The irony of the Genesis tour rolling into the Verizon Center for a sold-out show last night just as the “Walking with Dinosaurs” expo was packing to leave is just too rich to be ignored.
After all, when the punk and new-wave movements were exploding in the mid-1970s, their proponents and practitioners labeled progressive-rock bands as “dinosaurs.” Bands such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis were viewed as hopeless relics of a bygone era that could not be swept quickly enough into the dustbin of cultural history.
Of course, 30 years later, many of those dinosaurs not only still walk the earth, but regularly fill concert halls. Most of the punks, meanwhile, are slumbering quietly in the dustbin of musical history, amid rusted safety pins, torn T-shirts and bottles of green hair dye.
If nothing else, this Genesis tour — its first in 15 years — may help to dispel the myth that the group was little more than Phil Collins‘ backing band.
During a nearly hourlong delay for the start of the show (due to technical difficulties), this reviewer asked two young ladies sitting next to him if they had ever seen Genesis before. “No, we’ve never seen him [note the choice of pronoun] before,” was the reply. That expectation was probably fairly typical of the younger or more casual fans, who know Mr. Collins’ solo work far better than that of Genesis.
Perhaps to their consternation, the show included none of Mr. Collins’ solo hits.
But it did include a well-balanced, 22-song sampling of the Genesis catalog, dating back to the band’s 1973 masterpiece, “Selling England by the Pound,” when Peter Gabriel was still the lead singer. Keyboardist Tony Banks in particular showed why he is one of rock’s most melodic and versatile players. Although never as flashy or spotlight-grabbing as some of his prog-rock brethren of the keys (think Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson), Mr. Banks’ nonetheless is the true architect of the Genesis sound.
His deeply layered sonic textures lent an orchestral-like sweep and grandeur to “Cinema Show” and “Afterglow.” On darker, edgier songs like “Mama,” Mr. Banks wielded his synthesizer like a jagged, cutting edge tool that perfectly personified the warped-psychosis of the number.
Always a distinct stage presence — thanks to the double-neck bass and 12-string guitar that he frequently wields — Michael Rutherford also shone with inventive, harmonic bass lines that, by turns, added an against-the-grain complexity or reinforced some of Genesis’ most memorable melodies. He played six-string electric guitar at least half the time, delivering the hard-rock riffs of “I Can’t Dance” and “Land of Confusion.”
But let us not overlook the little bald guy in the middle, beloved by so much of the civilized world.
Mr. Collins, who divided his time between the lead vocalist microphone and the drums, is one of the finest rock singers of his generation. He proved to be equally adept with a simple love ballad like “Follow You, Follow Me,” an R&B-edged dance number like “Invisible Touch,” or a quirky prog-rocker like “I Know What I Like.” He’s also a master percussionist, as he demonstrated in a blazing drum duel with Chester Thompson on “Los Endos.”
Along with Mr. Thompson, the band was augmented by Daryl Stuermer on guitar and bass. Although never official band members, Mr. Thompson (formerly of the jazz fusion group Weather Report) has been in the concert lineup since about 1976, and Mr. Stuermer since about 1978.
The two-and-a-half hour show concluded with a two-song encore of “I Can’t Dance” and the “The Carpet Crawlers.” The light show was so spectacular that they could have sold tickets just to that — and there were also stunning visual backdrops for almost every song.
Although billed as a “reunion” tour, these current shows only bring back the three-man line-up of 1978-1992. Mr. Gabriel reportedly had agreed to join in but later backed out. It has been speculated that he didn’t want to blow his “coolness cache” by saddling up the old dinosaur once again. Too bad, because this show proved that a jog through the Jurassic has its rewards.