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Hackett, Steve: Live Rails

So we meet up with Steve Hackett again, on a whistle stop tour of his Out of the Tunnel's Mouth album, after the Train on the Road Tour. This is a dynamic and extensive double CD exploring Steve's latest album, almost in its entirety, (only "Nomads" is missing). During the journey through OotTM, we take a trip through some of the best of Steve's solo catalog of music as well as some of the highlights from his Genesis years.

The cover art captures some of the excitement which greets you with the music inside. The photos on the back and inside cover display the major supporting highlights of the tour.

Steve is amazing, showing no age and he has picked a great band to support him. Roger King on keys; Amanda Lehmann on vocals and guitar; Gary O'Toole on vocals, drums and percussion; Nick Beggs on bass, Chapman Stick, Taurus Pedals, and vocals; and Rob Townsend on sax, woodwind, percussion and vocals.

Two CDs of wonderful memories. If you were there, you should have a copy of the best of the shows. If not, listen to what you missed and make sure you're at the next one!

"Intro" The inside cover of the CD pack has a cool intro note from Steve, "20,000 trains through the clouds…" It's a nice piece of lyrical poetry to whet the appetite for what lies ahead and within. Rob Townsend's soprano sax, which opens this intro is borrowed from the track "Last Train to Istanbul", from his latest album Out of the Tunnel's Mouth, and it will rivet your ears to the sound. Then the wonderful woodwind and string section takes you right back to Zep's "Kashmir", followed by the 'thousands' of drums and percussion effects from Gary O' Toole. Perfect way to open this rail themed CD. The locomotive and bell sounds take over as the express rips down the rails. Would love to see this live. Hopefully there will be a DVD/Blue Ray to follow.

"Every Day" has always been one of my favorite Hackett solo songs and it is perfect as the first track on this celebration of old and new. This song has always taken on a live sound, even on the studio version, but this live version truly captures the magic of its power as the opener on Steve's Spectral Mornings solo album. The level of the play reminds me of Steve's performance during the Seconds Out album.

"Fire on the Moon" is one of the best songs off Steve's latest album, Out of the Tunnel's Mouth, and it fits perfectly after "Everyday". Steve's voice has definitely improved with age. The instrumentation is very majestic and powerful. Yes, this song was made to be played live. This is the opener on OotTM, and it fits well here to keep the momentum building. On other albums the quiet moments are often lost during live shows, but the crowd stayed calm and Steve sang perfectly. The production work on these two CDs is exceptional. You feel like you are right there in the front row, the quality is that good.

"Emerald and Ash", also from OotTM, is another wonderful song full of that soprano sax from Townsend. Steve with the support of backing vocals tells the story as well and clear as if they were in the studio. Amanda Lehmann's female vocal creates perfect harmony with Steve's. Performed perfectly as if they were in the studio together, confirming that OotTM was designed from the start to be played live. Roger's keys soar on this one along with Steve's solos.

"Ghost in the Glass" is another well played song off Steve's latest studio CD. Townsend's wonderful sax changes the feeling of the opening from the studio version, where Steve's guitar was the prime mover. Along with Roger's keys, this song takes you to a jazz club, before Steve enters with his impressive soloing. A nice surprise.

"Ace of Wands" is the opening track off Steve's Voyage of the Acolyte album. This is a Roger King/Steve Hackett instrumental showcase with Townsend's woodwind adding some wonderful high notes. Excellent performance of this fan favorite. Nick Beggs bass work is also exceptional throughout both sides of the CDs. Gary O' Tool keeps time as well as Phil Collins. The chimes and other percussion effects are wonderful and add dimension to the entire soundscape.

"Pollution C", is a different sounding version of "Pollution B" off the To Watch the Storms solo album. The piano work from Roger is wonderful. The noises and percussion will stimulate your mind. Townsend's sax is perfect…

…and it leads perfectly into "The Steppes", the opener off the Defector solo album. I have heard this song on other live albums of Steve's, but this time it gets its own showcase without the comparison of "Valley of the Kings" and it sounds so brilliant.

