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RIDGEFIELD — Say what you will about the more encapsulated and radio-friendly tunes that Phil Collins-era Genesis fans may be familiar with — but when it comes to the band’s earliest period, purists still enjoy getting lost in the swirling, sometimes epic material of containing the indelible stamps of vocalist Peter Gabriel and guitarist/composer Steve Hackett.
Hackett remains a force to be reckoned with both on record and on concert stages around the world, where he is warmly welcomed by legions of early-era Genesis devotees. Remaining true to his progressive roots, Hackett’s shows spotlight material from his solo catalog, while always thrilling fans of all ages by meticulously re-creating at least one of those album-side-length compositions during a typical two-hour-plus live set.
In a recent interview with The Newtown Bee, Hackett promised to not disappoint when he hits the stage of The Ridgefield Playhouse on February 22. That means tried and true fans could hear lengthy numbers like “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” “Dance On a Volcano,” “Firth of Fifth,” or maybe the 23-minute “Supper’s Ready” suite from Foxtrot.
At the same time, Hackett and early Genesis fans will get a taste of what the multi-instrumentalist/composer has been up to lately. His latest project, The Night Siren, is due to drop March 24, and while its content includes some mighty exotic instrumentation, Hackett said that there are a few numbers that are translating well to the concert stage.
As implied in the title, Hackett describes The Night Siren as is a wake-up call — a warning of a siren sounding in this era of strife and division.
While The Night Siren showcases Hackett’s incredible guitar mastery, it also features a multitude of musicians from different countries who were invited to join in celebrating multicultural diversity and unity. This includes singers from Israel and Palestine, who both actively campaign to bring Jewish and Arabic people together.
There are also instrumentals from the United States and Iraq and a multiplicity of sounds, including the exotic strains of Indian sitar and Middle Eastern tar and oud, the ethnic beauty of the Peruvian charango, and the haunting Celtic uilleann pipes.
Hackett said over the course of more than four decades of globe-trotting tours, he has amassed a list of fellow musicians who he respects and admires.
The Night Siren was a perfect opportunity to bring a number of them together to reinforce the spirit he was trying to conjure with his new album.
“It seemed the most natural thing in the world to try to involve all of these people. There was a Hungarian band, Djabe, that functions at kind of the musical crossroads not just with the rest of Europe, but the rest of the world. Through them I’ve met many people, along with the many musicians I’ve met myself while touring around the world,” he said.
Over the course of his career, Hackett said he dabbled in and made music with a lot of different instruments. But he did not populate The Night Siren with so many of them just for the sake of seeing how many different sounds he could jam into one project.
“I think I’ve been heading that way for some time, using a lot of instruments that people might consider to be ethnic. But they are not just on there because they are ethnic,” Hackett said, “they are there because they sound magical. They may not belong in the mainstream of rock and roll, but on the other hand, some of these instruments are part of the guitar family. So I’ve used all of these instruments on the album, so I guess now they are part of rock and roll, aren’t they?”
In previewing The Night Siren, one might expect a number entitled “The Martian Sea” to be among those extended epics filled with electronica and Hackett’s stratospheric guitar work. But it quickly reveals itself to be more of an uptempo yet rootsy kind of modern folk song.
“The lyrics go ‘Martian sea, there is no empathy.’ So it’s a love gone wrong song,” Hackett said. “In other words, sometimes you find yourself in a relationship that becomes a little like an alien landscape — you’re no longer feeling at home with that person.”
Hackett evokes the Red Planet again in a new tune called “In The Skeleton Gallery.”
“When I was a kid, I imagined I had a space ship. And Mars has always been fascinating to me, so pretending to travel there and discovering alien footprints and things like that is really just a young man’s ultimate escapism,” he said. “I guess children and musicians are always kindred spirits because we play for a living as we did when we were children. I read The Martian Chronicles many years ago, and I still love to watch sci-fi movies.”
“Fifty Miles From the North Pole” is another compelling number from The Night Siren. The track opens with a surf-guitar lick reminiscent of something you might hear in a James Bond film, and slowly shifts into an epic guitar adventure that puts laser focus on what Hackett does best: exploring the far reaches of his own Gibson Les Paul.
He said his inspiration for that song came from a personal experience he had during a visit to near the top end of the earth.
“I got to play a couple of shows in Iceland, and we were in a place that was literally 50 miles from the arctic circle,” Hackett recalled. “We never got to see it in daylight. We arrived in the afternoon and it was dark. We did the show a bit later with an 80-piece orchestra, and then we left the next day fairly early and it was still dark. It was very, very cold — the middle of January. I don’t know how they can stand it. I guess you have to be very hearty. The Icelandic people have a lot of great musicians, though. And it’s such a dramatic landscape full of volcanoes and such that appear in the lyrics.”
Over the years, Hackett said he has fallen more in love with not only the organic instrumentation of orchestras, but the electronic machines that can sample those instruments.
“When you have that [electronic] sample, you can do with it whatever the composer intends,” he said. “Back in the early days of the Mellotron, when I first started hearing it live, it was magical. It blew me away. There is something so expansive when an orchestra is playing together. That kind of symphonic sweep is simply fascinating.
“I recall as a child first hearing Tchaikovsky on a wind-up gramophone and it sent me flying. So that’s always been part of the work that I aspire towards. One of the shows near the end of the tour will be working with the Buffalo Symphonic Orchestra — so I’m really looking forward to that.”
The tour heading into Ridgefield is dubbed “Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett,” and is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the classic Genesis album Wind and Wuthering. Hackett and his band will be performing several tracks from the album as well as fan favorites such as “The Musical Box” and other Genesis numbers never performed before by Steve’s band including “Inside & Out,” “One For The Vine,” and “Anyway.”
“We’re also doing ‘Eleventh Earl of Mar,’ ‘Blood on the Rooftops,’ ‘…In That Quiet Earth’ and ‘Afterglow,’ along with a song that should have been included on that album called ‘Inside and Out,’” Hackett said. “We used to play it live when we were out promoting that album. It was one of the stronger tunes that didn’t make it onto Wind and Wuthering we had and it’s a personal favorite.
“So I’ve been rehearsing that one with the band as well. This was really a beautiful album and it’s wonderful to be able to do all these songs from it.”
Attendees to the Ridgefield show will also hear Hackett performing some of his own popular hits such as “The Steppes,” “Serpentine,” “Every Day,” and the first live performance of “Rise Again” from his 1999 album Darktown.
The Steve Hackett concert begins at 8 pm and will be performed in two sets. Tickets to the show are $75, with an AllShows.com VIP Party Pass option that includes priority parking, along with free beer and wine from 6:30 to 7 pm for an additional $25.
Get seats and access to the VIP pass while they last by calling The Ridgefield Playhouse box office at 203-438-5795 or visiting ridgefieldplayhouse.org.
Check out Steve Hackett performing “Firth of Fifth” in a 2013 show from the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
Steve Hackett plays “Wolflight” from his 2016 release Live In Liverpool