The Musical Box play The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway with special `encore` guest Phil Collins. Grand Casino, Geneva 24th February 2005. Review by Stuart Holmes.
Thursday arrived with yet more snow outside my bedroom window and the thought of driving 3 hours to Geneva from my home in northern Switzerland in blizzard conditions made it all the more harrowing. Still, as every hardy Genesis fan will tell you, this is an event which one should not pass by lightly. The chance of seeing Phil back where many say he truly belongs, behind a Gretsch drum kit playing those old Genesis classics. Rumours had risen late last year that Phil may make an appearance, but these were quashed by Phil himself announcing that he had prior engagements. Now maybe it was the bad weather on the ski slopes that made him change his mind and had swung things in the group`s favour. Who knows. Whatever the case, I count myself eternally grateful of what I witnessed on this this very special Thursday evening.
The Grand Casino nestles amongst the chic shops on the Quai de Mont Blanc below The Geneva Hilton and has a seating capacity of just 1600. My good friend Willem Beens first told me that Phil would be making an appearance, most notably for the encore of The Musical Box. Well needless to say, this fan didn`t need much more persuasion and a ticket was duly purchased from the german entertainment group who were organising the sales. And to think that I`d originally reserved tickets for the Strasbourg show on the Saturday Feb.26th, only to think twice and cancel, partially due to lack of interest from my friends and the wife! So this was to be a lone venture down to Geneva on a bitterly cold day of –10 C. When I arrived a queue had started to form at the box office for their reserved seats. After a 45 minute wait and with the brisk breeze blowing in from the lake, the doors opened and gave me my first glimpse of the merchandise on offer. No DVD as it appears it`s been delayed, so I settled for the souvenir of a lush gatefolded programme, reminiscent of the original Lamb LP sleeve which included a forword from Phil himself.
A total of 455 seats had been sold when I phoned 3 days ago, and now the place was packed to the brim on the announcement Phil would be appearing! Second row centre stage, couldn`t ask for much more than that as I took to my seat. The stage was smaller than I thought it would be plus a distinct lack of all things state of the art! We were being hurled back to 1974 / 1975 and the better for it! This was to be a re-enactment where hopefully every detail had been accounted for, after all, The Musical Box have grown in stature since their humble beginnings performing Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme.
At precisely 8.45 pm the band entered from stage right and candidly began with a less than powerful opening of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. For Francois Gagnon (lead guitar), Sebastien Lamothe (bass & 12 string ), Denis Gagne (vocals / flute / bass drum), Martin Levac (drums/ vibes) & Eric Savard (keyboards) this was to be perhaps their biggest test with Phil watching from the audience. If the opener felt hurried, Fly on a Windshield set the mood for the evening with some great guitar work accurately re-created alongside a thundering bass. By the time the band launched into In The Cage, Denis had his confidence flowing in abundance. There have been critics who have dissected every note he sings, some saying his vocals arn`t strong enough and the rasp and gutsy sound that Peter had in his voice isn`t there. It`s a point well taken, he doesn`t possess the dry wit either, nor the Monthy Pythonesque silliness so often associated with Peter during his early years with Genesis. But what he lacks in that field he more than makes up in re-enacting Peter`s stage persona, gyrating hips, the mimes and the story telling. He`s got it down to an art form and tonight he confounded the critics with a display of pure theatre of which this fan can offer nothing but praise.
More antics from Denis during The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging, which took me by surprise not least in his choreography, which makes me think he`s had access to tape material this fan hasn`t seen! This one was again well received, Denis screaming and repeating GRAND PARADE before a pounding drum beat brings part one of the story to a close.
`I see faces and traces of home………Back In New York City`. Denis is Rael, a rebel in full black leather jacket and white t-shirt, a tough kid who likes to see some action and tonight was no exception! Arguably the first punk song? There is no doubting it is a classic song delivered with real drama, one of the highlights of the night with Martin exceptional on drums. A gift at pounding the toms he has, not unlike Phil in many ways. Phil though had the flair of the cheeky fills or the need for space, whatever was required, plus he hit and can still hit the drums like no other as we witnessed tonight.
Hairless Heart is a personal favorite of mine and watching Martin hit the the vibes made me wonder why Phil never introduced them more on his later work. If you listen to the various bootlegs available, Phil is indeed an accomplished vibe player. Unfortunately for me this didn`t work as it should have done. Francois played it okay, note for note but it was sadly missing the weeping sounds that Steve used to generate, not enough emotion in the guitar and
I expected a more dominating guitar prescence on this one. The bubbly Counting Out Time on the other hand was again note perfect with Martin & Denis exchanging nonsense jibberish and a chance of hearing how uncannily similar Martin`s voice is, as well as his posture at the kit and his cropped beard is to Phil`s! Next up, Carpet Crawlers. This remains a true Genesis classic and rightly so, and the gentlemen this evening did not dissapoint with Denis showing he has the soul in his voice to carry this one through with passion and ease.
