By Nick Krewen
Special to the Star
For what was potentially its second last performance ever in Canada, Genesis turned it on again for the Toronto crowd for the first of two shows at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday night.
It was a bittersweet event.
On one hand, the core trio of singer and ex-drummer Phil Collins, bassist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks – in their first local appearance since 2007 – celebrated a half-century legacy that has made them arena-and-stadium filling favourites, selling an estimated 150 million of their 15 studio albums over an astonishing career that has seen them evolve into mainstream hitmakers.
On the other, it was a reminder that age and related health issues eventually catch up with all of us, particularly Collins, 70, who now gingerly walks with a cane, is unable to wield drumsticks for any length of time and had to sit in his chair for nearly all of the band’s nearly two-and-a-half hour concert.
But that wasn’t the only incumbrance that Collins exhibited: vocally, he often sounded flat and his overall range was limited on songs like “Turn It On Again” and “Land of Confusion,” his overall intonation impacted due to the fact that he is forced to remain sedentary. As it stands, he was probably most grateful for the backing vocal support of Daniel Pearce and Patrick Smyth, who effectively bolstered Collins’ leads and also masked some of his tonal inconsistencies.
Yet, nostalgia is the balm that heals all wounds. Collins was never so off-kilter that you grimaced when you heard him reach for the deep notes on “Carpet Crawlers,” or slightly misfire on pitch during the occasional “That’s All” line, and as the amenable master of ceremonies, his charming “Uncle Phil” role was played to a tee, even throwing in a slightly ribald joke at the expense of a band member.
If Collins, 70, seemed a little frail, both Banks, 71, and Rutherford, 71, were pictures of health, ably dishing out performances on their respective instruments that ranged from simple to intricate, depending on what the passage demanded. Rutherford alternated between guitar and bass with the band’s veteran tour guitarist of 40 years, Daryl Stuermer, filling in all the six-string nuances whenever he was required. The drummer’s chair is now occupied by Collins’ son Nic, and needless to say, he’s a chip off the old block.
All in all, the show was a jovial occasion and as one might expect, the set list of the reunion tour christened The Last Domino? covered a lot of history: veering from landmark albums as far back as the golden Peter Gabriel years with snippets from 1973’s Selling England By The Pound and 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway to their last big studio hit, 1991’s We Can’t Dance.
There were some surprising exclusions: songs from Foxtrot, Trick Of The Tail, and Abacab didn’t make the cut.
There were also some surprising iterations: Tony Banks, whose fingers usually get a dextrous workout during the arpeggiated “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” was practically relegated to lounge pianist as the song’s tempo was slowed considerably to the point where it took a few lines before you realized the tune that Collins was crooning.
And as much as the Genesis catalogue relies on marathon time suckers – and considering that this is reportedly the band’s last hurrah – we could have done away with some of the teaser snippets of songs in favour of the whole thing.
Four lines of “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight?” Come on! A really abrupt transition from the lesser known “Fading Lights” into the instrumental second-half of “The Cinema Show?” Although the music was expertly executed, “The Cinema Show” is one of those classic gems where you feel slightly swindled when only a portion of the number is performed.
As for the rest of the bells and whistles, the sound was amazing; the light show and animated projections were visually arresting and the generally 40-ish-to-60-ish crowd, a bit subdued at first, warmed up to the point of wild exuberant by the time the band had completed its first and only encore – buoyed, perhaps, by the fun and extended sing-a-long version of “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).”
For this reviewer, The Last Domino? marked a full circle moment: my very first major interviews were with Banks and Collins just prior to their …And Then There Were Three spectacle at Exhibition Stadium back in ’78 – also my first major concert. I’ve never ceased to marvel how the trio’s fortunes in having relative Peter Gabriel-sound-a-like Collins stepping into the singer’s shoes post-“Lamb” has played out over the ensuing decades, maintaining that thirst for musical exploration while incorporating commercial sensibilities – and in the case of numbers like “I Can’t Dance” – even flaunting a sense of humour, to overwhelming popularity.
Although these goodbye shows mark the end of an era, when it comes to Genesis, Toronto fans will never truly have their Phil.