"Still Dancing at the NEC" - Phil Collins in concert at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, on Friday, November 7 and Saturday, November 8, 1997. Review by Alan Hewitt.

Well, here we are again - another tour by the ubiquitous Mr. Collins and his incredible expanding band! This time round, Phil and the band are here to promote Phil's latest album, "Dance Into The Light". How well did the shows compare to previous outings? Well, we shall see...

This year's stage presentation is supposed to resemble the games deck of a luxury liner and there was an abundance of life preservers and other such paraphernalia on the circular stage which was yet another first for Phil. The "in the round" idea certainly gets my seal of approval, making sure, as it does, that everybody's seat gives a good view of the show.

The music? Well, from the moment that Phil and the band ran on to the stage through a crowd of cheering fans; we were treated to over two and a half hours of quality entertainment from one of the greatest performers in the UK. The show opened with the marvellous instrumental "Hand In Hand" and was followed by a storming version of "Hang In Long Enough" which set the scene for an evening of high octane entertainment.

"Don't Lose My Number" followed before the first offering from Phil's new album - the paean to intolerance, "River So Wide" - which featured some sterling percussion from both Phil and Ricky Lawson. Another new song, "Take Me Down", followed his before the hectic pace was slowed down by a beautiful version of "Find A Way To My Heart".

Phil introduced "Another Day In Paradise" with his usual reference to the homeless charities which he continues to help and it was great to see the original version of this song restored to the set after the acoustic version of the "Both Sides" tour. As a commentator on the human condition, Phil has few equals, and "Just Another Story" continued the story telling tradition of "...Paradise" in equally sharp and wry observations.

Phil on stage at the NEC
(Photo - J. Guntrip/TWR)

Sentiment took over from bitterness for the band's next number, "Against All Odds", which was greatly augmented by a truly awesome sax solo in the middle. A personal favourite from Phil's latest album came next with a truly heartrending version of "Lorenzo", prefaced by Phil's recitation of how the real "Lorenzo" Michaele Odone contacted him. This song is even more powerful live and proves that hope can overcome any difficulties.

"Separate Lives" gave Phil a chance to quieten the pace with a marvellous duet with Amy Keys which certainly was another show stopping performance. A dramatic "Both Sides" picked up the pace again and it was here that both myself and I am sure, most of the audience were expecting Phil and the boys (and girl!) to take a well-earned break, but no - we were proven wrong as Phil mounted his keyboard riser to perform a solo series of piano songs beginning with "Do You Remember?" And then the real surprise in the set - "Long, Long Way To Go", which just gets better as it gets older (a bit like Phil himself really!). The finale to this acoustic trio came with the delightful "One More Night", which is another classic, which I do not grow tired of hearing.

The arena was plunged into darkness except for several piercing white Vari-Lites and a synth drone which was shattered as the violence of Daryl's guitar ripped through the darkness and "In The Air Tonight" made its usual dramatic entrance, followed by the now customary drum duet which took on a farcical air this time, as every band member was armed with some form of percussive instrument for a few minutes of thunder.

The remainder of the set drew from Phil's vast repertoire of toe-tappers, including the evergreen "Easy Lover" and "You Can't Hurry Love" as well as "Dance Into The Light" which is destined to become a stage favourite. Humour award however, must go to the hilarious "Wear My Hat". Phil's tongue in cheek look at fans, which took on an even more humorous meaning at the performance on Saturday when a member of the audience asked Phil to "sign a scrap of paper" whilst he was tearing round the stage!

Phil and the band on stage at the NEC
(Photo - J. Guntrip/TWR)

Another surprise appearance was that of "Something Happened On The Way To Heaven" which was greatly missed from the set last time round. And what could end a Phil Collins concert? Only the singalong audience participation of "Take Me Home" would suffice, and as usual, the audience gleefully took their chance to participate in the evening's entertainment. Was I the only one with sore hands and a throat chafed from singing at the top of my voice? I don't think so, somehow!

Having seen every tour that Phil has staged since he became a solo artist, it never ceases to amaze me that every time he tours the show is better than the last one and this is no exception. Even the oldies in the set seemed to have been given a fresh lick of paint, and once again Phil and the band have proven that theirs is a show with no equal in the world of rock music - here's to another sore throat and chafed hands at Manchester on the nineteenth!