Steve Hackett – ‘Wuthering Nights’ DVD Review

Evolution is an important part of any band that hopes to achieve longevity. Nonetheless, evolution should not come at the expense of absenting oneself from one’s past, particularly when that past is characterised by elegant, expansive, even neo-classical, pieces of music that have not only stood the test of time, but which have become the mainstay of any self-respecting prog rock collection. Alas, the evolution of Genesis from darlings of the prog scene to stadium-chewing behemoths allowed for little of the band’s precious back catalogue to remain, and, for many years, it felt that these pieces were condemned to the realm of the tribute band. What joy, then, when Steve Hackett, Genesis’ former guitarist, announced that he would not only be overhauling the band’s back catalogue for the critically acclaimed ‘Genesis Revisited II’ set (released in 2012), but that he would also be touring it. The set was an unqualified success. The subsequent tour was sold out and fans flocked to see songs such as ‘the musical box’ and ‘Afterglow’ being performed by at least one original member of the band alongside a supporting cast of astounding strength. That tour was captured for posterity by the ‘Live at Hammersmith’ set, and it remains a stunning example of how to bring a back catalogue back to life.

However, as much as Steve has become the curator of a treasured band’s past, he also has a remarkable solo career to maintain and it is as if one has revitalised the other. 2015 saw the mind-blowing ‘wolf light’ (documented on the ‘total experience’ set) and 2017 saw the emergence of ‘the night siren’, another fantastic album filled with middle-eastern imagery and the sort of wonderfully evocative guitar work for which Steve is justly famed. ‘Wuthering Nights’, so named because it covers both the new album and the fortieth anniversary of ‘Wind and Wuthering’ (a deeply underrated entry in genesis’ back catalogue), was filmed in Birmingham in 2017 and it is the perfect record of a very special night indeed.

Opening with the sweet, celebratory, ‘every day’, from the feted ‘Spectral mornings’, it is clear that the show will take in a wide range of Steve’s solo work and not just material from ‘the night siren’. The track feels like an invocation, the harmonised vocals raised in unison as Steve’s guitar ushers in the sunshine of a brand-new morning. Clouds loom, however. With an introduction that recalls the epic, neo-prog orchestrations of Jeff Wayne (‘War of the worlds’), ‘el Nino’ is a towering, cinematic piece of music that allows plenty of room for Steven’s gloriously expressive guitar work. Backed by a thunderous back drop of raging toms, it’s a track that perfectly expresses the atmospheric phenomenon for which it is named and the quick cuts that flash between the instrumentalists really help to accentuate the drama being played out on stage.  The track segues neatly into the Eastern promise of ‘the steppes’, (a track that hails all the way back to 1980’s ‘Defector’) before Steve finally pauses to chat to the audience in his own inimitable style. A humble and charming musician, Steve comes across as a deeply passionate artist who remains bemused by his success, and yet grateful for the opportunity to share his gift with an audience as excited as he.

With the introductions done, he leads his band into the stunning, Floyd-esque ‘in the skeleton gallery’, a highlight of ‘the night siren’ and a piece of music that stands head and shoulders alongside any of the Genesis classics set to be aired later. Varied and exquisitely played, it captures the imagination before the dark, ominous riff of ‘behind the smoke’ transports the audience to an altogether different, and less forgiving land. Detailing the plight of refugees, Steve quietly alludes to his own family history as refugees before delivering the song with poignant gravitas. If, for any reason, you’ve not kept up with Steve’s work over the last decade or so, this absolute masterpiece is all you need as evidence of Steve’s continuing relevance as a progressive artist of note. There is no sense of his leaning in past glories here and, like Peter Gabriel, Steve has continued to evolve as an artist, taking influences from the many artists with whom he has worked and assimilating them to create music that is forward thinking and open to new ideas. The piece is an emotionally draining, vivid work of art and it leaves the viewer breathless.  

