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Renaissance & Steve Hackett, Rockefeller Park, NYC: Music by the Hudson June 23, 2010

Posted by Anton A in British music.
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This one’s going to be more about the journey than the destination.

One reason I enjoy living in our town, 8 miles west of Manhattan, is that we’re on a New Jersey Transit railway line. In fact that’s how I found this town 20 years ago, when we were living in the West Village and toying with the idea of moving a bit further west, right across the Hudson to Jersey. I got a highway map, one of the folding paper kind that you used to get for free at gas stations, hopped in my clunky VW Rabbit and drove through the Holland Tunnel. I found the NJT train station in Hoboken and literally followed the tracks west. Our town is an early stop on one line that runs out from Hoboken; I got off the busy highway, hung a right at the top of the ramp, and presto! I’d been transported to another place and time. Up there on the first ridge beyond the Jersey Meadowlands, I was suddenly driving past a long row of turn-of-the-century houses (and at that point that meant the 19th century), shadowed by ancient trees arching over the roadway. I knew instantly that this was where I wanted to live.

We looked at other towns, and a lot of houses, over the next year. To me, for its location and atmostphere, nothing beat the place I’d found. We eventually found something approximating the right house and here we are, two decades on.

When we first moved out to Jersey, the train would take you only to Hoboken; from there, you coud take the PATH subway line to lower Manhattan or through the Village and into Midtown. After a few years, New York Waterways sprang up and resurrected ferriy service across the Hudson. This was revolutionary to me, being able to hop on a train and then ride a boat across the water.

I’ve always been fascinated by trains; maybe it’s one of the positive things that I inherited from my dad. As a kid growing up in St. Louis, I marveled at the fact that we could drive into University City, just a few miles in from our little subrban town, and find the small Delmar Station where you could walk down the stairs to a pair of tracks that ran, unbroken, all the way to California. We actually made that trip several times. I recall sitting in the dome car that each train had back then, stunned by the forests and cliffs as the train wound through the Royal Gorge; then, later, gazing across the western deserts while we clacked ever closer to the far edge of the continent. Trains opened up the country for me like nothing else.

While we’ve been in Jersey, the trains have also opened up this region. In 2003, NJ Transit opened the magnificent Secaucus Junction, which linked, for the first time, all of their lines that run from northern & northwestern Jersey with the separate network running from central & southern areas of the state into NYC’s Penn Station at the one spot where the tracks cross. Now, I look at the tracks at the station in my town and see a network of rails that will take me anywhere in the country. I can step onto a train there and, taking a total of three trains, be in Philadelphia in a couple of hours. I can ride four trains and be back in St. Louis the next day, if I want. It’s still a marvel to me.

This is a long preamble to explain how I came to be on the deck of a ferryboat, chugging across the Hudson on a beautiful June afternoon…

…to see Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett’s band and 1970s art-folk rockers Renaissance play a free concert in a lower Manhattan park at the river’s edge.

Hackett’s set was good but seemed a bit unfocused. There’s no question that he’s playing with a group of skilled musicians; they delivered some intricate, quirky and well crafted prog rock. There was also a long slow blues number, where Hackett got to show off his blues chops; placed between the more upbeat prog numbers, the song seemed to pull the set down. For their encore, they played a nice prog tune that featured an extended drum solo in the middle; it was an odd way to end the show. I was left with the feeling that I’d seen an ensemble of great talents who didn’t quite know how to construct a set that would really keep the audience engaged.

 

Between sets, anyone who turned their eyes to the west was treated to a lovely evening sky over the Hudson and the Jersey City skyline.

Renaissance were terrific on every level. When I’d first read about the show, it wasn’t clear who was headlining. I’d assumed it would be Hackett, since not much seems to have been heaard from Renaissance lately. Apart from their biggest hit, Mother Russia, I remembered them vaguely as a band that I’d liked and respected back in the 1970s. I didn’t know what they’d been up to since then; a free show in such a fabulous setting seemed the perfect way to find out.

It didn’t take long for me to see why they had the headline slot. They were tight and well focused; they quickly established their distinctive folk-tinged sound with a driving beat and marvelous textures. Annie Haslam’s voice, always the centerpiece of the various editions of the group, soared and rang out to the waters; she can still send one chiill after another right down your spine.

They played an excellent set that included two fine new songs from their recent LP, The Mystic and The Muse, which I bought after the show and have been enjoying since. I won’t hesitate to see Renaissance again when I have the chance. Count me as a born-again fan.

(NOTE TO MY READERS: This post has been severely delayed by many things, not the least of which was learning to cope with the maddening software for inserting and aligning photos.  This is as good as it’s going to get, I think.

You can enlarge the images by clicking on them if you wish.)

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