Tuesday, October 9, 2007


A friend of mine who is a jazz and classical musician used to work on Broadway musicals, and he told me this story. When Cats first hit Broadway, the show used the most cutting edge synthesizer sounds of the day; it was considered pretty hip, at least by Broadway standards. Broadway shows, he explained, rarely change anything about the production once the show opens. But seven or eight years in, the decision was made to update the synth tones, because they sounded so dated. You can probably figure out where this is going.

I attended Genesis’ recent Madison Square Garden concert with this same friend (a mutual friend hooked us up with a pair of tickets). My musician friend has rarely attended arena concerts – but after the show, he said that he felt that maybe Genesis might consider doing taking a cue from Cats. I thought it was an interesting comment: on one hand, Genesis, like most “prog rock” bands, aren’t big on changing the arrangements when they play their classics. Given the beatdowns that these bands have received for years from music critics, you can’t blame them for being a bit obstinate.

On the other hand, few prog rock bands – or any bands, period – have been able to evolve the way Genesis did through the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s. I don’t love everything the band has ever done, but I do respect the fact that, at a certain point, the guys said, "Well, maybe every song doesn’t need to be an epic." As adults, they addressed stuff that adults think about – relationships and the state of the world. Although always accused of being pretentious, they never made any pretensions of hipness, and I always respected that.

They have an interesting problem in concert: that they have at least four audiences to cater to: the people who love the Peter Gabriel-era prog stuff (and the longer pieces they’ve done with Phil Collins singing), the fans of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s rock radio stuff, the ‘80s MTV fans and the folks who like the adult contemporary stuff. I think they hit all the bases during the show.

Phil Collins isn’t just a great drummer, he’s also a great frontman, which is good because bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks have very little stage presence, and Rutherford is a very laid back player. The show wasn't like a religious experience, but I had a great time and I’m glad I went. They played most of my favorite songs from Phil’s era (notably the creepy “Mama,” the epic “Home By The Sea,” “Turn It On Again” “Throwing It All Away” – which I didn’t “get” until years after it came out, I think you need to have a certain amount of maturity to "get" some of these songs – “Follow You Follow Me” and a really rocking and fun version of “I Can’t Dance”) and Peter’s (“Firth of Fifth” and “The Carpet Crawlers”). The “Drum Duet” between Phil and their touring drummer Chester Thompson was pretty awesome, it reminded me of Stomp more than anything. I should also mention that touring bassist/guitarist Daryl Steurmer played some pretty great leads.

I bet Phil would have been down with making some changes to update their sound, but Mike and especially Tony are probably way too stubborn for that. And this tour isn't about proving how contemporary they are: I think it was about... well, money of course, but also I think Phil missed the guys. It was a nice way to say goodbye, because I don’t think that they are going to record more music or even tour much anymore. But when they did their last tour in 1992, no one really knew it was going to be their last. So it was a fine, if belated, goodbye. Anyway, here’s hoping they do it one more time – but with Peter Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett.

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