It was some time in the 9th grade when I heard my first Genesis song, “Firth of Fifth” (from Selling England by the Pound) either on KROQ or KMET, one of the two legendary “alternative rock” stations in LA back in the glory days of radio. (Aside: the day KMET abruptly changed format to some kind of smooth rock format in 1986 ranks next to the breakup of The Beatles as one of the saddest days in rock music history. Angelinos will know this to be true.) In any case, I was hooked, especially by the Moog synthesizer bridge in the middle which was catnip to teen boys in the 1970s. The sound hasn’t necessarily aged well. But still. . .
The problem was, I didn’t catch the album or song title off the radio, and so knowing nothing, I ran to the record store and made a guess on Foxtrot, dropped it on the turntable (those were the days), and up came the 22-minute “Supper’s Ready.” I was not ready for Supper, however, and had second thoughts, thinking I might be better off waiting for Exodus.
By degrees I acquired the taste for Genesis, and finally caught up to Selling England by the Pound, which I now regard as the best progressive rock album of the 1970s—a decade full of notably original efforts from all of the usual suspects (most of them British, needless to say).
So last night, clad in my favorite Gentle Giant t-shirt, I caught the last night of Steve Hackett’s American tour in Seattle. Hackett was one of the original members of the band, which he left in the late 1970s as the band started moving more fully to the pop style that made them “mainstream” in the 1980s (and which I didn’t much like, but more on this in a minute). When Hackett first started touring more than a decade ago with a “Genesis Revisited” format featuring the early 70s tunes, I wasn’t much impressed. The lead singer was a poor substitute for Peter Gabriel or his successor Phil Collins, and the instrumentation, though good, didn’t excite. But some time a few years ago Hackett stepped up his game, with a new strong lead singer (Nad Sylvan), a fabulous keyboard man (Roger King, who can pass as a dead ringer for Harry Bosch, aka Titus Welliver), and a backing band that is arguably superior to the live Genesis of the mid-1970s.
Jody Bottum continually taunts me that prog rock is rock and roll that went to college, with its pretentious ballads with time signature changes that would break a knee if you tried to dance to it, and typically mixing Arthurian legend, Greek mythology, modern poetry, and so forth. But doesn’t that mean taking in prog rock counts as adult continuing education? Yes, I’ll go with that.
I did once hear Phil Collins explain that one reason the Genesis of the 1980s changed into a more regular pop band was that they were hoping to attract more female fans. In the 1970s, they observed that their audiences were about 80 percent male, and the female 20 percent often looked like they were there under duress. Sure enough, last night’s audience appeared to be about 90 percent male, and 90 percent of them appeared to be Social Security eligible. (Fitting, perhaps, just now: “Social Security took care of this lad . . .”—”Supper’s Ready.”)
For some reason that I think has to be contractual with the remaining Genesis band which just finished its final tour (because of Collins’s declining health), Hackett opens with a short set of his own material, which is okay and was well-received by the audience, but everyone came for the second set, which was a complete performance of Seconds Out, the 1977 double live album with tracks drawn from Selling England, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Trick of the Tail, and Foxtrot.
That’s what all of us geezers came for, and we were not disappointed in any way. Everyone sang along with “Carpet Crawlers” and “I Know What I Like,” but the full rendition of “Supper’s Ready” brought the entire hall to its feet, a suitable setup for the closer, “Cinema Show,” which features favorite characters from Shakespeare and classical Greek references in the lyrics.
With no disrespect to Mike Rutherford or Tony Banks, Hackett is the Man.
Anyway, here’s “Firth of Fifth” with the current Hackett lineup if anyone is curious. And if you’re a prog-rock hater, well sod off, as Brits say; go read Substack or something.