Chamber of 32 doors was followed by Denis`s introduction to the final stage of the performance, starting off with Lilywhite Lilith and an extraodinary version of The Waiting Room. It`s a weird track that just got weirder in my opinion. ( It certainly lost and confounded the woman sat next to me!) But it was performed brilliantly, with Sebastien given almost a free reign to experiment his bass skills ! I did get the feeling though that the guys didn`t quite know whose job it was to single the fade out! Next up was `Anway`. Now, I love the intro to Anway, but this version seemed rushed! Eric played it wonderfully, in fact I didn`t hear a bum note from him all night. It was just played a bit too fast, which meant the emotion of the song suffered and seeped. It certainly lacked Tony`s gentler, more refined piano intro. It`s down to character representation at the end of the day !
The Lamia on the other hand was a group highlight last night. `The scent grows richer, he knows he must be near. He finds a long passageway lit by chandelier` A lovely build up with Denis enclosed in a curtain of colour before stepping out in a white body suit and black face net. Francois`s guitar solo did Steve proud. Peter has never written a better lyric as far as I`m concerned. The Slipperman appeared via what resembled a huge inflatable condom layed in the middle of the stage, with Denis attaching a compressed air hose to his backside, thus enlarging his genitalia ! All went well until he tried to get the hose detached so that he could start the song! Finally with a tug, off came the hose, making a loud hissing noise which was picked up by the microphone and thus greeted with laughter and applause all round. A moment I`m sure Phil enjoyed as he sat in the audience.
What must the crowds back in 1974/75 have thought, bearing in mind that they had yet to hear the album? Quite bizarre and so very typical of Peter! The man has always been technically ahead of his time. It hasn’t always been to his advantage, particularly if you are a fan waiting for the next project to appear in your local CD store. But he has vision and he had the vision back then, when others were doubting his very sanity he just pushed on through. The fact that The Lamb as a project is raved more than most other Genesis projects is an aknowledgement to that vision of one very unique entertainer.
In The Rapids had the Rael dummy appearing and disappearing amongst a dazzling white light strobe. The finale `It` brought the house down `It is Real, it is Rael` as the performance came to a close and justifiably the band were given a standing ovation.
The group stayed on stage, looking somewhat bewildered, with Martin adjusting his drum stool and wiping the sweat from his eyes. Calls for Suppers Ready and The Knife were quickly deafened out as Phil Collins, maestro drummer bowed to a now ecstatic Geneva audience. For a crowd of 1600 they certainly made their mark! With his drum sticks aloft and hands together in praying mode, all Phil was hoping for was that the next ten minutes run smoothly! The Story Of Henry & Cynthia followed, giving Phil time to re-ajust the snare drum, raise one or two cymbals and try and get used to an unfamiliar drum set.
Hushing the audience down, the intro to The Musical Box began. `Play me old King Cole, that I may join with you, all your hearts now seem so far from me, it hardly seems to matter now` the lyrics had this fan fighting back the tears! `Play Me My Song` sang Denis, of which Phil replied `Here It Comes Again`. Play Me My Song, `Here It Comes Again`. With head tilted to his microphone above his head and eyes closed, Mr. Collins was in trance mode! Tapping the cymbals Phil looked at ease considering he hadn`t played the song in its entirity for 30 years! Then the second time round. `Play Me My Song` Denis now totally enjoying the moment. `Here it comes again` with Phil rounding off the last part of `againnnnnn`, before totally exploding into the drum frenzied middle section and the wash of mellotron. The sheer power and flair around the drum kit was like watching Fred and Ginger tap out a dance routine, absolutely breathtaking! Denis re-appeared right on queue, stepping up to the microphone as the old man, `Brush back your hair and then `why don`t you touch me, touch me, now now now now now`, with Phil belting out the final beats and Denis collapsing flat on the floor, probably wondering where his years of listening to Genesis records had taken him! The climatic notes had the audience on their feet, rarely have I heard such a response from an audience big or small. Not even for Peter`s last two Up outings. Phil has always gone down well here, with the locals taking him to their bosom and adopting him as their own.
With a huge smile on his face, Phil waved to the audience, lined up and took three bows with the band, followed by big hugs all round ! There was to be no Watcher Of the Skies, but this crowd left the Geneva Casino knowing how lucky they had been to witness Phil back behind a drum kit playing vintage Genesis material. I really do think it`s a mis-conception by the band in thinking that no one could possibly be interested in seeing their pre 1976 material live. And I think ticket sales by The Musical Box have proven that people still love to see such material performed again. Whether it could actually happen or not ultimately lies in the hands of Mr.Gabriel. Let`s hope it won`t be too long before we get to see and hear more vintage Genesis material on stage again.
Mr.Pebble (Stuart Holmes)