2007 Genesis Tour: Bad News For Europe; Worse News For The USA

The more I post, the more you can learn about my interests. Not only am I a fan of the golden age of science fiction (1953-1980), space opera (Star Wars, Farscape), and auto racing, but I am also a fan of progressive and art-rock. I don't consider myself to be hardcore. I don't drool at the thought of seeing a Magma or Dream Theater show. I only went to NEARfest once, and it scared me a little. But I am enough of a fan to enjoy most of the works of Pink Floyd, Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, Rush, some of the Yes family tree, some of the Roxy Music family tree (Brian Eno, especially), and most of all, Genesis.

Now I am not here to provide a history of the band, but let me wind-up to deliver this week's curious and depressing news.

Genesis is a band that has had more than one artistic peak, which makes them an exciting and interesting band to follow. They released six studio albums with Peter Gabriel at lead vocal. The last three of those albums represent the peak of Genesis as a five-member unit (Foxtrot (1972), Selling England By The Pound (1973), The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)). As many pro-rock fans know, Gabriel left the band following the Lamb tour, and after hundreds of auditions, Tony banks and Mike Rutherford agreed that their drummer, Phil Collins, would take-over singing duty. Genesis returned from the studio in 1976 as a four piece, and released two more great albums, Trick of the Tail (1976) and Wind and Wuthering (1977). Following the departure of the great Steve Hackett on lead guitar, Genesis transformed again.

Genesis remained a storytelling band. They had gravitated towards songs about medieval times, Greek drama, English country life, Scottish history, fantasy tales, and apocalyptic and/or futuristic tales. With Wind and Wuthering, they still brought-up cricket, afternoon tea, and 16th century Scotland. But they changed their tone a bit with their next phase. With their 1978 album And Then There Were Three, there were fantasy stories, a song about the gold rush, a complex emo-rock song in 5/4 time (Snowbound), and...a radio-friendly ballad! Follow You Follow Me was the first Genesis song to get the attention of large numbers of female listeners and eventually, female fans. Nothing wrong with that at all. But the narrative of the band from 1978 to this day reflects the band's artistic, personal, and political structure. Simply put, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, the two former public schoolboys and residents of little castles in Surrey, manage the band. Phil brings-in the most commercial, radio friendly material (which seems to have had an influence over Mike and his contributions since 1983 or so). Tony has consistently provided the best musical compositions. And the band has made sure that at least one long song is produced for each album (the final ones being Driving the Last Spike and Fading Lights in 1991). And perhaps most interesting, the band seems to get together and/or produce new material whenever Phil is going through a rocky phase in his marriage.

Really. That's how it works.

They recorded Wind and Wuthering in Vancouver in 1976. At that time, Phil's first marriage was slowly falling apart after just one year. Phil and Andrea Bertorelli divorced in 1980, after two more acclaimed Genesis albums were released. His angst over the divorce manifested itself in his finest solo albums, Face Value, and Hello I Must Be Going. That's a lot of good material over one failed marriage. In 1984, he married Jill Tavelman. During his second marriage, he released three more best-selling solo albums, picked-up some Grammies, and released two more albums with Genesis, not to mention two enormous singles (Against All Odds, Easy Lover) that helped canonize him into 1980s pop culture. 1987 saw Genesis and Peter Gabriel competing against each other for MTV VMAs and Grammies as the platinum counts mounted higher. The difference is, So was as commercial as Peter Gabriel would ever get. The last Genesis album with Collins on vocals, We Can't Dance (1991), sold a whopping 10 million copies, about half of them in the USA.

Phil left Genesis in 1996 as his marriage to Jill fell apart. Phil had a solo album up his sleeve with Dance Into the Light, which was a financial and artistic failure compared to his previous five solo albums. He found himself being commissioned by Disney to compose songs for both the Tarzan movie and Broadway show. He picked-up an Oscar for Best Original Song for that effort, and met and married the young Orianne Cevey along the way, followed by a move with his then 27 year-old bride to the English-speaking side of Geneva, where she borne him two children.

Phil is not usually as cold or as distant (or as WASPy) as his two public school-educated bandmates, Mike and Tony. But apparently Phil has shown a pattern of transmitting bad news via e-mail or fax. Some of his divorce-related communications were sent to Jill via fax in 1996. Now that's not as bad as Rudy Giuliani breaking the bad news to Donna Hanover in a public press conference, but still, that's cold. She fortunately walked away with a $30M settlement. We later learned that Phil's company ceased paying royalties to two members of Earth Wind and Fire, under the cold explanation that the two were overpaid, and so royalty payments for the Serious Hits Live CD would end. It seemed like an unprofessional way to end a 10-year relationship.

