Rock column, Mail on Sunday, June 17 2007
AOL Arena, Hamburg
Tesco put out a Father's Day advert during the week which said: buy
Dad one of these CDs and his dancing might improve. Among the discs
was the best of Genesis, who once released an album called We Can't
After a 15-year hiatus, Genesis have joined the sedate stampede of old
rockers mounting reunion tours. Their hi-tech stage design
incorporates a runway on either side, but it is hard to picture them
making much use of it.
Their music has become almost as elusive as they have. While Pink
Floyd's brand of prog rock has never gone away, the classic Genesis
sound - quirkier, more theatrical and less worldly - has gathered
cobwebs. Only their later, lighter stuff survives on the radio.
Beforehand, another critic and I were discussing if there were any
younger bands who Genesis had influenced. He came up with Elbow and to
some extent Simple Minds. Then there's Marillion. For a group who sold 130m albums, it's a
The upside is that the music has some freshness. And there are plenty
of people who still want to hear it. The tour is short by dino-rock
standards - 'it's not a tour,' Phil Collins has insisted, 'it's a
selection of dates' - but the venues, including Twickenham and Old
Trafford cricket ground in early July, are vast.
The Hamburg show, held on Friday in a 48,000-capacity stadium, is sold
out, and although it's pouring with rain, everyone turns up. Genesis
remain the sort of band who, if they are liked at all, are liked a
They come on early because of the rain and start with an instrumental.
Collins is back where he started in 1970, on the drum stool. All
evening he bobs back and forth, sharing drumming duties with Chester
Thompson, then jumping up and singing. Collins has played many roles
in a varied career, and tonight we get the powerhouse drummer, the
skilled vocalist and the cheery everyman. He reads out phrases in
German, handwritten on damp sheets of A4, and even brings a camera,
like a fan, and gets the sodden, ponchoed crowd to pose for him.
Alongside, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks are studiously unobtrusive,
two stars with the presence of session men. Banks is solemn-faced
behind his flotilla of keyboards; Rutherford, often with a 12-string
guitar, is smiley. All of them are wearing grey and black. Collins'
dress sense, always reliably bad, lets nobody down as he sports a
shiny black blouson with the sleeves rolled up. They are less
glamorous than some of their own stewards, but then glamour, once
Peter Gabriel left, was never part of their appeal.
The instrumental is followed by the solid chug of Turn It On Again,
setting the pattern for the evening: outbreaks of prog, interspersed
with Eighties singalongs and down-to-earth remarks from Collins. It's
as if two different bands are playing. The prog is better than I
remembered it and tighter than it was at the time, but there are still
passages of virtuoso tedium. The poppy numbers are the opposite -
amiable, but unambitious.
Among the really old songs, Afterglow stands out with its passionate
vocal and euphoric keyboards, I Know What I Like hits the spot with
its soaring chorus, and Domino is lifted by a piece of ingenious
showmanship as Collins gets the masses yelling and waving, section by
section. He even goes for a brief potter down the runway.
Among the merely quite old songs, Invisible Touch gets everyone going.
The crowd are on side throughout: they even cheer Drum Duet, which
does have a certain charm as Collins and Thompson throw heart, soul
and ageing shoulders into it.
Mark Fisher's stage design, which merges lights and video into one
giant pixellated backdrop, is probably excellent. It's hard to tell
from the side-on seating, where you can only get a sense of the whole
thing by studying the photos in the programme.
The sound is loud and clangy, perhaps for similar reasons, and
although the music is almost always interesting, you do feel the lack of a signature
song. Collins filled the gap instantly when he went solo and released
In The Air Tonight. It would have made no logical sense to play it here,
but it might well have been the highlight.