ALBANY TIMES UNION – July 6, 2010
Hackett, Renaissance keep the prog-rock spirit alive
By MICHAEL ECK, Special to the Times Union
First published: Tuesday, July 6, 2010
ALBANY — It might as well have been 1975 at The Egg on Saturday night.
OK, that’s a bit harsh, but it was unusual to see a pairing of “Me Decade” British prog rock powerhouses in Albany on the eve of Independence Day 2010.
Renaissance actually performed a sold-out show at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre last October on a well-received reunion tour. Saturday, though, the band teamed with former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and his crack band at the larger Hart Theatre.
Renaissance opened with a brace of lush classics including “Things I Don’t Understand,” “Mother Russia” and “Running Hard.”
Unfortunately, the group’s set was marred by a terrible audio mix that made it sound as though they were soundchecking rather than actually gigging. Throughout the show, the band’s overall roar threatened to overwhelm Annie Haslam’s operatic voice; totally obscuring it at the top of the otherwise beautiful “Carpet of the Sun.”
The highlight of Renaissance’s set was actually a new song called “The Mystic and The Muse.” With its distinctive bassline (courtesy of David J. Keyes), smart piano work (from Rave Tesar) and shimmering 12-string guitar (provided by 40-year member Michael Dunford), “Mystic” sounded like quintessential Renaissance, and Haslam made sure to include a few trademark shrill trills in its middle.
Hackett’s band was a leaner rock machine, but no less ornate in its own way.
His set was also marked by serious harmony vocals, with most tunes being offered in four parts — one of which was Hackett’s own vaguely Paul McCartney-like croon.
“Fire On The Moon,” “Emerald and Ash” and the bluesy “Still Waters” were culled from Hackett’s recent album, “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth,” but the guitarist also criss-crossed his catalog for the instrumentals “Ace of Wands” and “Spectral Mornings,” and — much to the crowd’s delight — he also played a few Genesis chestnuts.
Tunes like “Fly on a Windshield” and “Blood on the Rooftops” showed why Hackett was so influential in the ’70s, with his pure, powerful tone and fearless sonic attitude; and his famous solo on “Firth of Fifth” still sounded great 37 years later.
Hackett’s band, with guitarist/vocalist Amanda Lehmann center-stage, was clearly up to his level, as well as to fan’s high expectations.
The rhythm section of drummer Gary O’Toole and bassist Nick Beggs was especially impressive.
The distinctively-garbed Beggs (he wore a dress and blonde pigtails) was a founding member of 80s pop stars Kajagoogoo, but he played like a prog warrior at The Egg.
O’Toole sang lead on the Genesis material, but instead of sounding like Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins he was a dead-on match for John Wetton — who worked with virtually every British prog band except Genesis. (And, yes, Wetton was briefly a member of Renaissance).
Reedman Ron Townsend was Hackett’s secret weapon, providing constantly shifting textures — a la King Crimson’s Ian Mcdonald or Mel Collins — under the rest of the noise.
His solo on “Sleepers” was one the night’s most thrilling moments, and he also charged up the set-closing careen through “Los Endos.”
Michael Eck is a freelance writer from Albany and a frequent contributor to the Times Union.
Steve Hackett and Renaissance
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Egg, Empire State Plaza. Albany
Length: Hackett, 80 minutes; Renaissance, 70 minutes.
Highlights: New songs from old hands — Renaissance’s “The Mystic and the Muse” and Hackett’s “Sleepers.”
The crowd: Two-thirds full, old enough to remember the prog-rock heyday, young enough to check it out today.