Prog-rock lives, and lives well, with Steve Hackett

by MIKE CHAIKEN

If you mention Genesis to a music fan under a certain age, you’re likely to be met with a glassy stare.

They might, just might, know Phil Collins from the soundtrack to the Disney film, “Tarzan.”

Maybe.

But Genesis, whether from its MTV pop days or its earlier days in the prog-rock underground, will be a mystery.

And mention progressive rock to someone who’s child hood began in the era of George W. Bush or Barack Obama, they’ll think you made the whole concept up.

Genesis and progressive rock are old.

But old doesn’t mean the music can’t be played with verve abd vitality.

And that’s just what Steve Hackett, the original guitarist for Genesis, offered up in an evening of his solo efforts, post-Genesis, and his performance of most of the tracks from his last album with Genesis, “Wind and Wuthering.”

There was more than enough verve and vitality to satisfy the packed house at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Feb. 22.

The energy of Hackett and his band was especially noticeable as Hackett celebrated the 40th anniversary of his last album with Genesis,“Wind and Wuthering,” which filled the second half of the show.

The original vinyl recording had that kind of dreamy, hazy feel that was typical for the progressive rock era. The music lulled you—with the help of some mild-altering chemicals—into a dream-like state. It did not get the heart-racing and the fist pounding in the air.

But Hackett and crew — Roger King (keys), Roger O’Toole (drums), Rob Townsend (sax, flute, percussion), Nick Beggs (bass), and Nad Sylvan (vocals)– kicked some might rear end when they tore into such tracks such as “Eleventh Earl of Mar” or “All in a Mouse’s Night”– and even provided muscle to the gentler “Blood on the Rooftops.” A special tip of the hat to Sylvan for doing great justice to the vocals on the album.

As someone who missed the touring heyday of most prog-rock collectives– and only knew the genre from recordings, I was impressed with the energy Hackett and his band brought to the classic Genesis tunes with their complex arrangements.

Typically, I’m as conditioned as most Americans to check my cellphone and multitask even during the middle of a concert. But I was enraptured by Hackett’s performance. So no cellphone left my pockets until it was time for the encores.

It was cool to see Hackett play the guitar parts I heard on the recording of “Wind and Wuthering.” Some of the parts I had not even realized emanated from a guitar—I thought they came from a keyboard—so it was intriguing as the musical phrases were brought to life through Hackett’s Gibson guitar.

Many in the audience were thrilled to hear the old Genesis tunes by Hackett. But he left the band 40 years ago and he had 40 years of solo material as well.

And Hackett’s solo stuff alone was worth the price of admission.

He currently is touring behind a new album, “The Night Siren,” which comes out later this month. The three tracks from the album performed in Ridgefield fit in nicely with his older material. But they also definitely seem as if they will have legs on their own.

I especially loved the sound of his tribute to refugees, “Behind the Smoke” where the sounds world music did a little dance with Hackett’s prog-rock roots. It’s a shame that his introduction about the plight of the world’s refugees, which is what the song is about, was shouted down by someone yelling, “Trump!”

“In the Skeleton Gallery” also was a fine track from the new album.

Additionally, Hackett attacked other solo fan favorites such  as “The Steppes” and opened with rip roaring, “Every Day.”

By the end of the evening, Hackett and his band made it clear that prog-rock isn’t so much as passé, it’s still alive and kicking. And in the hands of the right musicians, it still has plenty of life to live.

I give Steve Hackett at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Feb. 22 four out of four stars.

Steve Hackett on the stage of the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, Conn. Feb. 22 (MIKE CHAIKEN PHOTO)

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