Acapela Studio, Pentyrch, Cardiff
Sunday, 5th November 2023
I recently saw Italian band The Watch at the lovely Acapela Studio near Cardiff, the same venue where I caught them nearly two years to the day before. This time was the third opportunity for me to enjoy the band in peak performance since 2010; I knew what to expect and they didn’t disappoint in the slightest. But throughout these shows I’ve hardly seen them play any of their own music. The last time there was one original song; this time none. The Watch are a band that have released nine well received studio albums over 25 years (the latest being The Art of Bleeding in 2021), that’s 7 or 8 hours of original material, but they struggle to sustain themselves on their catalogue alone, choosing instead to tour full sets of material from the early years of Genesis, which they deliver magnificently.
As expected, this was a masterful show with inch-perfect renditions of the whole of the Foxtrot and Selling England By the Pound albums, in order, plus a visceral encore of The Knife. They are so good at what they do that you can’t fail to be impressed, and they deliver the venerable music in just the right way, with attention to detail and deep rooted enthusiasm. It’s all about the music for them, with no need to resort to ‘recreating’ shows of old via props, costumes and impersonations. Under the proprietorship of Simone Rossetti, The Watch take great care to ensure that they present the music in a truthful and authentic way, and I dare not think of the time they must put into getting things this right. The recently explained absence of long-time guitarist Giorgio Gabriel, stepping back to spend more time with his family as a result of the exhausting touring schedule, sees his spot taken by Andrea Giustiniani, who, like the rest of the band, puts in a compelling performance for the whole show as the quintet majestically nail it all, and with apparently no effort whatsoever.
It’s pretty likely that you’re going to know all of the material played on this tour inside out, so I don’t think I need to go into detail about that (but if you don’t, you should probably give the originals a listen). It all sounded as you would expect a very good performance of this music to sound, and with a recorded endorsement from Steve Hackett at the start of the set, heartily praising what The Watch do, I’d go so far as to say that I prefer The Watch’s interpretation of the source material to that of the guitar legend himself. From my seat in the balcony of the old chapel, above the drum kit, I had an unusual and rather special view of what was going on below, Rossetti leading his troops with quiet dignity alongside his Peter Gabriel-esque voice. Special mentions should go to everyone on the stage, but keyboardist Valerio De Vittorio was hugely impressive, delivering Tony Banks’ parts with an enthusiastic grin and without breaking sweat. Drummer Francesco Vaccarezza was the focal point from my position, and it was fascinating to get an excellent view of the drummer for a change! Bassist and Simone’s progeny Mattia Rossetti stepped forward to sing the Phil Collins part of More Fool Me in a version which easily surpassed the original, resulting in a stirring duet with his father as they gave their own spin on the two very different singers who helped forge the Genesis legend.
The first set ended with Supper’s Ready and a standing ovation, they were soon back with a frenetic Dancing With the Moonlit Knight, wending their way through my favourite Genesis album to a fantastic Cinema Show, Simone Rossetti leaving the stage for the band to shine in the startling instrumental section. Finally, The Knife. It’s a great song anyway but The Watch deliver it with additional energy and passion to another standing ovation from the full house.
Enthralling, engrossing and magical, I really couldn’t ask for more and everyone involved should be congratulated for their dedication and the quality of the results achieved.
But it’s just a huge shame. A shame that a band this good have to play someone else’s 50 year old catalogue in order to make touring worthwhile for themselves. What is the world coming to?
A debate recently raged in the draughty back rooms of TPA Towers regarding the merits (or not) of covering tribute bands, ironically the source of the discussion being another band playing Genesis material. And since then we’ve covered a further act playing old Genesis songs, albeit in a very different and unusual form. Three different sets of Genesis in a month? There are a number of questions to ponder here.
