Music preview: Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett stays true to spirit of classic band
December 3, 2015 12:00 AM
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In announcing the possibility of a comeback, Phil Collins recently noted that it would be to resume his solo career rather than his role in Genesis, a band that has been dormant since the last reunion tour in 2007.
More so than most Hall of Fame rock bands, Genesis has left its fans in the lurch. There are Genesis tribute bands aplenty, but of the five core members involved in the classic albums from 1971’s “Nursery Cryme” to 1974’s “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” (1974), guitarist Steve Hackett is the only one on the road offering something of an authentic Genesis experience.
Where: Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, Munhall.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Admission: $45-$85; ticketfly.com.
For those who would say he was just the guitarist, yes, but, alongside Peter Gabriel and later Mr. Collins, Mr. Hackett’s magnificent guitar playing (think of that “Firth of Fifth” solo) was an essential voice in the band, and his departure in 1977 arguably changed Genesis just as much as Mr. Gabriel’s.
The guitarist was actually the first member of Genesis out of the box with a solo album, issuing “Voyage of the Acolyte” when Mr. Gabriel left in 1975, making this the 40th anniversary. Since then, he has built a catalog of more than 20 albums (along with his work in GTR) exploring his broad musical interests in progressive rock, folk, world music and classical, among others.
While his last few tours have focused on his “Genesis Revisited” projects, the From Acolyte to Wolflight Tour that brings the 65-year-old artist to the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall on Saturday is a two-part show, with a first section of solo work, including new album “Wolflight,” and a second of classic Genesis.
“I think of it as the album era of Genesis — the ’70s era, particularly the time I was working with Peter Gabriel,” he says. “In terms of the shows, we effectively become two bands in one. We take a 15-minute break in the middle and come back with a completely different show. It’s an attempt to take people through the total experience of what I’ve been involved with, barring GTR.”
Fans of early Genesis have embraced Mr. Hackett’s solo outings — maybe not more than the Gabriel work, but more than the Collins stuff or Mike + the Mechanics — because it holds true to the prog-rock style.
“The way I approach music, every style is welcome,” he says. “It’s a kind of pan-genre approach, which I think is more aligned with early Genesis than later Genesis. I borrow from pop-rock, from jazz, from classical, from world music, all sorts of things. Those are the things you can categorize. Beyond that, there’s a quest to find the happy collisions of cultures that knit together the rest of it. I try and make music for people who get bored very quickly.”
The idea, he says, is to “dance on the fringe” and “give each song the possibility of total surprise.” This from a musician who says, “I personally found the Rolling Stones more interesting when they started using sitar.”
While Mr. Hackett handles the vocals on the solo material, Nad Sylvan (of Unifaun, Agents of Mercy) and drummer Gary O’Toole take over for the Genesis songs, which require more range. The band also features bassist Roine Stolt (Flower Kings), keyboardist Roger King and Rob Townsend on flute and sax.
As the only Genesis member playing Genesis songs, the guitarist equates it with opening a museum door and wearing the curator’s hat.
“I feel like I’m honoring that material that is so loved by the fans. I don’t see why any of that should be an abandoned place. I constantly have people coming up and saying how important it was to them. I think perhaps the Genesis stuff was closer in spirit to the journeying aspect that would have been familiar to people who heard Pink Floyd and ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ reflecting the album era, the pre-MTV era. When you have a band of five writers, as it was with Genesis in the Gabriel era, you create a different kind of song. You’ve got everyone’s personality to imprint on those tunes.”
The only other options for that music are the Genesis tribute bands, including The Musical Box, with which he has performed.
“I applaud the motives,” he says of the tributes. “In a way, they’re all like mini-musicals, whether they’re doing Buddy Holly or Elvis or whatever. It’s an attempt at re-creating something that’s done with love in the first place, and whether it’s playing a tiny little place, or whether they’re lucky enough to be doing the size stadiums that the original act was doing, then good luck, it keeps the music alive. It’s something that’s done for all the right reasons, and a chance for people to see something they may have been too young to see the first time around.”
By leaving in 1977, he missed out on the commercial era of Genesis that began with the 1978 single “Follow You Follow Me” and then blew up in the ’80s with massive hits like “Invisible Touch” and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight.”
“I made a conscious decision at that point [to leave], and I thought it would be a false adherence to things if I just went for the money, just kept my head down and went for the line of least resistance. That’s not the musician I am. I’m very happy with everything that’s happened.”
Mr. Hackett has not been part of the Collins-led reunion tours but has had two public encounters with Genesis over the past decade: first to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 and then to be interviewed for last year’s BBC documentary “Genesis: Together and Apart.” Upon its release, he criticized the film for ignoring his solo work, telling Rolling Stone, “It does not deliver the theme of together and apart.”
“I’m not sure I said anything derogatory,” he notes. “All I said was that I wasn’t going to sell it through my site. I don’t see the point. I think it was disappointing for a number of fans. All I can say is, there’s another documentary that’s come out called ‘The Man, the Music.’ I think the solo forum is the right one for me to present my ideas, my music.”
Asked about Collins, who has been plagued by medical issues, coming back, the guitarist explains, “He said he’s thinking about it. I think that’s the important thing. We all wish him a full return to health and to a life in music. I want that message to get back to him.”
In the meantime, Mr. Hackett feels like he’s in a good place right now compared to his immediate post-Genesis era.
“The ’80s was kind of a stranglehold era, and I think music is firmly back in the hands of musicians again, and the challenge is to be able to maintain your credibility and, I was gonna say, your bank balance at the same time. That has to be possible.”
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg
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