Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Genesis @ La Défense Arena, Nanterre - March 16th, 2022

Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford had put Genesis to rest fifteen years ago after their last reunion trek, and many of us assumed this was the end of the band. Collins' health issues made it seem unlikely that they would ever play again, let alone embark on a world tour and present an entire 2-hour concert. But right before the pandemic hit, it was announced that the core trio, now starting to really ressemble their Spitting Image puppets from the Land of Confusion video, would be resurrecting the stadium prog-pop behemoth for one last jaunt around the globe. Understandably, the endeavor was postponed, but it is now time for them to grace our shores with two concerts in Paris (well, Nanterre technically... close enough) and for their legions of fans to pay one last tribute to the group.

Genesis was always a strange beast. Even in their first iteration, they never really fit in with their contemporaries. As purveyors of idiosyncratic, arty, pastoral, theatrical, "progressive" rock, they were decidedly in a genre of their own: less jazzy than Soft Machine, less ostentatious than Yes, and more accessible than King Crimson. When they began their transition to pop megastardom, erstwhile drummer turned frontman Phil Collins also became the unlikeliest of pop stars: short, rotund and balding, he was the exact opposite of the image of a rock frontman as established by Mick Jagger or Robert Plant. Yet their slick new sound came to define the eighties.

Has there ever been another band where the chasm between two eras was that profound? Fleetwood Mac perhaps? In any case, whatever fans they lost when they streamlined their approach, they gained a hundred fold. Genesis and all of their former members and offshoot projects are all extremely successful in their own right: Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Peter Gabriel, Mike & the Mechanics have all maintained high level careers, some even selling millions upon millions of records and playing to the biggest crowds in the industry. And yet despite their success and the distance they've sometimes put between themselves and the seminal band, Genesis still casts a giant shadow in all of their careers.

Peter Gabriel has managed to move on completely, and he hasn't needed to play a Genesis song in decades. Steve Hackett keeps the flame of the old iteration of the band alive by playing the old repertoire to the delight of thousands of fans everywhere. But the hits that came to be the soundtrack of an era hadn't been played by their creators in a decade and a half. Those songs that captured an entire generation the world over need an outlet and only these guys have the legitimacy to present them to the audience.

Right at 8 pm, Genesis makes a bombastic entrance with Behind the Lines, followed by two more numbers from Duke. And from that moment on it's non stop for 130 minutes. Hit songs like Land of Confusion, Mama, I Can't Dance, and a slew of deeper cuts for the fans, including some excerpts from their progressive era: Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the Cinema Show, and my personal favorite, the instrumental section from Firth of Fifth and its exquisite guitar part.

The show is impressive, both on the musical and visual level. The light show is is breathtaking, and goes a long way to alleviate the fact that Phil Collins now performs seated. It's a sad sight to see this once dynamic frontman thusly confined, and it's a poignant reminder that this is one farewell tour that may actually be for real.

Collins is also no longer able to play the drums, which was his initial position while Peter Gabriel was fronting the band. His son Nic now fills those duties for the entirety of the show, taking over from Chester Thompson. Phil's voice has also somewhat deteriorated, but the backup singers pick up the slack. And  one thing that maturity hasn't dulled is the emotion in voice: it may not be as supple or powerful as it once was, but it's still just as emotive. Nowhere is it more apparent than on the "acoustic" segment of the show, and the re-arranged rendition of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which segued into No Son of Mine, which was one of the highlights of the show for this reviewer.

Hearing those wonderful songs played one last time by the people who created them was a real treat. The audience seemed to think so, too: they cheered and applauded and screamed throughout the whole set, four generations of music lovers coming together to see their heroes ride off into the sunset. Patrick Bateman could have written one hell of an essay.

It would have been incredibly satisfying for fans of the original era to see the band go full circle and end its career with appearances from former members, but for many reasons this was always unrealistic: Peter Gabriel has moved on decades ago, without looking back. And Banks, Collins and Rutherford were wildly more successful without their former bandmates than during their progressive era. If this is really the end for the band, then this is as good a send-off as one could hope for in 2022. 

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