovation it receives.