"The view from the armchair" - Phil Collins' MTV "Unplugged" performance reviewed by Peter Gozzard.
A few months ago our esteemed editor [who? Me? - AH.] set me the task of reviewing Phil Collins's "Unplugged" show. As someone confined to the house most of the time by ill health I have plenty of time to watch and listen; so the request seemed fair. The original recording took place as we now know, on August 30, 1994 in front of a small selected audience. A fans' first hand view was printed in TWR #30, but for completeness, the full set played was: I Don't Care Anymore / Doesn't Anybody Stay Together Anymore / Another Day In Paradise / I Wish It Would Rain Down / The Way You Look Tonight / This Must Be Love / Burn Down The Mission / Separate Lives / Don't Call Me Ashley / West Side / Knocking On Heaven's Door / In The Air Tonight / Helpless Heart / One More Night / Something Happened On The Way To Heaven / My Girl / You Can't Hurry Love / Get Ready / Lady Madonna / Sussudio. There were several re-takes of the following songs: "Don't Call Me Ashley", "West Side", "Helpless Heart" and "Separate Lives".
A few months later Sky advertised the screening of the show. Having had to give up my NEC tickets in December 1994, I sat down with eager anticipation. At 8pm the announcer states that "Unplugged" will not be shown tonight, but at a later date. In its place, a Phil Collins comedy for an hour! As much as I like some of the videos, this one I would rather forget! No reason was given though it was rumoured that Phil was unhappy with the audience reaction (or lack of it!). Many months later, MTV announce the premiere on October 9, 1995 - some fourteen months after the recording. Having seen the full track listing by now, I was looking forward to a few rare gems and perhaps some very new arrangements of familiar favourites.
8pm and off we go! Lights, camera, action! The stage is central and a small audience sit around the edges. "I Don't Care Anymore" starts the show. A new arrangement has a dance-swing feel to it. Very pleasant but I prefer the drama of what is a familiar set opener, with two drummers. It is probably my favourite of all Phil Collins songs and I am not keen on the new arrangement.
Next, Phil moves to the piano for "Both Sides Of The Story". The piano tempo seems quicker than the original. Some nice harmony vocals at the end. The band on stage seems to be the same as the touring band. Both Daryl and Nathan East are acoustic and Brad Cole has both piano and organ. The sound of acoustic guitar and organ always seems pleasant to my ears.
After the first commercial break, part two begins with "You Can't Hurry Love", a performance that could be "Plugged". We move on to "One More Night" with a nice sax solo at the end from Andrew Woolfold. Next is another favourite, "This Must Be Love" - excellent. More commercials (damn!!), then part three starts with acoustic guitar for "Separate Lives". Arnold McCuller and Amy Keys share vocal duties with Phil in a nice performance of Stephen Bishop's song. Phil moves to the drum kit and "West Side" is a highlight of the night with two drummers and plenty of horns from the Vine Street Horns ending part three in a rousing fashion.
Part four kicks off with a new arrangement of "In The Air Tonight". We have seen plenty of different performances of what is now a classic with drums and band and also Phil and piano. This is a mix of the two with a different vocal arrangement, particularly noticeable at the end. Phil plays solo piano throughout the song and the emphasis is taken away from the drum fill. It is nice to see this song in a different light, particularly as the six preceding songs had familiar "Both Sides" tour arrangements. Phil is now at the front of the stage with congas. A short version of "Lady Madonna" segues into "Sussudio" and the end of the show credits come up on the screen.
With a total running time of 46 minutes, my overall reaction was one of disappointment. Who picked the running order? Totally professional as you would expect but not enough chances taken. I had hoped for a more radical "Unplugged". What I feel I had watched is just a more intimate (almost club-like) live show. The full recorded set list had some rarely (if ever) played songs like "Burn Down The Mission", "Don't Call me Ashley" and several nice cover versions: "Helpless Heart", "My Girl" etc... which would have taken the show away from the standard territory.
I sat and watched two repeats later in the week, hoping for extra tracks (MTV do sometimes subsequently alter broadcasts). The presenter on Sunday referred to "Paradise" but the footage was identical. Any criticism in this regard can be ignored if we subsequently get an official video or perhaps a double CD of the whole show (please, Phil!) but what a pity if it doesn't fit into Warner's future plans. Surely more than a handful of people deserve to see the whole show.