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    Thursday, May 30, 2024

    Ready for ‘Supper’? Steve Hackett brings Genesis classic ‘Foxtrot’ to the Garde

    Steve Hackett (Lee Millwood)

    In 1977, guitarist Steve Hackett abruptly left Genesis after being told he couldn’t put out solo material and remain in the band. The departure came after a peerless and pioneering run of Genesis albums that includes “Nursery Cryme,” “Foxtrot,” “Selling England by the Pound,” “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” “A Trick of the Tail” and “Wind and Wuthering” — works that helped identify what became known as “progressive rock” but were also characterized by pastoral melodies and arrangements that de-emphasized arcane time signatures or chops-for-the-sake-of-it.

    Given his quick departure all those years ago, Hackett seems an unlikely choice to champion that revered period of the band’s catalog.

    But who else is gonna do it?

    Distinctive original vocalist Peter Gabriel exited the band even before Hackett, after “The Lamb,” and has steadfastly forged his own path, never looking back. And the remaining members of the classic Genesis lineup — drummer/vocalist Phil Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford — retired in 2022, long after shifting their sound from the formative sonic grandeur to a simpler (and far more successful) brand of stadium-filling light pop.

    But for a while now, somewhat under the radar, Hackett and his solo band have done successive homage tours that painstakingly recreate one or another early Genesis album — supplementing the concert setlist with material from his own prodigious, stylistically ambitious, and frequently remarkable solo career (27 albums and counting).

    And if Hackett isn’t filling any stadiums, rest assured he’s carved out, through his own recordings and curatorship of the “old stuff,” a solid and adoring following.

    On Friday, he brings his “Genesis Revisited: ‘Foxtrot at Fifty’ + Hackett Highlights” show to New London’s Garde Arts Center. The tour has been on the road a while and is particularly polished. A few weeks ago, a live recording called “Foxtrot at Fifty + Hackett Highlights: Live in Brighton” was released.

    An expansive talent

    As a guitarist, Hackett is perhaps vastly underrated to the public at large, although his peers gush over his technique and melodic acumen. As fluent performing rock wizardry on his Gibson Les Paul as he is delicately taming a nylon-string classical guitar, Hackett is acknowledged to have invented the “fretboard tapping” technique later made famous by Eddie Van Halen — who, by the way, also cited Hackett as the originator.

    Hackett’s solo work is catalog is vast and almost impossible to categorize — turns out he was indeed so prodigiously creative it was impossible to obey Genesis’ demand his songwriting had to stay solely within the parameters of the group. At the Garde, expect enrapturing, disparate but representative pieces like “Ace of Wands” from “Voyage of the Acolyte,” the title track from “Spectral Mornings” and the darkly majestic “The Devil’s Cathedral” from his 2021 “Surrender of Silence” disc.

    After a break, Hackett and his exemplary six-piece band will then play the entire “Foxtrot” album, a start-to-finish masterpiece that includes the Hackett generated “Can-Utility and the Coastliners,” an infectious tune about King Cnut of England, Norway, and Denmark, who apocryphally demanded the seas to retreat to mock the sycophancy of his followers. Typical rock lyrical fare!

    Hackett also penned the album’s “Horizons,” a lovely acoustic guitar selection inspired by a Bach cello work. It serves as a perfect prelude to one of “Foxtrot’s” two most iconic songs. Called “Supper’s Ready,” it’s a 23-minute epic that, in a 2017 issue of Prog magazine, was voted the Greatest Anthem in progressive rock history.

    What’s for dinner?

    In terms of musical architecture and ambition, it seems the sort of thing that inspired a) punk and/or b) the satire of “Spinal Tap,” “Supper’s Ready” in fact makes for a consistently enjoyable and always-surprising listening experience. There are seven distinct sections that fuse pastoral elements with British show tuneage, waterfall symphonics with propulsive 9/8 momentum, haunting vocal melodies – and an overarching narrative that pits Good against Evil, Biblical and English imagery, and a denouement that suggests W.B. Yeats’ Great Beast slouching towards a New Jerusalem.

    The second acknowledged paragon on “Foxtrot” is the album opening “Watcher of the Skies,” a wonderwork fusing an eerily wistful sci-fi narrative, great swaths of mind-melting Mellotron chords, and dazzling, dodging-through-the-minefield intro and outro riffs.

