“This must be the N.E.C.” - Phil Collins live in concert at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham on Sunday 4th December 1994. Reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
After all the problems which surrounded the organisation of the tickets for these shows, I was relieved when the dates finally arrived and I found myself ensconced within the cavernous NEC building once again.
I had seen Phil’s shows earlier in the week at the G-Mex in Manchester and I have to admit that I was more than pleasantly surprised by the performance. I was therefore looking forward to an even better show in Brum. Our seats were excellent with a good view of the stage. At 8.15Phil appeared on stage dressed in his old “Say It’s Alright, Joe” coat and hat to thunderous applause from the crowd. He began with a short exchange of drum fills with new boy Ricky Lawson before the familiar pattern of I Don’t Care Anymore opened the set. I think that this has to be one of the best set openers in Phil’s extensive repertoire and it was certainly well received by the crowd.
Don’t Lose My Number, Can’t Turn Back The Years and Survivors followed and it was interesting to see how well the new material fitted into the show. I was particularly impressed by the latter of these songs which had so much more energy live than on the album. This was followed by the first of the cover versions that Phil was to play; The Way You Look Tonight which in turn was followed by Phil’s anthem for the homeless; Another Day In Paradise. Before this was played, Phil poked gentle fun at his own situation by urging us not to buy a t shirt but instead to put some money in the charity buckets which were in evidence around the arena with the words; “I don’t need any more f**king money… yet!” This was a more laid back version of the track and I thoroughly enjoyed the re-working of it.
One of the surprises of the show for me was the inclusion of the song that followed; This Must Be Love which was appearing in the live show for the first time since 1982. It is one of my favourite songs and this version was excellent. The mellow mood continued with One More Night and A Groovy Kind Of Love before the peace was shattered by an explosion of sound and lights which signalled the beginning of We Wait & We Wonder which for my money has to be the best track from Phil’s new album. All of the musicians and singers contributed to a really stirring version of the song which left me breathless. Once again, Phil played the audience like a fisherman with a good catch, playing us until we were left begging for a breather which we gladly took during the performance of Separate Lives which followed. The finale of the first half of the show was a stunning version of Both Sides which left everyone roaring for more as Phil and the band left the stage for the fifteen minute interval.
While the house lights were still on, Phil and the boys (and girl) returned to launch into the party half of the show with a barnstorming version of In The Air Tonight which simply gets better and better with age, especially Daryl’s guitar break at the start which seemed to echo around the arena forever. The rest of the show was drawn from Phil’s ever-increasing catalogue of hits with practically every single top ten single he has ever had featuring in the set somewhere. However, there were still some surprises left; a marvellous version of Knocking On Heaven’s Door for one and the biggest surprise of the evening - Phil appearing on stage at the start of the encores carrying a set of bagpipes to play Amazing Grace of all things! The audience went wild for the remainder of the show and by the time Phil invited us all to take him home, everyone was really in a party mood and no one wanted to leave.
Overall, the show was excellent with good sound and lighting and no sign of the usual voice problems which seem to have dogged Phil over recent years. The band were excellent with special praise from me to the Vine Street Horns who did a great job, and of course to Daryl without whom the show wouldn’t have been the same. Phil’s tour continues on well into 1995 and on this showing, those lucky people who are seeing him perhaps for the first time have my envy - it really is a great show and I hope there may be more in the UK soon.