Firstly, how is it sustainable to have so many bands surviving playing much the same repertoire? There’s a lot of variety in the Genesis catalogue and there are bands covering different elements of it, but even at the top of the tree, where resides Steve Hackett himself, there are surely only so many people doggedly listening to old Genesis and eager to see it played at every possible opportunity. Steve himself would struggle to tour as he does playing sets mainly comprised of his own material, and has, as keeper of the flame for the classic band, carved out a niche for himself with his ‘Genesis Revisited’ shows, but it must be galling for him after a consistently productive 45+ years since he left the mothership. He has the right, and does a fine job, but other bands are also (hopefully) making some sort of living from it. No doubt it’s great music to play, and they must be doing it for love first and foremost, but how are so many Genesis tributes able to make a go of it, some on a much larger scale than The Watch, who remain my favourite interpreters.
It’s a strange thing – why Genesis? What is it about the music that this particular band recorded in the early ’70s that makes it so in demand now, ahead of all the other amazing bands that plied their trade at the same time, with an endless stream of musicians willing to spend ages learning it well enough to play live? I can think of a couple of Yes tributes, a few for some of the other classic British bands of the era, but we’re falling over Genesis tributes – I can easily think of at least half-a-dozen, and you probably couldn’t swing a mangy fox’s head without hitting one on tour at any given time. No one is doubting the quality of the music, and I for one enjoy being able to still hear it played live on occasion, but why is it that so many people will seemingly ONLY go and see bands playing this repertoire? As an inveterate gig goer I find it quite strange. If all of these people were consistently going to see other, newer bands now and then (in addition to the Genesis purveyors) then the live music scene would probably be a lot more viable for many smaller bands. How many of those at Acapela for this show would have bothered if it was just The Watch, without the ‘Plays Genesis’ tag (with the ‘G’ word in the biggest typeface)? You can’t blame them for the thrust of their marketing.
My personal view is that the best tribute bands certainly do have a place, and I think we should be covering them at TPA as they are keeping alive music that that means a great deal to a lot of us. It’s important music that we’re still lucky enough to be able to hear, and it won’t be too long until that’s the ONLY way we’ll hear it. I’m sure most tribute bands work stupidly hard to ensure that they’re performances do justice to the originals, but in the Prog realm it takes real dedication and skill, and an ability to absorb the brick-bats that are no doubt still thrown at them from various quarters. They’re never going to be trendy…
I wish that The Watch could find a way to integrate more original music into their live sets. I completely appreciate why they do what they do, and maybe after all this time and having crafted what appears to be a worthwhile modus operandi where they can regularly tour Europe to adoring crowds, they may doubt the reception their own songs may receive. Yes, the crowds would no doubt be smaller if they dropped all of the Genesis material, but there should be some corners of the set where they can show what else they have. There are many musical similarities so I’m sure the punters would lap it up – or does nostalgia trump all else, making a mockery of the oft spouted ‘the music’s all that matters’ cliché? I’ve heard that someone recently asked The Watch why they don’t include their own stuff, the response being that the preparation for the Genesis shows is so demanding and all encompassing that there isn’t the capacity to prepare anything else.
Whatever the reality, it’s still a shame, but no doubt an economic necessity, and at least they’re making a difficult situation work for them and building quite a following, even if a good number of their adoring listeners probably don’t know – or maybe even care – about their own recorded oeuvre. I genuinely don’t really consider The Watch to be a tribute band, as weird as that sounds given that most of their reputation is built on it.
All that said, go and see The Watch (whatever they’re playing), or any other band that has shed tears and blood to try and do the music of others justice, but why not also go and see some original bands too, there are plenty of them about playing music equally as enjoyable – honestly.
Watcher of the Skies
Get ‘Em Out by Friday
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
~ Interval ~
Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Ordeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
Simone Rossetti – Vocals, Flute, Percussion
Andrea Giustiniani – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Valerio De Vittorio – Keyboards, Acoustic Guitars, Backing Vocals
Mattia Rossetti – Bass Guitars, Bass Pedals, Backing Vocals
Francesco Vaccarezza – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals