Crossing the street in front of the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, Prog’s correspondent overhears a seasoned male Steve Hackett fan giving his younger female companion a potted history of Genesis: “And then, can you believe it, Phil Collins came out from behind the drums…” By the time we enter the venue, the poor woman’s eyes have glazed over and the history lesson has only reached Wind & Wuthering.
Inside the bar and foyer, further overheard chatter (“Rutherford, Banks… Giant Hogweed”) suggests similar conversations taking place everywhere. This is Prog’s heartland right here, collectively adjusting its bifocals and exhaling sharply at the price of a beer, before settling in for a night of pure nostalgia. But first there’s a brief set from Mostly Autumn – or rather two of them, lead vocalist/flautist Olivia Sparnenn and guitarist Bryan Josh. Their elegant Renaissance-meets-Foxtrot-era Genesis approach is well-pitched, but stripped-back versions of The House On The Hill and Heroes Never Die fail to raise anything more than polite applause.
That said, any support act would have struggled because tonight is all about Steve Hackett – and the past. The guitarist’s 2013 Genesis Revisited show at Hammersmith was released on CD and DVD at the end of last year. To quote ELP, ‘Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends…’ Hackett’s set has changed little since that 2013 tour, except out go The Lamia, Blood On The Rooftops and Ripples, and in come Squonk, Lilywhite Lilith and The Knife. The execution of this material is peerless. Close your eyes, as many do during those long and winding instrumental passages, and you really could be listening to vintage Genesis. But it’s a few songs in, on a double-whammy of The Fountain Of Salmacis and The Musical Box, that Hackett and his band truly find the sweet spot. On the latter, lead vocalist Nad Sylvan is almost drowned out by a chorus of middle-aged men roaring, ‘Why don’t you touch me, touch me, touch me NOW!’ before realising that in any other place, at any other time, such an outburst might result in arrest.
Sylvan wears a frilly blouse and hair borrowed from Whitesnake, and he brings some theatrical flair to proceedings. But the nature of the show means he’s often side stage rather than centre. The only show, so to speak, comes from the light show, complete with white Vari‑Lite-style effects straight off the front cover of Genesis’ definitive live album Seconds Out. A nice touch. While nobody here is expecting the ‘hits’, I Know What I Like is a welcome breather after some back-to-back knotty time signatures. Shortly after, current King Crimson vocalist Jakko Jakszyk turns up to sing Firth Of Fifth, during which Roger King reproduces Tony Banks’ original keyboard runs with such pinpoint accuracy that you could, again, be listening to ‘the real thing’ – a point driven home on the rarely played Lilywhite Lilith from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
Hackett is still the world’s most diffident frontman, but he’s drily humorous and self-aware. “The museum is still open,” he announces between songs. As the curator of that museum and the only ex-Genesis member performing this stuff, he’s as close to the ‘real thing’ as we’re likely to get. But he’s also presumably doing better business than he has done for years, which raises two questions: what does this mean for Hackett’s ‘proper’ solo career, and where does he go next? Those questions come to mind again as a majestic Supper’s Ready closes the main set, followed by encores of Watcher Of The Skies and Los Endos (the latter does slightly miss having Chester Thompson bashing away on a second drum kit, but we’re nitpicking now). At the end of the set, Hackett cracks a shy smile as the Apollo audience, who’ve been seated all night, give him the standing ovation he so thoroughly deserves. Forget the future and embrace the past, then. So, same time next year? And how about throwing in Afterglow?