Prog supergroups can often contain a raft of musicians originating from obscure bands, and applying the tag ‘super’ to them might be, at best, a stretch. Yet when Steve Hackett formed a band for a brief jaunt in Tokyo back in December 1996, he managed to rope in some hefty names. Former Genesis drummer Chester Thompson and Zappa keyboardist Julian Colbeck joined him, alongside King Crimson alumni Ian McDonald and John Wetton, and this was a dominant line-up that would match the calibre of the music they performed.
Steve Hackett: The Tokyo Tapes
Sublime live recording from Hackett and friends.
With such a robust collective back-catalogue to dip into, undoubtedly the quandary was to establish what to leave out. Given that this was ostensibly a gig promoted under the Hackett banner, some of the finer moments are lifted from his stint with Genesis. What’s striking is that, despite the comforting familiarity of such songs as Watcher Of The Skies and Firth Of Fifth, Wetton’s vocals add an intriguing, fresh dimension.
As you’d expect, it’s musically perfect, but the musicians are given licence to roam, rather than simply replicating the studio counterparts. It’s a welcome flexibility that gives the music a captivating live urgency.
It’s not all about Genesis though, and the set flicks through the other musicians’ careers. The Court Of The Crimson King and I Talk To The Wind are exhilarating and come close to matching live renditions produced by King Crimson at their zenith. Asia’s Heat Of The Moment is stripped down and beautifully reconstructed in acoustic form, with a trio of guitars accompanying Wetton’s recognisable vocals.
There’s also space to revisit these stars’ solo careers too. Wetton’s Battle Lines is predictably moving, and while Hackett’s Camino Royale – complete with a funky frame – hasn’t aged quite as well and is perhaps the only disappointment here, Walking Away From Rainbows is completely riveting. It’s those renditions of the Genesis live staples that ultimately provide the high points though. A thrilling Los Endos is enhanced by McDonald’s flute and I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) provides a fitting finale.
Comprising a double-CD set with an accompanying DVD, it’s the video footage that is perhaps the most captivating. Visually it’s a product of the time, with soft focus and shiny suits prevailing, but it’s still remarkable that Hackett doesn’t seem to have aged in the intervening years. Although distinctly dated in terms of lighting and effects then, it’s fascinating to view the live interaction of such combined talents, in what really was a supergroup.