"Hello, I Really Must be Going" - Phil Collins' Final Farewell Tour reaches Manchester. Phil's gig at the MEN Arena Manchester 28th June 2004. Concert review by Alan Hewitt.

The pre-gig music at this gig should have been Frank Sinatra's "My Way". Nothing else quite sums up the atmosphere at this gig. With Phil going on record as saying that this was to be his last full scale tour; expectation was high and the MEN Arena was full with eager fans, and he certainly wanted to do it "his way"!

As Phil had explained to myself and John Wilkinson during our interview prior to this gig; this show was to be a celebration of the music that Phil had created during his solo career. The stage set up was impressive, including what looked like the circular video screen from Pink Floyd's last two extravaganzas suspended over the stage almost like a throwback to the "mirrors" on the And Then There Were Three tour in 1978.

The set list had already been the subject of discussion both on the Internet and also with Phil but even so when the band emerged on stage I was surprised by the opening gambit of an extended drum trio between Phil, Chester and Luis Conte leading into Something Happened On The Way To Heaven which got the set off to a suitably raucous start from Phil's ever-expanding band even with Chester fluffing the intro! It was evident from the word go that this was a party and not a wake and I for one intended to make the most of it.
Click to enlarge

Against All Odds and A Groovy Kind Of Love were delivered impeccably and continued the celebratory mood of the evening. One More Night was a definite highlight which lulled us into a false sense of security before the tempo hotted up with a storming version of Don't Lose My Number. Almost at every juncture I was transported back to the gigs when I had first heard Phil play these tracks… in the case of this one Manchester's very own Apollo Theatre some NINETEEN years before… was it really THAT long ago? Either way the music is still as superb as ever.

You'll Be In My Heart was a nice addition from the Tarzan soundtrack ;an underrated album which has some great music on it including this track. Can't Stop Loving You and It's Not Too Late also demonstrated that Testify was a greatly underrated album. The former was delivered in an up tempo form and the latter was an emotional slow number both of which came over far better live than on the studio album. The surprise addition of Come With Me added a sentimental touch to the show without descending into mawkishness - a delightfully poignant performance.

Click to enlarge
Another Day In Paradise simply gets better every time I hear it… the visual display on the video screens behind the stage outlining details of homeless statistics here in the UK and elsewhere added poignancy to the track and the band put 110% effort into the performance. Separate Lives really showcased the vocal talents of Amy Keys and Arnold McCuller and it was here that Phil struggled with the vocals although with the performances from Amy and Arnold to compensate, this did not really matter too much. Phil's voice faltered at several points during the gig but never to the point that it detracted from the performance and to be honest, with the noise the audience was making I am surprise Phil didn't simply let us do the singing anyway!

Another different introduction took us into the drama that is In The Air Tonight but as soon as Daryl ripped the hairs off the back of my neck with his guitar solo we were back in familiar territory and the performance was a stunningly dramatic one.

Other highlights for me included Dance Into The Light which for some obscure reason made me cry… maybe the emotion of the evening finally got to me who knows? (Who cares?). Sussudio and I Missed Again continued the party atmosphere before Phil's wonderfully emotional version of Always during which he took the opportunity to thank the fans for their loyalty and dedication, slowed things down.

And what could end the show? What else… Take Me Home in an extended format which I thought was never going to end. The audience reaction was phenomenal and I am sure each and every member of the capacity crowd would have loved to take Phil and the band home. Sadly that really was it, an emotional show performed with gusto and bravura.

OK, so the criticisms of the set list and the visuals can easily be laid to rest. Let's get it straight… this show was a CELEBRATION of Phil's music not a WAKE! A heartfelt thank you from him to his fans for their steadfast loyalty and who enjoyed every minute of the show. Yes, the hits were played… but there were different versions and several tracks which had not been played before. Yes, Phil pandered to the majority… so what? The majority are the ones who supported Phil and it is they who have attended the gigs over the years. The show was a supreme example of just how excellent an entertainer Phil is… the band were tight, and musically superb as you would expect, visually the show was tasteful without being overpowering and detracting from the musical performance (unlike certain ahem, other recent performances!). I for one am proud to regard myself as a Phil Collins fan… this show sent Phil off with a bang and not a whimper and his fans went home with great big smiles on their faces, and as such it will be remembered by each and every attendee at this and every other gig on this tour. Nostalgia was acknowledged, but not wallowed in - thanks for the memories, Phil!

Click to enlarge