“Two Shakes of a Lamb’s Tale” - By Steve Hewitt.
Locations: - Cambridge Corn Exchange & The Royal Albert Hall, London.
Dates: - 22nd & 23rd April 2005
So here we are again. Courtesy of The Musical Box “time machine”, it’s back to 1975 for “the last great adventure left to mankind”…
With less footage from the original ‘Lamb’ shows than ‘Selling
England’, direct comparisons are that much harder, although some links
can be made from the numerous photos and the handful of 8mm “audience
recordings” that are around. Audio-wise, comparisons are easier, with
an abundance of Lamb shows out there to be found, if one has the deep desire
to track them down.
Still, once again the boys have done their homework (having reference to the original 24 channel recordings aiding immensely in this task) and for those people out there who didn’t feel it necessary to catch any of the shows on this tour – you missed something very special indeed.
Perhaps most of the audience at these shows, actually having the advantage of living with this epic album for three decades, are more receptive to its performance in the here and now (it is here, it is now!). Being only 5 at the time of the original tour, it would be impossible for me to do more than speculate about this subject, although I am certain that many would claim to have been able to enjoy it all the more, due to its ‘maturity’.
Even members of the mighty Genesis have been quoted saying The Musical Box play this monster better than they ever did! It would be interesting to hear their views on whether or not the shows were received better now, than they were originally. But it’s not for the likes of a mere mortal like me to be in a position to ask questions of that ilk to any of the band members who happened to catch the show from this side of the veil.
Taking the decision to accurately recreate the show visually, whilst playing the music as it appears on the studio album, would seem to be a double-edged sword. The Musical Box have had their work cut out attempting subtle effects and nuances that even Genesis didn’t keep in the shows (vocal distortions on songs like Back In N.Y.C and Grand Parade) and these are accomplished beautifully. The other edge though, means the use of the album fade-outs instead of the bridges or endings written for the live versions (with the exception of it.)
But now, to the business of the show itself…
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
As with some of the original live recordings, I half expected to hear a spoken intro into the first quarter. Just how often the shows were introduced by Peter originally I don’t know, but I suspect the likelihood of it dropped the further Genesis progressed into the tour. In truth, I think that any spoken intro would detract from the power of those opening, near naked ‘piano’ bars, played to perfection by Éric Savard (the first of the ‘new’ faces in the line-up), almost as much as an introduction to Watcher Of The Skies would. Then the rest of the band kicks-in as Denis Gagné leaps into action, playing P.G. to the hilt. The dry ice billowing from the stage making me grateful I wasn’t in the front row. Now amongst other things on this album (in my opinion), are some of the very best bass parts Mike Rutherford has ever contributed – the first of which is the backbone to the title track, handled skilfully by band stalwart, Sébastien Lamothe.
I was impressed as to just how fantastic the slides actually are (being the 70’s and all) and I’m not just referring to how they’ve stood-up to 30 years, but simply the ‘art’ direction of them. Fantastic imagery alongside the wonderful lighting handled deftly by Serge Morissette.
I particularly loved the slides at the start of Fly On A Windshield, although perhaps not for the reasons above (think about it). Guitarist, Francois Gagnon (the other ‘new’ face) really comes into his own at this point, excelling on one of Steve Hackett’s heavier moments from the show.
Now, whilst spontaneous applause is a wonderful expression of gratitude and appreciation for a fantastic performance, I have to say that I would actually prefer an audience to resist the urge to clap during a continuous suite of music. For instance, I didn’t really get to hear Broadway Melody Of 1974 over the “appreciation”. Still, my memory of it can fill in the blanks… Cuckoo Cocoon features a rare appearance of the flute on this tour as well as the first of many wonderful vocal harmonies between M.B.’s drummer, Martin Levac (the man with an uncanny resemblance to Phil circa 1981, both physically and vocally) and Denis, now going topless and bathed in blue light as he crouches in front of the keyboard riser.
Up next, with the audience clapping its heartbeat, is another of the shows highlights –
In The Cage is run through its paces with Denis in full Gabriel mode (as if he isn’t at any other point) recreating that fantastic footage from the German newsreel (as seen on the Songbook DVD (plug, plug). Again, we must have a special mention for the slides (Brother John with his tear of blood… etc. etc.) which can only be weighed up against the perfection with which all the musos deliver each and every piece of this epic amongst epics. Steve’s guitar parts are more prominent live than on the album. And while In The Cage was a song that Genesis improved every time they toured with it, it had a damn fine foundation to build on, as demonstrated here.
