By Nick Tate
You might think Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited juggernaut has run its course, after more than a decade of reprising the band’s 1970s heyday. But you’d be wrong. Hackett’s latest live retrospective album, “Foxtrot at 50 + Hackett Highlights: Live in Brighton,” confirms there is much yet the former Genesis guitarist can bring to this satisfying project.
Like the prior eight live Genesis Revisited releases, “Foxtrot at 50” transcends nostalgia and sentimentality. It captures Hackett and his talented band of musicians delivering a crackling-good performance that updates 1972’s classic “Foxtrot” album — the band’s fourth and the first to chart in the U.K. (No. 12). It also showcases a handful of well-chosen solo works the multitalented guitarist/composer/bandleader has produced since leaving the band in 1977.
As usual, these performances are the next best thing to seeing Genesis live back in the day. But what’s most striking is the degree to which each band member brings a new sheen and shine to these timeless prog masterworks. The combined result takes these well-known pieces in surprising new directions, while remaining loyal to the originals. Perhaps more than any other Genesis Revisited release, this double-disc set demonstrates how well Hackett’s individual works hold up against the older Genesis material. As if to emphasize the point, this rich collection ends with an inspired mashup of the jazzy Genesis instrumental “Los Endos” and Hackett’s own “Slogan’s” from his 1980 “Defector” solo album — perfectly marrying the two halves of this live release. The upshot: This is a satisfying 50-year overview of one of prog’s most prolific and engaging elder statesmen that honors his past yet also confirms he is still breaking new ground at age 73.
The first half of album showcases a best-of collection of Hackett’s solo works, dating to his 1975 debut, “Voyage of the Acolyte,” recorded while he was still in Genesis and the same year Peter Gabriel departed the band. This set includes three tracks from that brilliant debut —the wildly eclectic prog-fusion instrumental “Ace of Wands,” the haunting “A Tower Struck Down” and “Shadow of the Heirophant,” featuring vocalist Amanda Lehman (an epic suite initially proposed to, but rejected by, his Genesis bandmates for inclusion on 1976’s “Trick of the Tail”). Hearing these tracks side-by-side with the “Foxtrot” material, a strong argument can be made that “Acolyte” just might be the best Genesis album that Genesis never made.
The first set also features more recent material, including “The Devi’s Cathedral,” a gothic story-song from his 2021 album “Surrender of Silence” that plays like a soundtrack from a Wes Craven horror film. Roger King’s churchy organ backdrop and Hackett’s ghosty fretwork provide the perfect backdrop for Nad Sylvan’s chilling baritone vocal. In addition, the setlist includes the jazzy title track from Hackett’s third solo album, 1979’s “Spectral Mornings,” the sprightly “Every Day” (from the same record) and the driving “Camino Royale” from 1982’s “Highly Strung.”
The second half of the release features Hackett and Friends’ replication of the groundbreaking “Foxtrot.” There’s no point in analyzing why this was the transitional album that brought Genesis international acclaim. It’s probably enough to simply say that the music here stands on its own merits and still manages to sound fresh and original after all these years. But it’s worth noting that classic tracks like “Watcher of the Skies,” “Get ‘Em Out by Friday” and the 23-minute seven-part suite “Supper’s Ready” can still raise gooseflesh in these new live versions.
A close listen reveals new textures and liberties the band takes that gives these tightly orchestrated pieces a new freshness. In particular, Sylvan stands out, channeling both Peter Gabriel’s quirky ancient-mariner croon and Phil Collins’ elfin tenor, yet somehow bringing something uniquely his own to his vocal delivery. His dramatic interpretation of Gabriel’s shape-shifting vocals on “Supper’s Ready” approaches Broadway-like theatricality and the result is nothing short of remarkable; it’s a true tour-de-force. Roger King also shines on keyboards throughout. He masterfully reworks Tony Banks’ symphonic intro to “Watcher of the Skies” (matching the original, which was performed on a mellotron famously bought from King Crimson). His classical-piano turns on “Time Table” (this being the first Genesis Revisited take on this track) and the rarely performed “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” bring a new luster to these high-water marks in the early Genesis cannon. And noteworthy performances are delivered by reedman Rob Townsend — whose sax and flute lines add new depth and tonal color to the proceedings — and the thunderous rhythm section of bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Craig Blundell. (Reingold even gets his own solo bass spot and Blundell unleashes wildly unhinged melodic drum fills in the closing coda of “Hierophant” and during the “Apocalypse 9/8” interlude of “Supper’s Ready.”
