Much like Fleetwood Mac, a band that still provokes endless discussion between fans of the Peter Green and Stevie Nicks eras over which was the best, Genesis were really two quite different bands appealing to different audiences. The 70s incarnation fronted by the charismatic Peter Gabriel saw them as one of the most innovative and influential bands from the British progressive rock movement, influenced more by baroque composers than the blues, with lyrics filled with English whimsy and Greek myths. The 80s incarnation saw their more commercially-orientated pop-rock fill stadiums, and for a while it was fashionable to dismiss their older music as hopelessly dated and worthless. Even the band seemed willing to disown their past in interviews. But in recent years progressive rock in general is being increasingly reassessed, and now it’s their 80s work that many consider ‘of its time’.
The watershed moment between the two eras of Genesis wasn’t Gabriel’s departure in 1975, but guitarist Steve Hackett’s departure two years later. His 1996 album “Genesis Revisited” and last year’s ambitious double-album follow-up have made him the keeper of the flame for Genesis’ 1970s legacy. Recent tours have seen Steve Hackett’s band mix selected Genesis favourites with highlights of his 35 year solo career, but with the release of “Genesis Revisited II”, he’s now taking the full Genesis revival show on the road.
Opening act was Anne-Marie Helder, best known in recent years as the lead singer of Panic Room. Acoustic singer-songwriters can often work well in small intimate settings, but Anne-Marie is one of the few in the business who can project strongly in much larger halls. It was amazing to hear the way her voice fill the venue. Her short-but-sweet set included a spellbinding stripped-down version of Panic Room’s “Promises” alongside some older acoustic numbers that haven’t been heard live for far too long.
The famous symphonic keyboard intro to “Watcher of the Skies” heralded the main event. Aside from Hackett himself, the six piece band includes Nad Sylvan on the majority of lead vocals, Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on drums and vocals, Rob Townsend on flute and clarinet and Lee Pomeroy on bass, with Amanda Lehmann joining them on guitar and vocals for a couple of songs.
For the next two and a half hours the band took us through the 1971-77 Genesis songbook, with so many highlights it’s difficult to single out individual moments. We saw “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” turn into a singalong of the opening section. “The Lamia” saw the first of several special guest appearances, with Nick Kershaw on vocals and Marillion’s Steve Rothery trading licks with Steve Hackett at the end, earning the first of many standing ovations of the evening. “Shadow of the Heirophant”, the sole non-Genesis song was simply stunning, with Rob Townsend pogoing at one point and some incredible liquid shredding from the man himself. A beautiful “Entangled” featured a three-part vocal harmony with Nad Sylvan, Amanda Lehmann and Gary O’Toole. John Wetton guested on “Afterglow” after the extended jazz-fusion instrumental workout of “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers/In That Quiet Earth”. And pretty much the whole audience shouted “A FLOWER” at that point in the epic “Supper’s Ready”.
The band gave the old songs something of a new lick for the 21st century. It wasn’t a reverential note-for-note reproduction of the original recordings, but neither was it a ground-up re-imagining that didn’t respect the original versions. Certainly the arrangements gave greater emphasis to Hackett’s distinctive and hugely influential guitar playing, and Nad Sylvan didn’t attempt to impersonate either Gabriel or Collins on vocals. The two songs Gary O’Toole sang from behind the kit,”Broadway Melody of 1974″ and “Blood on the Rooftops” were perhaps the closest to the originals vocally. Rob Townsend’s clarinet doubling or occasionally replacing Hackett’s original guitar lines added another dimension, resulting in “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” taking on a jazz flavour.
It’s all an unashamed nostalgia trip, with an audience disproportionately filled with people of a certain age. But after forty-odd years the music has stood the test of time in a way few anticipated a generation ago. So it’s great to hear this classic material played by a member of the original band, and the rapturous response from the audience with multiple standing ovations said it all. We’re probably never going to see the full-blown reunion of the mid-70s Genesis for which fans have been clamouring for years. But in the absence of a reunion, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited tour is the next best thing.
The band will be playing Japan, Europe and the US before returning to the UK for further dates in October, including a show at the Royal Albert Hall.
(This review also appears in Trebuchet Magazine)