Complete with all of the albums vocal nuances, The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging really comes to life on stage. This is the song that for a long time, I felt let ‘side 1’ down, but it just goes to show that no opinion is set in stone.
Denis allows the band time to catch its collective breath, as he delivers the first of Peter Gabriel’s wonderfully humorous monologues; catching up briefly with the events just past and previewing what is yet to come…
Now trapped underground in an near perfect reconstruction of New York City, Rael is reminded of his first love, back when he studied his heart out (literally?) with a sex guide that led to a speed-record-breaking romantic encounter and was left holding a prickly porcupine (each to his own!?!). Back to the present, our hero follows the obsessive crawlers to a spiral staircase leading to a chamber containing 32 doors, just to face the dilemma of finding the only one that can lead him out…
So we’re Back In N.Y.C. and that “heartbeat” returns with a vengeance. All angst and attitude, Rael firebombs the set ‘rock’ in the first pyrotechnic display of the show (great!). Sébastien joins Denis for the backing vocals over the chorus and the song powers onward, with its unusual guitar part (that I had previously thought were keyboards!) and of course, that mighty bass-pedal on the last verse, shaking internal organs throughout the audience.
Hairless Heart offers a melodic respite after the ‘carnage’, accompanied with fantastic lighting and very illustrative slides (used for the ‘deluxe’ tour souvenir and the T-shirts).
Much hilarity follows with Rael on the riser behind the keyboards, Counting Out Time with his tambourine and framed by slides bordering on pornographic. Another of Mike’s finest of bass lines punctuating the piece.
Another crowd pleaser, Carpet Crawlers doesn’t disappoint. Steve’s dreamy guitar parts are again, more prominent live than on the album, juxtaposed by the swirling keys – beautiful and precise playing and four of the band harmonising on vocals. Although, I think someone could have pointed out to Genesis back in the 70’s, that there is a frog on the slides in stead of a salamander! (Sorry guys;-) N.B. this was the first of the songs that I noticed the lack of “live” ending on.
Finally, for ‘side 2’, we reach The Chamber Of 32 Doors. Another wonderful piece that really should have had more of a ‘life’ on subsequent tours than it did. With its rich guitars and sparkling piano ‘moments’, it is preferable if the audience waits for the final note before cheering.
We pause once more for breath as Denis continues the explanation of P.G.’s story…
With the aid of a pale, blind woman Rael finds himself alone in a cave where he is disturbed by two golden globes that dazzle him. Hurling a rock at the light causes the roof to collapse, trapping him in a pile of rubble. At this point Mr.Death comes for him (wearing a delightful costume of his own design) but somehow he manages to escape his fate and this rock pile to be raped by three snake women! They die of indigestion and get eaten for their troubles. The effect this has is to transform Rael into one of the “Slippermen” – now that’s one sexually transmitted disease no one seems to mention these days. Description of this malady leads to Denis alternating nightly comparisons with members of the rhythm section (in fairness, I hope the other guys had a mention on some other nights on the tour). He then has his ‘family jewels’ removed and placed in a tube, only to see them snatched away by a thieving raven that, when chased, drops the tube into the raging torrent at the bottom of a ravine. Tempted by the appearance of a “way out”, Rael is torn between escape and the rescue of his brother…
Lilywhite Lilith provides another heavier moment after all of this melodic stuff. Sébastien deftly handles the excellent bass parts as Martin powers on through with driving drums.
In summing up the musical equivalent of ‘fear’, Genesis produced something amazing with The Waiting Room, and to be able to watch just what is making those incredible “nasty noises” is just mesmerising. I was previously unaware of the clarinet or oboe during the opening minute of this piece (forgive my ignorance of wind instruments). Then to be treated to the ‘shadowplay’ as Denis Gagne conjures Mr.Death behind the centre screen is just chilling!
Anyway is another of my personal favourites from this album and as such have always felt it should have had a chance to shine outside of the concept (as well as having a longer guitar solo). Anyway, this gives Denis a chance to catch his breath, as he does what the Lamb of the title does, and “lies down” in front of the guitars on the left of the stage to deliver this wonderful Gabriel word-play, illustrated appropriately by skulls and bones (etc.).
While Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist had me in (silent) stitches as Mr.Death, looking a lot like a star from some “blacksploitation” picture, appears on a pogo-stick dispensing his “snuff-puff” stuff. I did miss Phil’s “sha la la’s” from the album on this one though (Martin, please take note).
Part of the theatrics I was most looking forward to, was the suspended cone for The Lamia, or “the windsock” as my friend Justin refers to it. (And you should all read his excellent new novel “Kásdejá’s Children” by the way – see review in previous issue of the waiting room – shameless plug). Having only seen photos of this spectacle up to now, I wondered just how effective it would be. I have to say, that it didn’t look quite as I imagined – possibly due to the lighting (?) which I know the band have painstakingly tried to recreate as near to the original show as possible. But there has always been more of a turquoise quality to the cone/light in those photos from ’75, as well as the sides of the cone seeming steeper. Perhaps this was simply down to the angle of the camera, but please feel free to compare photos if you have them available folks. As a spectacle, it has to be spectacular – and it is all that. The clever employment of simple effects utilised to great result. Musically, the quiet parts of the song accentuate the moment when Martin re-creates Phil’s classic drum fills. After the cone descends to the floor, Rael, with back arched and clutching his head, staggers away in pain. The theatrics of Denis, clothed completely in white and bathed in ultra violet, match the emotion of the guitar outro to this beautiful song. Unfortunately this is one of the songs where The Musical Box have opted to “fade-out” instead of incorporating the live ending.
Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats serves as a useful interlude as Rael is transformed into something grotesque – the lumpy… humpy… bumpy… SLIPPERMAN!
(The unfortunate side of these musical interludes being that some people suddenly feel the need to chat instead of just soaking up the atmosphere!)
One of the wonderful things with this show is that, through the cunning use of misdirection and lighting you can make things like the Slippermans ‘phallic shaped arrival tube’ seem to appear out of nowhere! All of a sudden your attention is drawn to this tube, that from the front looks like a “pumpkin with haemorrhoids” (to quote John, another friend who caught the show). The ‘creature’ emerges from it and we have arrived at The Colony Of Slippermen.
The song proper kicks in following successful inflation of the Slipperman's testicles. As one of Genesis’ most quirky moments, this song may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but you can’t fail to be caught up in the theatrics taking place in front of you. As we move through the segments of this epic (The Arrival – A Visit To The Doktor – Raven) I think you can safely say, we will never again see its like!
I won’t even attempt to describe the Slipperman. I am sure that most people reading this will have already seen photos of ‘it’ (if not, seek them out) and as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.
The atmospheric Ravine gives Rael/Denis the opportunity to escape his fate as a giant singing haemorrhoid, to return in familiar guise to croon mournfully as The Light Dies Down On Broadway. A dimensional gateway provides a way out for our protagonist, who instead opts to rescue from a watery death, his less than helpful brother John (boy, is he in for a surprise!)
Riding The Scree takes us back to the days of the old Cinema Show. The days when Tony Banks was the man with the fastest fingers in the West. The band is down to a three-piece (hinting at things to come) as the guitarist gets a much deserved break (“we know where you’ve been”). Unfortunately, this piece is another that ends with the fadeout-a-la-album instead of the live ‘transition’ the band wrote in for the live show and as such, is probably the one that I missed the most.
In The Rapids gives the band a chance to re-group and catch its collective breath, before launching into the big finale… it.
Rael appears in strobes, on both sides of the stage, before the lyric proceeds. Which was the real Rael? Well, you should keep your ‘eye on the ball’, shouldn’t you.
Between the pyrotechnics, some of the earlier slide images are re-used, framed by the boarder created by the letters from this short title, as the band make a request of the audience not to take the subject matter too seriously. Thankfully, The Musical Box break their “endings” rule here to end as the original shows ended.
The song, The Musical Box provides a familiar encore with
P.G.’s classic story-intro and much-loved theatrics (no slides).
While a song that needs no introduction, Watcher Of The Skies with its ‘new’ slides and blackened face, rounds off the show in spectacular fashion. Although I have to add, Watcher is a much better set opener than closer, but then – that wouldn’t be the ’75 tour would it?
So, was it worth the trip up from Jersey once again? - Oh yes indeed - these shows have given me an even greater appreciation for this fantastic album than I thought possible.
Thanks again to the guys from Canada.
I eagerly await the return of The Musical Box…