 With a moment given for the audience to regain their senses, it’s time for another dip into Steve’s past with ‘serpentine song’ (from 2003’s ‘To Watch the Storms’). A song, as Steve puts it, from a gentler time, ‘Serpentine’ lightens an atmosphere that could, in lesser hands, have become oppressive and allows the more pastoral side of prog to see the light, as it also does with ‘rise again’ (from 2001’s ‘Darktown’), a track influenced by Native American poetry that would fit comfortably alongside the world music influenced albums of Peter Gabriel. Only one final solo track remains, but it’s the monstrous progressive workout that is ‘shadow of the Hierophant’ (met with an earth-shattering cheer form the crowd), which forms the perfect bridge between Steve’s solo work and Genesis as it featured on both ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ and ‘Genesis Revisited II’.

 

The second half of the set pays particular tribute to ‘Wind and Wuthering’, with five tracks from that album (not to mention the outtake, ‘Inside and out’, which later appeared on the ‘spot the pigeon’ EP), as well as a pair of tracks from ‘A trick of the tail’ and a track each from ‘Selling England by the pound’ and ‘the musical box’. I’ll be honest, I would dearly love to hear the original Genesis line up play these songs, but in the absence of interest from that quarter, I can think of no better band than the one that Steve has assembled, and it is a particular treat to hear so much material from ‘Wind and Wuthering’, Steve’s final album with Genesis recorded all the way back in 1976. The secret weapon of the Genesis Revisited material is, of course, the remarkable Nad Sylvan, an artist and performer who channels both Gabriel and Collins in equal measure. Just watching Nad tear into ‘eleventh earl of Mar’ is to be transported to a world where Peter never left the band, Nad’s theatrical delivery the perfect foil to Steve’s more down-to-earth persona. It’s magical to witness and the deft directorial and editorial decisions gives the home viewer the best seat in the house for the performance.

Once upon a time a showcase for Genesis’ progressive skills, ‘one for the vine’ is brilliantly rendered here by Steve and his band who gleefully head into the delightfully whimsical mid-section of the song. A blink-and-you-miss-it acoustic improvisation leads us to ‘blood on the rooftops’, which features the vocal talents of drummer Gary O’Toole. It’s a fantastic performance and one that perfectly suits his warmer tones. Concluding the main ‘Wind and Wuthering’ segment, ‘afterglow’ remains one of the most gorgeous songs the band ever recorded, and, although Nad delivers a typically exquisite performance, it’s hard not to recall the version sung by the late John Whetton (available on the ‘Live at Hammersmith’ DVD) without a lump in the throat. From there, it’s a mix of absolute gems, including a typically excitable ‘dance on the volcano’, a brief dabble with an outtake in the form of ‘inside and out’, and a well-received ‘Firth of Fifth’. All of this, of course, pales in comparison to the majestic progressive milestone that is ‘the musical box’. Arguably the finest moment from the Peter Gabriel era, ‘the musical box’ captures all the pomp and theatricality of the band in their prime and it has lost none of its fire, even some forty-six years later. A track that holds a coveted place alongside the likes of ‘the court of the Crimson King’ and ‘Echoes’, ‘the musical box’ is poetry set to music and it never fails to leave the audience gasping. Nonetheless, Steve has one final trick up his sleeve – the rampaging ‘los Endos’ (from ‘a trick of the tail’), which Steve and his band gleefully detonate with all the fire and fury of a band unveiling their debut album. What a blissful show closer! You can hear it in the reaction of the audience and feel the energy, even at the remove of a video recording, flowing from the stage. It underscores the fact that this is no mere exercise in nostalgia – this is Steve’s life unfolding on stage and everything, from the very latest tracks to the oldest piece aired, is delivered with the same sense of vitality and passion.

‘Wuthering nights’, available as either a CD/DVD set or as a stand-alone blu ray (I really wish they’d treat DVD and blu ray the same and allow you to get the audio package alongside the higher resolution format), is a must-have set from Steve Hackett. As both a respected solo artist and as the custodian of Genesis’ remarkable back catalogue, Steve is a revelation. The songs from ‘the night siren’ are modern day progressive rock gems, suffused with anger at the injustices of the day and deeply relevant, whilst the Genesis tracks are bought to life with such energy, skill and joy that their timelessness is ensured. Whether you’re a long-term Genesis fan, or if you are a prog rack fan curious to see what the fuss is about, this is the perfect place to start what will become, I am sure, a life-long fascination with one of the great guitarists of the age. 10

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