This unique concert could have been billed as Prog Night in Toronto. It may have been a cold day in hell, but it was hot and humid on College Street as these legends of Progressive music made a rare visit to Canada. The surreal event was made stranger by the sights and sounds of Spanish flags being pulled in honking automobiles in the heart of Toronto's Little Italy. If anything, it made for an interesting distraction from the heat, as patient Prog fans waited in a curving line that queued the length of the ramp to the Mod Club and down College Street. The general consensus in the line was that while the honking cars were quite loud, if it was Italy who just won a semi-final game in the World Cup, it would have been much noisier.
There was some confusion leading up to the Wednesday night's show. Originally booked for a splendid seated venue by the waterfront in Toronto's Exhibition Place, the show was moved at the last moment to the much smaller standing-room-only Mod Club. While I don't have any confirmation as to why this change was made, I can only assume it was due to a lack in ticket sales. Considering how rarely Mr. Hackett and Mrs. Haslam treat our fair city to a concert, this lack of interest disappoints me, although hardly surprises me. Toronto's no Montreal when it comes to appreciation of Progressive music. The change in venue did, fortunately, allow my girlfriend and I to secure a prominent place right in front of the stage.
The audience was made out of, unsurprisingly, mostly older Prog fans; the kind that enjoyed albums like Turn of the Card and Spectral Mornings when they first came out in the 70s. There were some other younger fans in the crowd, although we were definitely in the minority. As a veteran of many a Prog-show in Toronto, I would describe it as the typical "Prog Crowd".
As the lights dimmed and the classical intro filled the PA system, the crowd warmly welcomed Annie Haslam, Michael Dunford and the new look Renaissance. Despite only two members of the classic line-up still present, the younger musicians did a spot on job recreating some old classics and even a brand new composition. Turns out this line-up is currently busy putting together a new album that should, according to Mr. Dunford, be out some time next year. The set-list consisted mainly of tracks from Turn of the Cards. The highlight for me personally was the encore: Mother Russia. Always an epic track in any setting, the symphonic textures really transformed the Mod Club to another level of sophistication and class that it probably rarely experiences. Yes fans may have recognized one Tom Brislin from the Yes Symphonic DVD. He did an excellent job filling in the orchestral textures that make Renaissance sound like Renaissance.
It would be a bit of an oversight to not mention little Annie Haslam. While she does indeed look much older then the iconic cover photo on Ashes are Burning (obviously, time ages even the brightest talents) her voice is still in prime form. From the opening track Prologue, her voice was yet another class above your typical Rock concert and was truly a wonder to behold. She really seemed to get a kick out of some of the rowdy audience members ("Don't be cheeky!"). Despite one strage remark about not being satisfied with the symmetry of the venue (she stood on a bit of an angle for most of the show) she was easily the biggest person on stage (despite being the shortest). She said she would love to perform in Toronto more, but we need to create more demand. Ideally, she said, they would come back and perform with an orchestra. That would be the day.
After thirty minutes of equipment swap, it was time for Hackett and his band to take the stage. My respect for Steve Hacket probably ranks amongst the highest of any former Genesis member. Despite seeing his previous concert in Toronto, (the acoustic-trio lineup, literally in a High School theatre in the suburb of Markham) being able to be front row for a full-on electric set blew away all expectations. The band exploded into the Crimson-like Mechanical Bride, strobe lights blaring. The rest of the set consisted of mainly new tracks from Mr. Hackett's latest work, reviewed here, and a smattering of Genesis classics. Hackett also played some of his own material from the 70s including Every Day, Ace of Wands and my personal favorite Spectral Mornings. (Doesn't the ambiant mid section of Spectral morning remind you of Yes' The Remembering?)
The lineup was mostly the same as the DVD releases of this passed decade. Gary O'Toole once again provided excellent drumming and pretty good vocals on all the Genesis songs including Blood on the Rooftops, Fly on a Windshield and Firth of Fifth. I'd take him of Phil Collins on vocals any day. Roger King was again the master of bringing all the right sounds and textures to the evening. He even has apparently mastered all of Tony Banks' parts to Firth of Fifth, something that has been lacking from most of Steve's renditions of the song up to now. Rob Townsend had some pretty roaring sax solos during the evening, bringing some much needed Jazz to the mostly symphonic sounds of the concert. There were some new members I didn't recognize. The new, cross-dressing, bass player was quite the impressive figure onstage. He played all of the most complex bass lines with ease and was a very large and commanding shape (despite the dress and pig-tailed wig). To counter the sight the cross-dressing bassist, there was a female vocalist/guitarist. I'm not sure who she is and where she comes from. She did some nice in-harmony soloing during Every Day, but otherwise she seemed to mostly provide backup vocals. Can anyone shed some light on who this person is?
As the Hackett band was taking it's final bow, I couldn't resist yelling out "Steve! Come back soon!". He acknowledged my outburst with a slight nod. As I've said, we don't see much of Mr. Hackett on this side of the world. Having him in Toronto was a unique privilege. The fact that the concert was moved to a smaller venue at the last minute probably confirms that there aren't really that many fans in Toronto. The fact that trio-Genesis can come to town and sell out a stadium while (my opinion) the better tallent can't even fill a modest sized theatre speaks volumes on how music is perceived and appreciated by most. Phil Collins will always be the bigger name in comparison to Steve Hackett, but one of them is a cheap commercial-whore and the other is a real honest and talented musician who deserves better. Perhaps Mr. Hackett will fulfill his promise to me and return sooner rather than later. When he does I hope that all the real Genesis fans come out and show their support.