at Hartford Civic Center,
Hartford, CT
(16 September 2007)

"We are Genesis, and we are your entertainment for the evening." So said Phil Collins, dressed in an unassuming black jersey with gray pants, after the band had already played an instrumental from Duke as well as the tour's theme tune, "Turn It On Again." And that's what the next few hours had to hold for us: pure Genesis. No Peter Gabriel, no Mike & the Mechanics and no Phil Collins solo releases. Just a variety of progressive rock selections and love songs that the core threesome -- Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford -- created together during the last few decades. The trio was joined on stage by drummer Chester Thompson and guitarist Daryl Stuermer.

Yet there was no escaping the fact that Collins himself was the headliner of the show, the quintessential showman. He delivered his clear tenor tone above the driving bass beat of "No Son of Mine" while he casually leaned against the railing along the stage. And several times during the concert, he whipped out his own camera and took photos of the audience from as many angles as he could, without missing a note or a cue. During "The Land of Confusion," the crowd cheered as Phil grabbed a cell phone from a nearby fan and sang an entire verse to a lucky unknown listener. Now 20 years old, the lyrics still stand as an admonition to an overpopulated planet: "Too many people, too many problems, and not enough love to go around." And Collins remarked upon the age of much of the Genesis music, admitting that "some of us had hair when these were written."

Several times during the evening, songs that were never adjacent on recordings suddenly segued into each other. "In the Cage" featured Banks' adept fingers on the keyboards and Rutherford's bass line on a double-necked guitar, and led into the challenging rhythms of "Cinema." Accompanied by effects on the now-standard background video screen, the music would have been just as good without the distracting visuals. The pace slowed down with the theatrical "Duke's Travels," aptly followed by "Afterglow." Screen graphics helped pave the way for the transitions.

Out of complexity rose simplicity. Collins pulled up a bar stool to deliver the thoughtful and plaintive ballad, "Hold on My Heart" while Stuermer provided the bass and Rutherford was on rhythm guitar. Next up was the quirky "Home by the Sea," a story about "a scary house with scary people," said Collins. He did the drumming, and Rutherford really shined on lead. Even folks who didn't know much about Genesis got excited as Mike picked out the distinctive opening tones of "Follow You, Follow Me." Collins performed double duty on drums and vocals, and the sound of the group's first chart hit was accompanied by the screen antics of a cartoon character from one of the Genesis album covers.

If you were blindfolded when you heard it, you might think that "Firth of Filth" was classical enough to be done by Jethro Tull or Yes. This time, Stuermer starred on lead guitar, mastering its complications. "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" was a perky follow-up; and a chronological panorama of clips and photos from Genesis's history beamed behind the group. Collins had the audience fully in his pocket by then, getting everyone to shout "Hey!" in time to the music. But as soon as he had us up, he took us down again with the macabre heartbeat of "Mama." "Ripples" indeed created a water-like atmosphere. Rutherford dabbled on the 12-string portion of the double-neck, and Stuermer provided a wonderful interlude solo. Soon enough, it was time again for audience participation with "Throwing It All Away." Collins was the ultimate ringmaster, as everyone in the crowd imitated him and clapped and sang the repetitive phrase. The multi-faceted strains of "Domino" continued to show off the dynamics of the entire band.

When Collins went on the road for his Both Sides solo tour in 1994, his theatrical set list began, not with a real song, but with a drum duo with Ricky Lawson. He brought that concept back to Genesis. He and Chester Thompson faced off, mano a mano, in western gunfight fashion ... and they began tapping on the tops of two upholstered stools, the kind found in any 1960s kitchen. Their beats -- sometimes call-and-response, sometimes simultaneously mirroring or dueling -- eventually led them to their respective drum sets, where they both wowed the crowd for what seemed like hours. If you hadn't earlier suspected you were in the presence of musical professionalism and greatness, you certainly had no doubt by then. By itself, that one encounter was almost worth the total price of admission.

The night began to wind down with "Los Endos," featuring Banks' distinctive keyboard work and Rutherford's sustained bass. "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" slowed the pace even further, and that tune progressed into "Invisible Touch." Both from the late 1980s, the songs were reminiscent and indicative of the music of that time, and both have catchy lyrics that are easy for listeners to hang on to. "And now it seems I've fallen, fallen for her. She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah; she reaches in and grabs right hold of your heart." It doesn't seem that long ago we sang along with those words whenever we heard them on the radio. The last chord was punctuated with fireworks, and everyone went wild. The concert was essentially over.

But not quite. The group returned for its well-deserved encore. As the cheering and applause died down, Rutherford began to pluck out low punchy notes on his guitar, easily recognizable to the audience. Say what you will -- and Genesis purists will claim they hate this song -- you cannot stop yourself from snapping your fingers and smiling when Collins' voice rises above the riff of "I Can't Dance." And yes, for one chorus they strutted in time across the stage, with Struermer standing in for Banks, who was trapped behind his piano. Sometimes the simplest songs are best. It's too bad the set designers didn't choose to run the VH-1 video behind the group for this song. It would have been fun seeing Phil again wrestling with the dog on the beach or standing up to the bullies in the pool hall.

The show closed with "The Carpet Crawlers," which was an odd choice for expressing finality. Maybe the chorus of "We've got to get in to get out" was a cryptic message to send us home. In spite of ending on a low note, the Genesis performance was overall a spectacular one, and many a pleased fan left the arena.

by Corinne H. Smith
19 January 2008

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