It took me a long, long time to catch up with Steve Hackett.
Forty-two years, 7 months, and 22 days to be exact.
The last time Steve and I had the pleasure of meeting, it was on a cold Friday night in 1977 (January 21, if memory serves) at my sanctum sanctorum, the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. I was a 17-year-old schoolboy at the time, dressed in a rugby shirt and an afghan coat with bad cases of awe and acne. And he was far cooler than I could ever hope to be, being as he was on stage playing guitar for Genesis.
Fast forward to our next meeting, in 2019. Mr. Hackett was touring Selling England by the Pound, ironically at the Riviera Theater in Tonawanda, the same venue that I saw The Musical Box’s incredible re-creation of the original 1973 Genesis tour 18 months earlier.
But that’s as far as the comparisons should, or even need, to go. Because this time around, the show I saw was deliberately different and satisfying in an altogether different way. For while The Musical Box managed to honor the legacy of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis by faithfully reproducing a decades-old stage show note for note, Hackett’s show succeeded in doing the same by bringing that music of that era into the 21st century.
Much of the credit for that must go to multi-instrumentalist Rob Townsend, who added some great new shading to the iconic songs. Especially memorable was the extended jam he and Hackett engaged in at the end of “I Know What I Like,” and his soprano sax solos that replaced Gabriel’s original flute and oboe solos beautifully on “Firth of Fifth” and “Cinema Show.”
Honorable mention, too, goes to drummer Craig Blundell, on loan from Steve Wilson for the occasion. A few first-night flubs aside, as expected he also proved to be a perfect interpreter of the material, even if his take on the classic material was more true to its original vision.
About the only downside to the show was vocalist Nad Sylvan, whose motionless presence on stage in a jacket that looked like it was made from the same material that covered the settee in your Gran’s sitting room seemed somewhat superfluous to requirements. Still, he managed to redeem himself in no small measure by handling Gabriel’s dense rapid-fire lyrics to “Battle of Epping Forest” flawlessly. Hearing his Swedish tonsils effortlessly navigate the song’s odd assortment of English dialects was yet another of the night’s many highlights.
Hackett’s selection of his own songs proved to be a perfect complement to the Genesis material, though as they were mostly drawn from 1979’s superb Spectral Mornings, that was hardly a surprise. An absolutely gorgeous “The Virgin and the Gypsy” created a perfect balance between the the buoyant “Every Day” and the powerful “Clocks — The Angel of Mons” that bookended the first set. Unfortunately, the newer material from Hackett’s last album, 2019’s At the Edge of Light, didn’t really achieve a similar impact.
In the end, the “Myopia/Los Endos/Slogans/Los Endos/” encore seemed to sum up the whole evening, with Hackett blending his solo material with the Genesis warhorse into a seamless, satisfying, and somewhat unique whole. And while Yogi Berra (if it was, in fact, him) certainly wasn’t thinking about Steve Hackett when he famously said “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be,” those were the words echoing in my head as we walked out of the Riviera into the warm Buffalo night.
And that’s a good thing.