"Slogans" is also off Defector. This one is full of Roger's keys, Steve's guitar and Gary's drums. A 4:22 minute instrumental extravaganza that it is an impressive instrumental workout for all the musicians involved.

"Serpentine" is off To Watch the Storms, and is a beautiful quiet interlude between the two storms, "Slogans" and "Tubehead". They will rock your world, so this is a nice break with Lehmann providing the perfect warmth on vocals. Townsend's sax just slides this one through perfectly.

"Tubehead" is a masterpiece revised with Steve playing locomotive on the guitar with a bow, ala Jimmy Page. The Youtube video must be seen until we get a DVD/Blue Ray someday. Another great instrumental song off OotTM. The bow playing at the opening easily makes this the highlight off CD 1. Kings' keys are also excellent and O' Toole's drum work will bring back memories of the greats.

Spectral Mornings is easily one of my favorite solo albums and songs from Steve's catalog. Opening with this song on CD 2 begins the second incredible journey through the past. The second CD is a wonderful journey linking some of Steve's best solo and Genesis work together in a way he hasn't before on his other live albums. This song was meant to be played live and I'm sure it's still one of his fan's most requested tracks for any live performance.

"Firth of Fifth" is one of my favorite Hackett guitar showcases from the early Genesis era. It's not a bad showcase for Roger King either. He does a masterful job filling Tony Banks shoes on keys.

The trouble with Steve playing these Genesis classics is never Steve. He makes them sound like the first time, every time. John Wetton, in my opinion has done the best singing on these live cover songs, outside of Phil or Peter of course. But you can't always get John Wetton, especially when he was probably on tour or just finished a tour with Asia. However, Gary O'Toole does a very capable job on this album. This Selling England by the Pound classic needs no introduction. The band recreates the dynamic gold of this song as well as is possible without Phil or Peter. Most of us hope someday Peter, or Phil will join Steve on tour to sing some of these classics. Until then, this may be as close to the real thing as you can possibly get.

The best song off Wind and Wuthering was and still is "Blood on the Rooftops", in my humble opinion. Steve adds a very nice acoustic guitar introduction before proceeding to the track. It's the kind of guitar solo you wish would never end. But the words and music are so great that you want to hear them as well. Steve sounds like he's right back in the studio in the mid-70s. The magic in this song will never leave. O'Toole does a wonderful job protecting the majesty of the song with his vocals and Roger's keys round out the feeling this song always brings. Townsend's sax is a nice addition to the dynamics of the sound.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is represented well with "Fly on a Windshield" and "Broadway Melody of 1974". Few new fans of Genesis realize that they could rock hard, and with the best of 'em. Steve provides proof with these two classics for all of the disbelievers. Again, this sounds as good as it did back in the early 70s. O'Toole does his best Gabriel impression in covering the lyrics. But this was Peter Gabriel's masterpiece and no one can really sing it as well.

"Sleepers" brings back Steve on vocals for one of the best songs off OotTM. This really flows well with the Genesis material and could have fit on a number of their albums of the past. At least at the beginning of the song. Once we reach the half way mark this song is all Steve Hackett solo work. The wild instrumentation and darker lyrics take the song to another level adding so many dimensions. The group backing vocals is a cool highlight, along with Steve's guitar soloing. Townsend adds a wonderful touch with the sax at the end.

"Still Waters" is the final live song from OotTM. This is a bluesy track with Steve on lead vocals and plenty of power guitar chords. King's keys and O'Toole's drums make it sound effortless as Steve churns the musical waters.

"Los Endos" was probably the concert finale, with "Clocks" the encore. This Trick of the Tail classic is always a fan pleaser. This time O'Toole gives it his best Phil Collins. This is a drummer's paradise, but Steve's rip chords are just as important. Those high volume chords are just amazing and meet O'Toole's drums perfectly. Nick Beggs heavy bass and King's keys are right on target. Townsend's sax gives the song that little extra push over the top. The crowd doesn't miss a beat joining in with the band and clapping perfectly to the beat. One of the many highlights off the best CD of the two.

