Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Genesis: The Re-evaluation of John - Chapter 18: The Way We Walk

Following hard on the heels of their 1992 album, 'We Can't Dance', Genesis embarked on a wide-ranging tour of the USA, Europe and the U.K. This was to prove to be their final concerts together until the reunion tour in 2007, as Phil Collins would quit the band in 1996. But posterity was served as some of the concerts on that tour were recorded and subsequently released, augmented by three tracks from 1986 & 1987, as two CD sets: 'The Shorts' & 'The Longs' in November 1992 & January 1993. For the sake of this article I'm considering both collections together.

'The Shorts', as it suggests, has 11 songs running between 3½ and 7 minutes, all drawn from the band's 'popular' period. It is, effectively, a concert performance of their greatest hits. 'Land of Confusion' opens the show - a faithful rendition, with the large, enthusiastic German crowd joining in the 'whoa-oh's. 'No Son of Mine' follows, with Collins demonstrating his tendency to not be able to leave an instrumental passage without scatting over the top of it, and then 'Jesus He Knows Me' which rattles along at a fair pace, and includes some 'preachy' ad lib-ing towards the end. We move from Germany to Knebworth for 'Throwing It All Away', with Phil and the crowd sparring with the opening gibberish, as well as later on. 'I Can't Dance' allows for some improvisation, though it takes a little time for the German crowd to realise which song it is. 'Mama' is the first of two songs from July 1987's Wembley show - a large crowd in fine voice, though Collins does seem to be finding some of the higher notes a bit of a struggle (a number of songs on these albums were apparently played in a lower key to help his voice). This is a good version, with some passion and power coming through in the singing and some great guitar work. 'Hold On My Heart' is a faithful version, which just seems to drag on a little, almost as if they'd not really worked out how to finish it. 'That's All' is again from Wembley 1987, and is clearly a crowd-pleaser, with a good guitar break at the end. 'In Too Deep' is the earliest recording on the set, from October 1986, and to be frank Collins' voice sounds the best it has so far: clearly touring, and a flourishing solo career, was beginning to take its toll. The set ends with a segue from Invisible Touch, beginning with a cut-down version of 'Tonight, Tonight, Tonight' (just the opening section) which flows into 'Invisible Touch', with the obligatory f-bomb and an extended play-out with some reggae-style chops. On the whole a good record of their live performances of the new, more accessible Genesis, though it does seem to lack a certain amount of spontaneity - just a little too clinical really. But maybe the length of the songs doesn't allow for too much of that?

'The Longs' comprises 6 tracks, 5 of which clock in at 10 minutes plus, and demonstrates the more progressive side of the band (not as overtly dominant in their later years as in their formative ones). All of the songs are taken from 2 nights played at the Niedersachsenstadion in Hanover, Germany (as was a large part of 'The Shorts'). The set opens with 'Old Medley', which does exactly what it says on the tin - a collection of tunes from the classic period of the band. It starts with the opening section of 'Dance on a Volcano', sliding seamlessly into 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' (minus the third verse). As this winds down Collins can't help slipping in a 'Tonight, Tonight, Tonight', before the classic segue into the closing section of 'Musical Box' (as per 'Seconds Out'). We're then into the instrumental section of 'Firth of Fifth' with Daryl Stuermer taking Steve Hackett's part on the guitar and giving it a slightly rockier feel. The medley ends with an extended jam based around 'I Know What I Like' which, confusingly for an Old Medley, brings in brief excerpts from newer songs after Phil's obligatory tambourine dance - 'That's All', 'Illegal Alien', 'Your Own Special Way', and 'Follow You, Follow Me', with a bit of 'Stagnation' uncredited towards the end. Clearly both the band and the crowd enjoyed themselves immensely: shame there's not more of their older material on show here. Following that 19½ minute feast, we move to some of their more contemporary material. 'Driving the Last Spike' from 'We Can't Dance' tells the story of the building of the railways in England in the 19th Century, and is faithfully played: there doesn't seem to be much space in the song for any elaboration, anyway. 'Domino' follows, and seems to lack some of its oomph, with the keyboards a little high in the mix at the expense of the drums in the 'Glow of the Night' section. They also seem a little keen to get into the 'Last Domino' - the transition seems to lack some of the tension of the studio recording for me. Last Domino rocks nicely, but seems to end a little abruptly. 'Fading Lights', the other long song on 'We Can't Dance' is next - a solid rendition - followed by the 'Home By The Sea' suite. The transition from 'Home...' to 'Second Home...' is a little better than the 'Domino' one, but the guitars seem a little quiet in the mix in 'Second Home' as opposed to the keyboards, until around the 8:40 mark when they start to come into their own. We end with what had become de rigeur at Genesis concerts ever since Chester Thompson joined the live set up: a 'Drum Duet' between him and Phil Collins. The two know each other's styles very well, and play off each other wonderfully, switching tempo effortlessly. Maybe not quite up there with the 'Seconds Out' duet, this one comes close, and demonstrates what exceptional drummers both of these guys are (or at least were).

As a collection, these two albums demonstrate that Genesis, even at the height of their commercial success, were still a live force to be reckoned with, despite Phil Collins starting to show signs of deteriorating as a performer. Sadly this band would not perform again for another 15 years, but this record stands as testimony to their tightness as a live unit, drawing crowds in their tens and even hundreds of thousands to hear songs old and new.

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