Last year, Phil and Orianne Cevey separated. Many fans speculated that it would lead to a Genesis reunion. And indeed it did.

As for live performances - Genesis world tours since 1986 have all followed a similar template. Whereas their shows of the late 1970s features a mix of lengthy older songs and shorter ballads, the tours over the last 21 years have cut the longer songs into medleys (particularly The Lamb, and the solo of Firth of Fifth). Two long songs from the 1980s have survived: Home By The Sea (parts 1 & 2) and Domino (parts 1 & 2). And the rest of the setlist has been filled with some classic hits (Turn it On Again), recent # 1 hits (No Son of Mine), and recent ballads (In Too Deep (released as a single in 1987), Hold on My Heart (released as a single in 1992). The encore has essentially been the same, which includes a truncated Tonight Tonight Tonight, and their biggest hit Invisible Touch.

In November 2006, Genesis announced that they were going to get back together, release a box set of their best material with Phil on vocals (1976-1982), and play songs they haven't played in years on the tour. They even hinted that they would drop medleys in favor of complete song performances. I didn't take it too seriously, and neither did most fans. When the first setlist was leaked, it was a real downer. With the exception of the Duke material woven into the medleys, it looked a lot like their 1992/93 setlist:

Behind The Lines / Duke’s End (medley)
Turn It On Again
No Son Of Mine
Land Of Confusion
In The Cage / The Cinema Show / Duke’s Travels (medley)
Hold On My Heart
Home By The Sea
Follow You Follow Me
Firth Of Fifth / I Know What I Like (medley)
Throwing It All Away
Drum Duet
Los Endos
Tonight Tonight Tonight (intro)
Invisible Touch
I Can’t Dance
The Carpet Crawlers

Ripples, In The Cage, Afterglow, Los Endos, Follow You Follow Me, and Carpet Crawlers stand-out as pre-1980 songs to be performed in their entirety. Not bad. But three of those above songs were performed in their early 80s tours. So it seems like an easy way to add songs back to the setlist rather than reach deeper into the catalog to play something that would truly be 'new' for even old fans. Granted, Ripples and Carpet Crawlers fit that definition. But being selfish, I would have wanted more. A complete song from Duke or Abacab would make me feel a lot better about this tour.

Also, Genesis fans would question why Throwing It All Away is in the set list while the songs from Duke are edited into medleys. Also infuriating would be the Firth of Fifth medley, in which guitarist Daryl Sturmer obnoxiously plucks extra notes into the solo, or the bit of The Cinema Show where Tony Banks' keyboard solo is truncated (at least in the European clips I have seen).

Furthermore, fans report that Tony's keyboard setup sounds low-budget and amateurish. Genesis should be supporting their box set and play more songs from the late 1970s. But instead, they continue to play 1980s top-40 hits and reduce Gabriel-era works into lazy and uninspired medleys. For the fans, it does not represent a compromise. It gives them no compelling reason to go to the show at all.

These blokes are hardly working and laughing once again to the bank.

Archetype and I are still seeing the September 16th show in Hartford, despite my argument above. He writes:

The British are coming… The British are coming…

The band Genesis is returning to the North American shores in the coming weeks and with it shocking news…..(warning: sarcasm in use) Rumors are abound of them changing the set list to accommodate the American audience.

Accommodate, indeed! What it really means is "dumbing" the set down to just the ultra-pop hits. Songs like Ripples will serve as the casualties. I am not sure who comprises the demographic that would rather hear In Too Deep over Ripples, but I venture to guess they are not really Genesis fans. Maybe in 1986 In Too Deep thrilled the pop-thirsty Yanks, but for the likes of myself and other hard core fans we saw it as the necessary evil to ring in another chance to see our boys tour.

Lets put aside the overwhelming desire for myself to see the entire quintessential group reunite, that being the current threesome (Tony Banks, Phil Collins, and Mike Rutherford) joined on stage with Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett (lead guitar). No offense to Daryl Steurmer and Chester Thompson but most have us have seen that version more so than the other line up. Perhaps that will come to fruition someday. Though I am reaching an age where it appears that the troubadours of my youth are really just an aged bunch that lacks the hunger of their preceding selves. Unparalleled success, I suppose, can bring that. Even Tony Banks in a recent interview backstage in Europe said as much, that not supporting an album has made the tour more relaxed and since they don't feel they need to win fans the pressure to perform is lessened.

