Strange it may seem, previously Steve Hackett never had a proper live album. Hardly representative, "Tokyo Tapes" showed a supergroup in action, and "Many Sides To The Night" an acoustic concert. "Time Lapse" had some of it yet comprised two gigs spliced, from 1981 and 1990. Now, each decade of Steve's life on the road receives an exposure. Neat box and impressive booklet aside, "Archive" gives an opportunity to hear in good quality what before was only on bootlegs. Still, it's performance that matters, not the sound.
It doesn't make sense judging which period of Steve's activity is more interesting, but '70s have been intriguing the most and, therefore, get covered on three CDs. The earliest recordings, made on October '78 at Hammersmith, appear at the end of bonus disc available for exclusive purchase through Camino Records site. The very beginning, Hackett just had "Please Don't Touch" out though off this album here's only "Racing In A" featuring Dick Cadbury's pronounced bass and - lest one forget it was later that Steve dared sing - voice of Peter Hicks. Other tracks come from the meister's debut: "Ace Of Wands" marvellously speeded-up with John Shearer's spacious drums and John Hackett's flute dancing around his sibling's guitar to step in the spotlight for the only released version of "Hands Of The Priestess".
That band of two Hacketts, Hicks, Shearer, Cadbury and Nick Magnus on keyboards didn't fall short of upstaging GENESIS in terms of intense playing (not for calmed "Ace Of Wands" and "A Tower Struck Down" though) and by 1979, after "Spectral Mornings", were an established live unit with a lot of material to show: done was half of each three albums! First two CDs contain another Hammersmith concert, recorded in June, and the main part of the additional disc harks back to October's Newcastle; four months' big difference is the former performance coming twice as long. Who else dared stage prog gig in 1979? Opening "Please Don't Touch" alone is enough for the impact, Steve's creating aural fireworks and John conjuring up dervish tricks before spilling heavy jazz of "Tigermoth" and, later, "The Steppes" and "Sentimental Institution" try-outs - "Defector" wasn't in tow yet. Vocal harmonies deserve high praise too: "Everyday", "Narnia" and "Carry On Up The Vicarage" gain more magic than vertiginous studio versions, so surprises lie not only in "Wardrobe Boogie" folk-blues extravaganza following "I Know What I Like" and "Blood On The Rooftops" amazing acoustic snippet or one more rare-comer, "Star Of Sirius". It's a tremendous experience where long applause not cut out only adds to live feel.
CD 3 was committed to tape in Rome in June '81, thus preceding November tracks included on "Time Lapse". This time around there's a complete concert the more worthy as early '80s saw Hackett not only singing himself and having re-shuffled the band to welcome a Chas Cronk and Ian Mosley rhythm section but also re-shaping the style into pop-bordering rock. Hence, from "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare" it's a different mood, lighthearted a bit - spot "The Show" - yet featuring a great interaction with the audience who cheer songs off recent "Cured" and "Defector" alongside favourites like "Wands", "Morning" and "Clocks". Now "The Steppes" was a familiar tune too, and thumbs up were given to John's work on "Jacuzzi" as well. Another approach demanded "Funny Feeling" and "Overnight Sleeper" - more synthesizers than guitar, very down-to-earth, and Steve doing his vocally best on "Every Day" and "Hope I Don't Wake". Sometimes it turns as a colder endeavour with "Picture Postcard" almost lacking the vibe and that translates into music getting restrained even on "Tower Struck Down", "Slogans" being an exclusion.
June '93's performance from London's Grand Theatre is a unique one. Not full this time, only highlights but there's something transcendent about it as Steve cuts in with medley spanning his whole career. Through "Myopia", "Wands" and "Hackett To Pieces" to GENESIS' "Los Endos" and GTR's "Imagining", tunes seague seamlessly one into other lining a thread of Steve's craftsmanship as both composer and player. Towards the end lurks another pastiche, comprised of "Spectral Mornings", "Firth Of Fifth" and "Clocks", but, save "In The Quiet Earth" finale, the band deliver a good part of the then promoted "Guitar Noir" album with an odd inclusion of a staple "Kim" (brother John guesting) and "Always Somewhere Else". The latter depicts the mantle the meister puts on now, helped by thunderous Hugo Degenhardt, liquid bass of Doug Sinclair and Julian Colbeck taken the musical partner's place Nick Magnus had emptied. In this new mode, Steve excells again pouring in many a harmony guitar against "Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite" rap before he breaks into harmonica solo of it and "Lost In Your Eyes". There are many blues to the night.
And many sides to it too, like appropriate song suggests. "Dark As A Grave" gloom sets in with soaring "Sierra Quemada" and breezy Latin-coloured "Take These Pearls" near romantic "Walking Away From Rainbows". Here's the mature musician who's learnt to leave notes out for gaps to talk. Sotto voce but eloquent, the ambience Hackett pursued in the '90s - "In The Heart Of The City" an example - came very natural, representing him as everchanging himself. A river of constant change, then? Did Steve forsee that trek when he was chosing a title for his first album? A man in motion, a voyager, Hackett's "Live Archive" is rather a travelogue. An ongoing journey rather than document of an era dead and gone.