"Making a big noise in Birmingham" - Phil Collins' Big Band concert at Birmingham's Symphony Hall, on Friday 24th July, 1998. Reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Well, a Big Band Jazz show, eh? I must admit that when this project was first mooted, I was not exactly enamoured of the idea, and that's the truth! In fact, I thought that Phil had lost control of his good senses, to be quite honest! The Big Band Documentary in 1996 did little to improve my growing sense of unease. However, I remained open to persuasion and purchased a ticket for this; the last show on the current Big Band tour at Birmingham's delightful Symphony Hall.
Prior to the show, I was fortunate enough to be invited to sit through the sound check whilst waiting for my chance to interview Daryl Stuermer, the results of which you can see elsewhere in this issue. So, for an hour and a half I watched the band run through several of the numbers in tonight's set, and by the time I was ushered backstage in the company of tour organiser, Tim Brockman, I had gained a valuable insight into what tonight's presentation was going to be all about.
Anyway, show time approached and I took my seat: centre stage front row, and after exchanging pleasantries with a couple of TWR readers and people who were interested in joining our august emporium; I waited for the band to take the stage. Phil emerged to rapturous applause although looking surprisingly nervous, to make a few announcements about the show before the band joined him and they launched into the set opener, "Two Hearts", which was a racy enough version which got the evening off to a suitable start. The version of "That's All" which had seemed so cringeworthy to me when I heard it on the TV, came across extremely well. Phil's band had grown even bigger than normal for this show with an extended brass section although it was reassuring to see some familiar faces among the band; not least Phil's long time cohorts Daryl Stuermer and Brad Cole.
What were the highpoints? Well; just about every track in fact including several surprises. I honestly didn't think that Phil would Jazz-up "that bloody song" but the re-working of "In The Air Tonight" was excellent with some superb sax playing from one of the stars of the evening, Gerald Allbright. "Against All Odds" was another excellent performance, once again gloriously enhanced by Mr Allbright's saxophone which tore through the air like a soul on fire. I was surprised when Phil introduced "Rad Dudeski" as a "new song" although it was certainly a lot better in concert than on record! Oleta Adams' set was breathtaking; she has one of most powerful voices I think I have ever heard, and her versions of "Make Someone Happy" and "New York State Of Mind" were amazing! She even singled yours truly out for special attention during her set because I was sitting there thoroughly enjoying myself - and she noticed!
The only weak spot in the set was the drastically re-arranged version of "Hold On My Heart" which even Phil admitted in his introduction, might prove difficult to recognise, and it DID! That apart, however, the rest of the show rates as one of the best I have ever seen Phil play. Once he settled in behind the drumkit he was relaxed and thoroughly enjoying himself. His percussive powers have not waned as was amply demonstrated during the drum solo that led into the truly awesome "Los Endos Suite" which made the concert worthwhile on its own. Phil finally emerged from behind the drums to sing a couple of numbers; "Just The Way You Look Tonight" and "Do Nothing 'Til You Hear From Me", which rounded off a special night.
So, yours truly is now a convert to the Big Band Jazz sound and on this showing I am sure that it will not be the last we see of Mr Collins in this incarnation - an excellent show all round!