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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Steve Hackett

Wuthering Nights: Live in Birmingham

Review by Gary Hill

While I generally don't include live albums in my "best of the year" lists, I might make an exception for this. It's just such a powerful live set. Steve Hackett and his crew of musicians work their way through songs from his solo repertoire along with a healthy helping of Genesis numbers. The show is diverse and always entertaining. They do some amazing Genesis remakes here. Not only do you get the two CDs audio set (which by itself makes this worth having), but it also includes a Blu-Ray of the whole concert along with a "making of" documentary and three video clips. If you are a Genesis fan or have ever liked Hackett's solo career, you must get this set. Even if you aren't into either of those, but just love some powerful live progressive rock, pick this up - it's not to be missed.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD 1
              
Every Day

The opener comes in rather bouncy and playful. It gets more proggy, but with a real accessible edge as it carries forward. It drops back after the minute and a half mark for a cool mellower section before working back out into the song proper from there.  An instrumental segment further down the road includes some powerful melodic guitar soloing and really soars.

El NiƱo
This comes in with a powerfully symphonic musical concept. It grows upward as the guitar lays down some amazing lines of sound. This is complex, dynamic and very powerful. It gets more rocking later in the run of this progressive rock instrumental.
The Steppes
The opening section of this is pretty purely world music. After a time it gets a killer rocking sound brought into the mix. The track moves forward with the world music melodies merging with this hard-edged prog sound. It's another killer instrumental. It's another cut with some impeccable guitar work. Then again, this is a Steve Hackett performance. What do you expect? It gets quite heavy and crunchy at times, but never loses sight of its progressive rock roots.
In the Skeleton Gallery
What a masterpiece this song is. It comes in with a real melodic progressive rock sound. It works through like that for a time before dropping back to a harmonica solo movement. The cut turns decidedly jazzy in this extended instrumental section before turning to some symphonic styled stuff. The instrumental movement continues from there getting into more proggy territory. The vocals come back in over the top of that arrangement as this continues to evolve. Then before the four minute mark a hard rocking guitar explodes over the top to continue. This next instrumental movement is packed with some killer guitar soloing. Saxophone comes in as it shifts to a crazed freeform jazz styled sound. The whole thing just continues to evolve with more powerhouse prog jamming.
Behind the Smoke
The opening section on this is mellow, but it powers up to harder rocking stuff further down the road. This has a good balance between mellower and more intense stuff. There are some world music melodies in the mix on this cut. That makes sense because this is a song about refugees. It actually makes me think of a proggier version of the Dio era of Rainbow a lot of the time. There are some amazing instrumental passages and changes built into this thing. It's one of my favorites here and a real powerhouse.
Serpentine Song
A more melodic prog rock motif brings this into being. This gets into some pretty amazing territory at times, really soaring with a jazz-like texture at points. This is complex and compelling. It has sections that feel a lot like Genesis, but yet other parts are far jazzier than Genesis ever was.
Rise Again
The first minute and a half of this song is built around sort of a folk kind of basis. It's still proggy, but the vocals and instrumental arrangement have a real folk rock vibe. Then it explodes into powerhouse hard rocking prog music from there. The closing section is a real powerhouse.
Shadow of the Hierophant
A blast of powerful progressive rock opens this. After the introduction it drops way down for a mellow prog section to accompany the angelic vocals. The cut powers upward after the first vocal segment, but then drops back down for a return to the earlier vocal movement. The pattern of another burst of powerful prog and drop back to folk prog to continue remains for another iteration. Then it explodes into some soaring prog with exceptional guitar work from Hackett. It drops to just Hackett doing his trademark hammer-ons. Another rocking prog segment takes over from there. It drops back to a mellower tuned percussion sounding bit to move forward. It works upward as they continue driving into some symphonic prog instrumental work.
Eleventh Earl of Mar
We're taken into Genesis territory with this killer piece. They do an incredible rendition of this thing. Given that Genesis hasn't been hitting the boards for a long time, this is as close as you'll get. And, that's pretty close. This cut still holds up so well. The band gets introduced at the end of this.
CD 2
         
One for the Vine

The continue with the Genesis music here. Again this version really stands well alongside the original. I'd say that at times I like this one better than the Genesis take on the cut. This is a powerhouse that works so well. It's so cool.

Acoustic Improvisation
This is very much truth in advertising. It's also strong.
Blood on the Rooftops
This is quite a bit different than the way I remember the Genesis version. It has a great balance between the mellower and more powered up stuff. It's a powerhouse tune no matter how you measure it, though. At times the vocals on this cut make me think of John Wetton or Greg Lake.
In That Quiet Earth
There is a short drum solo at the start of this Genesis revisit. The cut fires out from there in style with power and grace. I love the instrumental work on this. The version here is another that's closer to the original. It's a real powerhouse that is so effective. It  is such a powerful instrumental.
Afterglow
I've always loved this Genesis cut. It's so pretty. This live version captures the magic in style.
Dance on a Volcano
Another of my Genesis favorites, they do a killer live rendition here. Again this feels so much like Genesis that it's scary. There are points on this one (as on some of the others) where you'd swear that it is Phil Collins singing. There are many points on this album where I'm reminded just how incredible Hackett's guitar playing is. To some degree, this one shines even taller to me than some of the others. The man is amazing.
Inside and Out
A song that was written and recorded for Wind and Wuthering, but never made the cut onto the album proper, I don't think I've heard this one before. It's a mellower tune that is undeniably a Genesis song. It's a pretty cut that works well. .It gets more powered up further down the road. In fact, there is a killer fast paced jam that emerges late in the piece.
Firth of Fifth
Another Genesis tune, this starts on piano and works outward from there. Again they put in a version that stands tall next to the actual Genesis band versions. I love the balance between softer and more rocking here. Honestly, that was always one of the things that Genesis did so well. It's reflected nicely in this live take. Everything about this is class, really. The crowd claps along at times on this, and the whole ride is just an adventure. Hackett puts in some of his most expressive guitar soloing on the soaring section of this number.
The Musical Box
Here we get another Genesis song that's always been near and dear to me. Again, this live rendition is impeccable. The rocking section seems to rock out a bit more than one expects, though. The woodwind is a nice touch.
Los Endos
Don't expect this to sound like the Genesis "Los Endos" at the start. The beginning of this is a fiery powerhouse stomper that is more a prog Led Zeppelin than the classic Genesis cut. They work out to familiar territory after really scorching up the stage for a while. They deliver a killer rendition of the classic Genesis show-closer, while still shifting into a new things, including some metallic fusion later. Hackett certainly demonstrates his skills on this dynamic and diverse monster of a tune. It shifts to some pretty crazed stuff before returning the core material to take it onward. There is some audience participation in the form of clapping during one segment. They really turn this into a serious magnum opus that ends it with so much style.
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