Throughout, of course, Hackett’s searing and emotive fretwork cut like a foghorn through the darkly turbulent storm of sound that defined “Foxtrot” and some his best post-Genesis efforts, both anchoring and pushing the band to new heights. Highpoints include his resplendent Bach-like acoustic etude, “Horizons,” a staple of his live shows and fan favorite, and the jawdropping electric-guitar solo he unleashes on the classical-prog-rock “Firth of Fifth.” Worth noting: If you’re a Genesis fan who feels you just don’t need to hear yet another version of “Supper’s Ready,” you should reconsider — if only to take in the wildly unhinged solo Hackett unspools at the triumphal conclusion of this transcendent epic: This new version is a keeper and worth your time.
For audiophiles, the sound production throughout is crystalline, featuring gem-like clarity. Mixed by Chris Lord-Alge and mastered by Ted Jensen, it is available in various formats, including a four-LP edition and two-CD/Blu-ray and two-CD/two-DVD sets, all loaded with bonus extras and 5.1 surround sound mixes.
With “Foxtrot at 50,” Hackett has reached a bit of a milestone — producing live Genesis Revisited recordings of half of the eight albums he originally recorded with the band from 1971 to 1977. Which begs the question: Might Hackett tackle next the one album many fans and critics regard as Genesis’s finest hour (plus 34 minutes) — 1974’s “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” which has not received the full start-to-finish Genesis Revisited treatment? What say ye, Mr. Hackett?
Released on Sept. 15th, 2023
1. Intro / Ace of Wands
2. The Devil’s Cathedral
3. Spectral Mornings
4. Every Day
5. A Tower Struck Down
6. Basic Instincts
7. Camino Royale
8. Shadow of the Hierophant
9. Watcher of the Skies
10. Time Table
11. Get ‘Em Out by Friday
12. Can Utility and the Coastliners
14. Supper’s Ready
15. Firth of Fifth
16. Los Endos/Slogans
Steve Hackett — guitars
Roger King — keyboards
Jonas Reingold — bass
Rob Townsend — saxophones, flutes
Craig Blundell / drums & percussion
Nad Sylvan — vocals
With: Amanda Lehmann — guitar, vocals
10/3/23 Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier Montreal, QC
10/5/23 Massey Hall Toronto, ON
10/6/23 State Theatre Ithaca, NY
10/8/23 The Forum Theatre Binghamton, NY
10/10/23 Hart Theatre Albany, NY
10/12/23 Wilbur Theatre Boston, MA
10/13/23 Grade Arts Center New London, CT
10/14/23 Town Hall New York, NY
10/15/23 Whitaker Center Harrisburg, PA
10/17/23 The Strand Providence, RI
10/19/23 Scottish Rite Auditorium Collingswood, NJ
10/20/23 Scottish Rite Auditorium Collingswood, NJ
10/21/23 Scottish Rite Auditorium Collingswood, NJ
10/24/23 Carolina Theatre of Durham Durham, NC
10/26/23 Charleston Music Hall Charleston, SC
10/28/23 Center Stage Atlanta, GA
10/29/23 Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN
10/31/23 Taft Theatre Cincinnati, OH
11/1/23 Goodyear Theater Akron, OH
11/2/23 Copernicus Center Chicago, IL
11/3/23 The Pabst Theatre Milwaukee, WI
11/5/23 Hoyt Sherman Theatre Des Moines, IA
11/9/23 The Moore Theatre Seattle, WA
11/10/23 Historic Elsinore Theatre Salem, OR
11/13/23 Golden State Theatre Monterey, CA
11/14/23 Palace of Fine Arts Theatre San Francisco, CA
11/16/23 Balboa Theatre San Diego, CA
11/17/23 Lobero Theatre Santa Barbara, CA
11/18/23 Orpheum Theatre Los Angeles, CA