‘Foxtrot at 50” With Steve Hackett Was a Good Trip Into the Past

Listen to this article

A friend of mine, who shall remain partially anonymous, invited me to a night of listening to former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and his band. What made the concert special was the second set, when they played the Genesis album Foxtrot in its entirety — including the nearly 23-minute masterpiece, “Supper’s Ready.”

When we got to the Balboa Theatre in Downtown San Diego, the promotional sign said “Steve Hackett, Genesis Revisited.” So I thought there would be a variety of songs from the albums Hackett helped create. I excitedly said “Genesis Revisited!” My friend Dave replied. “All of Foxtrot!”

I couldn’t remember every song on that album, the band’s fourth studio release, so a quick Google search answered my question — This concert was going to include “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready.” That was a big wow.

A friend of mine back in the early 1970s told me about Genesis. I couldn’t place the band, having no knowledge of them off the top of my head so my high school friend said they were the band that played “Watcher of the Skies.” He hummed a few bars and I recognized it, but still had questions.

Then, when I was in the U.S. Marine Corps one of the people I served with was a BIG Genesis fan and had all their albums, including the latest at that time A Trick of the Tail. I got to know Genesis very well. They played in San Diego, CA at the Sports Arena.

If you watched The Midnight Special on NBC you would have seen the band, with Peter Gabriel, in 1974. In 1975 Gabriel left Genesis and Phil Collins became the band’s front man. The best part of that change was that the band hired, first Yes and King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford to fill in on drums and then Chester Thompson who had been playing with Frank Zappa.

The beauty of seeing Genesis at that time was that with either one of those line ups, they always featured two drummers on several songs, which were great parts of the shows. Plus, they played a lot of material from the Peter Gabriel years. And they just killed it.

Those were some of the best concerts in the 1970s, even after Steve Hackett left the band, to be replaced by Milwaukee guitarist Daryl Stuermer. They were good shows going into the early ’80s. Then the album Duke was released. Genesis had taken a turn, aiming for more popularity with songs that were radio friendly. The era of epic 20-plus minute songs was over. Even Rush changed course, leaving the epic songs of sci-fi fantasy and mythology behind.

Dipping back into the late 1970s, we should  remember the great live Genesis album, Seconds Out. If you only get one Genesis album, make it that one. It features Hackett on guitar plus Collins on vocal and mostly Chester Thompson on drums, but a few tracks featuring Bruford.

It was recorded as the band toured in support of the album, Wind and Wuthering primarily and, for one song, The “Cinema Show” which was recorded a year earlier supporting A Trick of the Tail.

Steve Hackett (Tim Forkes)

It makes me wonder if bands still tour to support albums, or latest recordings. Technology, in the form of streaming services, has changed the way we enjoy and acknowledge music. It was a scant 25 years ago when Napster shook up the music-loving world. The record companies put a stop to that, but the writing on the wall was clear: We were going to purchase and listen to music differently.

None of that made much difference in the Steve Hackett concert we saw Thursday evening, which had the full title of “Genesis Revisited: Foxtrot at 50.”

The first set was music from Hackett’s solo career, beginning with “Ace of Wands.” The first set ended with “Shadow of the Hierophant,” at which time the entire theatre (it seemed) got up to use all the available restrooms. What happens when you get a lot of elderly folks all going to the restrooms at the same time? Long lines and massive congestion. It takes us longer to pee and if we need to take a dump … Thankfully I was smart enough not to eat anything after 3 p.m.

For some reason the sound was simultaneously too loud and improperly mixed in that first set. The guitar work of Hackett was often buried in the cacophony coming out of the PA system. The band was well rehearsed though and when the music did sound good, it was very good. When we have a member of the progressive rock genre leading his own band it’s important to make sure his (or hers) instrument is heard over the others, at least most of the time.

And by the way: We used to call it art rock. Why it changed to progressive rock, and the regrettable abbreviation prog rock, I don’t know. The music deserves so much better.

Anyway, the first set included a great bass solo by Jonas Reingold who plays a Rickenbacker 4003. Not to be overlooked, Craig Blundell delivered a very good drum solo later in the concert.

Everyone n that theatre, which was either sold out or very nearly sold out, was a Genesis fan. Many weren’t even born, or they were very young when Foxtrot was released. But everyone knew every song, every note of every song.

The music of Genesis is meant to be played precisely, every note from every instrument and voice heard because the whole is the sum of its parts. There is a sax player in the band, Rob Townsend, who also played flute. Peter Gabriel also plays the flute, or at least he did back in the day. Townsend’s soprano and tenor saxophones blended in with the keyboard parts, which were played by Roger King.

It was an interesting change to the parts created by Genesis founder Tony Banks. Not just a change, but an addition to the aural stew that is Genesis.

The highlights for me are rather pedestrian: “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready.” Singer Nad Sylvan has a voice that sounds quite a bit like Peter Gabriel at times and then like Phil Collins at other times. I think we all expected the band to play the album in order, but the crowd responded as if every note of every song was a new revelation. For many it probably was, at least in a live setting.

Back in the day Genesis wasn’t big on doing encores, That wasn’t the case with Steve Hackett and his band. Their encore included “Dance on a Volcano,” the drum solo and then “Loa Endos.” I turned to my friend Dave and said, “I never expected to see and hear ‘Los Endos’ played live again.” The encore made the entire concert special for me.

I also told Dave that I fell asleep in the last minutes of “Supper’s Ready” … What do you expect? The song is over 22-minutes long and I’m an old fart who was up past his bedtime.

Props to Dave for bringing me along. It was a very enjoyable evening, even with the quick nap at the end of “Supper’s Ready.” I’m not sure I will go to another rock concert again, but if I do I hope it is as good as this one: Steve Hackett – “Foxtrot at 50.”

Steve Hackett and his band say “Good Night” to the San Diego crowd (Tim Forkes)