"Clocks" finishes off the CD set. This Spectral Mornings instrumental is a wonderland of surprises to any Steve Hackett newcomers. For those of us who love "SM", this song is a required element, along with "Tigermoth", which sadly was left out of this set. King's keys and effects along with Steve's ripping chords just make this blistering guitar/keyboard, special effects extravaganza fire up the engines and help send that locomotive over the edge. O'Toole apparently didn't get enough action in "Los Endos", so he adds a wonderful drum solo to this track. A stunning set of music from one of rock's most innovative guitarist/composers.

Track Listing
CD 1

  1. Intro
  2. Every Day
  3. Fire On the Moon
  4. Emerald and Ash
  5. Ghost in the Glass
  6. Ace of Wands
  7. Pollution C
  8. The Steppes
  9. Slogans
  10. Seprentine
  11. Tubehead

CD 2

  1. Spectral Mornings
  2. Firth of Fifth
  3. Blood on the Rooftops
  4. Fly on a Windshield
  5. Broadway Melody of 1974
  6. Sleepers
  7. Still Waters
  8. Los Endos
  9. Clocks

Added: June 20th 2011
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: Artist Website
Hits: 3639
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Hackett, Steve: Live Rails
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-06-19 15:02:50
My Score:

In recent years I have often bemoaned that live albums have become stop-gaps, or contract obligation fillers. However on the odd occasion I have been forced to eat my words as there can be no doubt that when it is done properly a live album can still contain a stunning amount of vibrancy that a studio counterpart somehow can't. Live Rails by Steve Hackett doesn't quite fit that bill, as there is no need to improve upon the stunning Hackett studio catalogue, however as a live document of his solo output, both new and old, as well a welcome spattering of Genesis numbers there can be no doubt that Live Rails is simply wonderful. Leaning heavily on the Hackett's recent album Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, this release illustrates perfectly that out of all the ex members of Genesis, he is the only one who still regularly makes music that is as worthy as his previous band's catalogue. Actually it is a travesty that when the average punter thinks of Genesis it is invariably Collins or Gabriel who springs to mind, especially when you hear the breath taking guitar work and song arrangements presented here. Every track is a sure fire winner, with the slow, deliberate "Fire On The Moon", a highlight of Steve's newest album, capturing the atmosphere that must have filled the shows on this recent tour. The guitar work is sumptuous and sparsely decadent, but it is the gentle glockenspiel and keyboards that raise this into an experience that genuinely can raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The harmony vocals of "Serpentine Song" provide another spellbinding focal point and with a band who can nearly all add to the vocal delights, it is no wonder that these moments are so moving.

Obviously Hackett himself handles guitar as well as some lead and backing vocals, Amanda Lehman backs him up on both fronts, while Gary O'Toole adds to the vocal array as he contributes some stunning percussion work. Nick Beggs and Rob Townsend bring their voices to the party as well, but it is the variety of instrumentation that these two provide that is the ace in the pack, with Beggs playing bass, Chapman stick and Taurus pedals, while Townsend shines throughout on sax, woodwind and various percussion implements. Add to that the deft touch of keyboard Roger King and you genuinely have an outfit capable of battering through the hard rock of "Tubehead" just as expertly as they master the jazz fusion of "Pollution C", or the Floyd like "Emerald And Ash". For many people one of the draws of going to see Hackett play live is not only his stunning solo catalogue, but the hope of hearing some of the best moments from the Genesis catalogue and Hackett and his band don't disappoint on this score either. As the set winds its way to its conclusion we are treated to fantastic, rearranged versions of "Firth Of Fifth", "Blood On The Rooftops", "Fly On A Windshield", "Broadway Melody Of '74" and "Clocks". These numbers may well be owned vocally by Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, but Steve and his band show that they are musically a match for these songs and it really is a joy to hear them played with such energy and enthusiasm.

Live Rails is a stunning live document of Steve Hackett's musical career, but more importantly it is a wonderful album in its own right that any admirer of Hackett, Genesis, or indeed progressive music in general will simply love.

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