    That Hackett and company will tackle all of these things in one night of music is frankly an exhilarating possibility — one that will reward fans and pleasantly surprise folks who may have little familiarity with the artist or repertoire.

    Calling from Britain a few weeks ago, stuck in a traffic jam caused by fans exiting a football match, and with his wife Jo seated beside him offering routing alternatives, Hackett was very polite and friendly, with no indication he’s done thousands of interviews – and he laughed frequently with a wise appreciation for the anecdotes he shared.

    Here are excerpts from that conversation, edited for space and clarity.

    Q: Isn’t it true that “Foxtrot” was written and rehearsed in the basement of a building that also housed something called the Una Billings School of Dance?

    A: Yes! It was certainly weird. A collision of cultures, to be sure. There were 20 or so young women tap dancing and making a lot of noise; meanwhile, we’re below making all sorts of noise ourselves. I imagine a lot of would-be ballet stars confused and trying to maintain concentration while these strange guys were downstairs playing in 9/8 and assuredly ruining whatever Ginger Rogers things they were trying to do.

    Q: “Supper’s Ready” had substantial creative input from the whole band, but did you all complete the structure in advance before the five of you sat down and played it all the way through?

    A: We hadn’t played it through in one go, no. It took us two weeks to write, and it was like having a baby and teaching it how to walk. We found ourselves with the fully formed baby, but we had learn how to play it live. It was an extraordinary thing, really. So much of it is small bits of music or sections — not really fully formed songs, and in a lot of different keys — and we had to bridge them with atmospheric sections. I look back on it and it was really challenging, but we didn’t really think of it like that at the time because it was so new.

    Q: “Horizons” is so beautiful. Did you write it specifically for “Foxtrot,” or even as an intro of sorts for “Supper’s Ready”? Or was it an already finished piece you just wanted to submit to the band for consideration?

    A: When I was in the process of writing it, the last thing that occurred to me was that the band would allow me to record it. I honestly just didn’t think they’d be interested. But it does work in front of “Supper’s Ready.” A sort of palate cleanser. (laughs) It took me four takes to record because I was playing a Yamaha acoustic with a very narrow neck. That one’s very heavily influenced by Bach. It’s quite a joy to play.

    Q: The rhythmic outro to “Watcher of the Skies” is insanely powerful and provides the perfect conclusion to the idea of a song about aliens. But, mathematically, how do you even count it?

    A: The lyrics are very loosely based on Arthur C. Clark’s novel “Childhood’s End,” and musical science fiction is not a genre every band experiments with! We were going for majestic! Right at the beginning, you hear Tony’s Mellotron, which sounds a bit to my mind like an alien orchestra. I don’t think people had heard anything like that. His intro takes its time and settles into three chords, and then the band comes in and, rhythmically, all of a sudden it gets pretty difficult.

    As for the ending you asked about, the rhythm is something Phil came up with. You can count it in various ways but basically it’s in 6 when you look past all the ambience and dynamics. It sounds like you’re playing one long continuous lick but it’s several small sections together. The development of the song seems to work well with all the ostinato stuff. The idea was that it would sound like a spaceship landing on earth. I think it kind of does.

    You know, many years later, we tried to record “Watcher” with an orchestra and had to give up. The orchestra struggled with the syncopation and accents. It’s very technical, but Phil could also make it swing. It takes a special drummer to do that.

    Q: With your band, having separately toured what most consider immortal albums in the rock trajectory, have you been able to infer from fan reaction an affection for certain tunes that has surprised you?

    A: I think “The Fountain of Salmacis” from “Nursery Cryme.” It’s the last track on the album, the first one with the five of us, and we all wrote it together. It’s based on Greek mythology and I just remember that people were starting to understand what we were about musically and visually — and suddenly on that song it just seemed to all come together. And fans seem to get that.

    If you go

    Who: Steve Hackett

    What: “Genesis Revisited: Foxtrot at Fifty + Hackett Highlights”

    When: 8 p.m. Friday

    Where: Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London

    How much: $38-$88

    For more information: gardearts.org, (860) 444-7373

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