Richard Nevin enjoys a pomp-themed weekend at Symphony Hall.
There are many things in life that divide people, that you either love or hate, which can polarise opinion in an instant.
Your choice of football team perhaps, politics (unless you’re a Lib Dem), Brexit or even a spreadable foodstuff derived from yeast extract. And progressive rock.
Definitely progressive rock. The preserve of the socially inadequate and studious, drawn by the lure of complicated time signatures, impenetrable fantasy tales and instrumental solos measured by the amount of people that pass away in the time it takes to complete them. Well that’s the cliché anyway, although for many of us it is the pinnacle of music, the result of putting thought into it rather than bashing away in the hope of a tune emerging (rather too much thought in many cases to be brutally honest) and I love it.
Your prog fan will have a favourite group, most emerging during the early 70’s such as Yes, the bombast and virtuosity of ELP or the more arty King Crimson but for me the torch bearers were always Genesis. Or to be more specific, the Genesis that made music between 1970 and 1980, a period loved enough to have ensured that former guitarist and Ernest Bishop lookalike Steve Hackett could sell out Symphony Hall with the promise to reprise the classics in amongst his own solo oeuvre. A period that also inspired a number of tribute bands, one of which booked the same venue on the following night sending those who know what they like into a frenzy of excitement at the prospect of a Genesis inspired weekend.
Fulfilling a lifetime ambition, Hackett roped in an orchestra to help interpret the music but not just any orchestra. Engaging the Heart of England Philharmonic meant that this became a hometown gig for the fiddlers and blowers, assembled behind Hackett’s band. I’m not overly keen on the idea of bolting an orchestra onto any music where it didn’t previously exist but if it’s going to be done to any genre then prog is probably the most suitable. I’ll confess that it didn’t make that much difference to me, yes it enhanced the sound somewhat but that just takes the role of the Mellotron, the prototype sampler born in Streetly, and very much the signature sound of prog. I missed it.
The set list was balanced well, tilted in favour of Genesis classics of course, but solo material such as Shadow of The Hierophant was greeted with as much enthusiasm as Firth of Fifth or the gargantuan Suppers Ready. The star of the show has a wonderful touch on the acoustic guitar and on the occasions that he did unplug, such as Blood on the Rooftops it was the equal at least, of his work on the classic Les Paul.
The band itself have been with Hackett for a few years now so are well acquainted with the Genesis back catalogue and a special mention must go to bass player/second guitar Jonas Reingold who appeared to be sporting a claret and blue striped jacket similar the Villa’s 1957 FA Cup-winning kit. Coincidence, or acknowledgement of the location? I have no idea.
And I can’t complete this review without a nod to singer Nad Sylvan. With no instrumental contribution forthcoming, the American, who is a solo artist in his own right, is rather underemployed and takes his leave regularly leaving the band to it, perching in the wings stage right until his extraordinary voice is needed once again.
Nad approaches his exits and entrances so as not to detract from the other musicians but his attempts to become almost invisible are rendered pointless in part due to his height, he towers over everybody else, he also has a shock of long blonde hair and took to walking in the style of a chief mourner, creeping on and off and raising a smile from me in amongst the furrowed brows of classic prog audience concentration and appreciation.
Completing the show, the whole ensemble encored with an aggressive version of The Musical Box, the centre piece of Genesis second album Nursery Cryme, and talking of that song…
The Musical Box
When the finale of a show features the singer sporting a red dress and fox’s head one might wonder if it was a looking glass that you passed through rather than door 3A at Symphony Hall. In the world of progressive rock though, this is not only normal, but expected and as Denis Gagne, lead singer in The Musical Box barked out the final words to the song from which the Canadian band get their name it bought down the curtain on a brilliant retrospective featuring the first seven years of Genesis live.
Having previously replicated individual tours this time highlights of such outings were presented in a performance of three acts by the band for which ‘tribute’ appears to underplay it. Homage perhaps, or extended love letter may be closer to the mark. From the vintage instruments and lighting, authentic visuals and costumes to the between song patter, everything is a facsimile of those halcyon days, missed by many due to an accident of birth, too late in my case or not all judging by the age of some of the audience.
Finishing with the classic Gabriel years, highlights from the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway made up the central section with the show opening with the most up to date music, just the 41 years old. In fact the latter is my personal choice as a peak for Genesis but I was left ultimately disappointed as songs were truncated in an extended medley, only Blood on the Rooftops performed in its entirety, as it had been by Hackett et all the night before.
The Lamb never fails to thrill, even in this shortened form. The double album itself was top heavy and this was reflected by the fact that most of side one was performed, indeed nothing from the second part was featured at all but with the vintage slides, Gagne as Gabriel, as Rael, and a reading of the stunning In the Cage, that which was missing wasn’t really missed.
Rolling back to pre ’74 for the climax, the band featured music from the Trespass, Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot and Selling England By the Pound albums, including never before heard live renditions of songs even the real thing didn’t bother with back in the day. There was no Supper’s Ready or Watcher of the Skies, but with such weighty tomes to juggle and a limited amount of time the band do well to balance the whole set out.
Just as consecutive Genesis themed nights took place in this stunning venue, I rather think that both finales were a result of serendipity rather than any grand plan but hearing the same song at the same time, 24 hours apart gave it a deeper resonance than was perhaps necessary but then this is progressive rock.
Deep, dragged out and definitely daft.