I think something has been lost here. Perhaps I have loftier standards for a band that pushed the music world and especially the live gig presentation. While I am sure the visuals will dazzle, they have slipped a bit in the delivery of the music itself, whether it's the vocal range that slips with age or the virtuosity in the play or even the selection of songs themselves, this is not the Genesis I would necessarily have paid to see.

Truth is, though, I am paying to see them, the 16th of September in Hartford, Connecticut. Not a choice venue for me but they were purchased with the hope of them being true to their words in the press conference, of renewing the idea of Genesis being a band beyond the hits, so to speak. Well the vast majority are just that, the hits. And on the surface that is OK, but news that as they arrive on the North American leg of the tour that more hits will supplant less popular tracks breaks my heart. I have heard that stuff. Ripples is a beautiful song. It is a song that perhaps the majority of the American audiences may not remember in lieu of the popularity of the more recent ones, but it is a chance to re-introduce NA to a truly beautiful song. That is what a live show is about!

Supporting an album might just be what the doctor ordered, only instead of one that has yet to be recorded, how about one that was recorded a long time ago that has been forgotten on American airwaves? Say, A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering, and …And Then There Were Three , all of which were re-issued with bonus material just before the tour began? But not the tracks that keep showing up as medley pieces, but rather the very beautifully penned pieces that are not instrumentals such as Squonk, Entangled, Blood On The Rooftops, Say Its Alright Joe, Ballad Of Big, and Cul De Sac. Would the audience who is in the know not appreciate this? Would the audience that is not in the know not find these pieces beautiful?

More so than the unknown is the known, and I am referring to the legitimacy of certain songs in the live realm. I am sure Hold On My Heart and In Too Deep are fabulous singles in the catalogue, but they are not compelling live tracks. Live tracks should evoke the very senses not covered in the albums and should be more dynamic than the album cut. Neither of those two do that. Most bands fall short in the live realm, a product of over-production in the studio. Live gigs should ebb and flow with dynamism but to not include a song that proved to ascend beyond the album and basically had it all, Supper's Ready, and include songs that cannot reach further than the album cut seems as though the Genesis has lost track of its roots. They did not outsell Pink Floyd, but they out played them. Maybe "proggers" acknowledged the sheer magnitude of the abilities of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman when comparing them to Tony banks but Banks wrote better pieces than either of those two. He understood the power in less is more and when that combined with well timed crescendos would create epic moments that Genesis is most known for with the live material.

So, here we are on the verge of a let down. I am trying to remain upbeat about that press conference promise but I have trepidations. I beg the members of Genesis to reconsider any thought of changing the set-list from the European one. Though if you do, consider going the other way with it to re-examine older songs with the same commitment that you have to these newer pieces. Give us here in America another chance.

The latest interview with Mike & Tony supports the post above. They are discussing dropping Ripples in favor of In Too Deep. And my god are they grumpy. Look at that video greeting. Yeah. Thanks for sticking with two guys who were performing with vigor 25 years ago, but today are two grumpy millionaires from Surrey.

It's almost as if I treat them like members of the 2004 Red Sox. Sure, some of them were truly great players (Ortiz, Cabrera, Lowe, Arroyo, Schilling, Foulke). Some were unlikely heroes (Bellhorn, Reese). But others really were idiots. Some were evangelicals I wouldn't want to be seen with (Nixon, Varitek). But if I actually saw any them in the flesh, I would pay for their dinner, buy them a drink, or just thank them.

Genesis' greatest work is behind them and they will always be thanked for that. What's frustrating is how they could get right back on track now if they just dropped the medleys, and added some songs we fans really haven't heard in a while. Ababab. Snowbound. Squonk. Burning Rope. Entangled. Man of Our Times. Dammit.

And just last week, Phil revealed that the tour is a royal pain in the ass because it is keeping him away from his two youngest children, who are back in Geneva with Orianne Cevey. Boo hoo.

As my friend M says:

I'm so sorry I've given Phil over $100.00 of my money...now I owe him an apology too. I'm sorry Phil!! I didn't mean to keep you from your children. As a father I truly sympathize. I'm sorry I dragged you out of your home and forced you to do half ass versions of what was once great music.

I will keep an open mind, and follow this tour through the Genesis blogs. I will comment on the Hartford show after it takes place.