“Smoke and Mirrors ” The Musical Box present … A Trick Of The Tail in concert at the Philharmonic Hall Liverpool Tuesday 14th October 2008. Review by Alan Hewitt.

The very idea that a Genesis tribute band would attempt to accurately re-create either the A Trick Of The Tail or Wind & Wuthering live shows would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago. Mind you, re-staging The Lamb… was equally unheard of too. That was until The Musical Box came along and over the last ten years began lovingly re-created shows from 1971 to 1975 in stunning detail - I can vouch for this, I wouldn’t have travelled to Canada three times to see them if they weren’t much cop!

A Trick Of The Tail is an entirely different proposition to the albums that preceded it, however. For a start, Phil had replaced Peter up front, leading to an entirely new kind of performance both visually and vocally. How would TMB’s front man; Denis Gagne, cope with this different style? As a replica Gabriel, he was frighteningly realistic. As Phil… well we shall see.

The first thing I noticed was how poorly attended the show was. I only purchased my ticket the day before the gig and was about half way back in the stalls. Unusually, the circle was closed and at show time I would say that less than half of the seats in the stalls were full - unheard of for previous visits by the band! In fact, after the first two songs many of the audience seated at the sides rushed to fill the vacant central seats! The band emerged to desultory applause and the show began with the awesome spectacle of Dance On A Volcano which set the tone for the entire show. Visually, it was as authentic as you would expect from The Musical Box. Musically however, it was a somewhat muted performance of this classic Genesis track.

One of the delights of the 1976 tour were Phil’s increasingly corny between-song stories. Sadly, they were completely missing here and unfortunately, Denis, who had done his darnedest to actually LOOK like Phil, sounded NOTHING like him and this was to be a major irritation throughout the show. What surprised me most though was the astonishing lack of research into the detail of the “stories” after all; Peter’s had been reproduced faithfully - word for word in many cases so why not here, after all there are no shortage of bootleg recordings from this tour! The “stew” of tracks from the Lamb… worked better, perhaps it was because this was material which I am sure the band could play in their sleep! Another quibble though was that (and here perhaps the band were being a touch TOO authentic) the guy taking Steve Hackett’s part was at times inaudible and it can’t be blamed on the acoustics because the Philharmonic Hall has one of the finest acoustics in the country! Sebastien, gave a thundering rendering of Mike’s parts on double neck and bass pedals while the rest of the band quietly raged around him.

Cinema Show and Robbery Assault & Battery nicely segued the “old” and the “new” Genesis quite nicely but once again. Denis’ vocals let the side down and the attempt at a Cockney accent during the latter was almost laughable, especially as he seemed to be rushing the intros which only served to make his French accent even more evident. Musically though, the rest of the band were as adept as ever while the guy replicating Bruford’s paradiddles did a proficient job throughout. I was however, somewhat dismayed to find out after the show, that it was not Denis who did the job of Phil on the percussion this time but another drummer!

The highlight of the show for me came next. White Mountain has always been a firm favourite of mine and so I was looking forward to hearing it live and thankfully the boys did not disappoint. Musically, this was as exquisite a performance as I have ever heard from the band while Denis managed to pull off a fine and dramatic vocal delivery.

Firth Of Fifth is yet another classic where the entire band should have had the chance to shine and yet once again, Steve’s parts were conspicuously low in the mix - especially during his solo, spoiling the whole effect as far as I was concerned . Entangled too was lacking in several departments and once again both vocalist and guitarist were disappointing in their delivery. Squonk redressed the balance though with a solid rocking version which definitely gets my thumbs up for all concerned.

Supper’s Ready and I Know What I Like are, once again songs which this band should be heartily familiar with and so why once again, didn’t they hit the spot with me? Well, in the case of the former, maybe it was because it appeared to being played at the gallop which really took the shine off - maybe the band, disappointed with the turnout decided to get it over with as quickly as possible, who knows? Even the knockabout fun of I Know What I Like couldn’t restore what was rapidly becoming a major disappointment for me. Returning to the stage after their bows, the band left us with Los Endos and It/Watcher Of The Skies which were, it has to be said, performed competently but soullessly really and then that was it, our trip back to 1976 was over for the night.

I had always hoped that one of the tribute bands would attempt to re-create the magic of the 1976 and 1977 shows and on previous showings, I was sure that The Musical Box were the ones to do it. Sadly, in this case, the performance did not live up to the anticipation or the hype - and certainly not the ticket price! In many case, the band looked as if they were going through the motions as if playing this music was a chore instead of the joy it should be and that certainly rubbed off on the audience who were not as fulsome in their appreciation as a Liverpool crowd usually are. I admire Denis Gagne enormously as a performer but I have to say, the decision to use him as singer this time was a BIG mistake. He did not look comfortable in the role which was given to him and it showed. The rest of the band too, excellent musicians though they are, looked somewhat bored by the proceedings too, and their individual playing lacked a good degree of bite at times which was disappointing. In fact, they actually looked like a TRIBUTE band instead of persuading me to suspend my disbelief which had always been the case on previous occasions. It was also irritating in the extreme to find out after the event that a SIXTH member of the band had been present whenever a drum duet was required - surely this should be classed as CHEATING? This was NOT an accurate re-creation of the show not least for the reason outlined previously but also because practically all of the between song patter had been left out whereas it had been so lovingly recreated on previous outings. There is no excuse for this, surely the band have had access to the same bootlegs from this tour as I have? I had been prepared to give the band kudos here but this really set the seal on a very disappointing show. £35.50 is a LOT of money to ask any fan to shell out for a show which promised so much and yet delivered so little and at this rate I have to say that if The Musical Box were to be foolhardy enough to return to the UK to perform the majestic Wind & Wuthering set with this current line up, I would be very reluctant to be taken in by another helping of smoke and mirrors!

Note: I apologise for the lack of photographs to accompany this review. This is down to the band’s ludicrous decision once again to ban all photography at the gig - they really should realise by now that they are only a tribute band and not the real thing and owe their very status to the generosity of fans who provided them with audio/visual materials with which they have been able to re-create these shows in the first place!