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the phil collins big band

Live in Germany '98


It was in summer 1996, long before the Trip Into The Light tour, that Phil Collins put together his first big band and played eight shows in Europe. Apart from the horn section of the WDR big band he also took Daryl Stuermer, Nathan East, Tony Bennett and Quincy Jones on tour. It was obvious that Phil fulfilled an old dream of his with this tour, but it seems he also awakened a longing that could not be stilled with a couple of shows. He used the quiet months after the Trip Into The Light tour in late 1997 to prepare another series of big band shows. The tour schedule consisted of some 20 shows in the U.S., France and Switzerland. Two shows were scheduled for Germany (where he had not played in 1996), at the Waldbühne Berlin (08/07) and on Roncalliplatz, Cologne (09/07).

One has to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate these shows, for you cannot compare a big band concert to your usual pop show. Apparently some people lacked the appreciation – why else would a not so small number of “fans” get up and leave the concert after two songs.

We will take a closer look at the Berlin show. The Waldbühne was not sold out, perhaps due to the less than fantastic weather there were only about 5,000 people. First, though, the band: The horn section was put together from scratch; this was not the WDR big band horn section from two years before. Also in the band were musicians we know from previous Collins tours: Arturo Velasco, Harry Kim and Daniel Fornero (all three of them reinforced the brass group), Daryl Stuermer (guitar), Brad Cole (grand piano and keyboards), Doug Richeson (bass), Luis Conté (percussion). Gerald Albright complemented the brass group as a special guest on saxophone. The twentieth man on the stage was Phil Collins, who concentrated on doing what he does best: drumming. He got up from behind his drum kit only towards the end to sing two of the three encores.

Two Hearts was the first song of the night, and it showed right away that a new arrangement, different instruments and no vocals give a completely different impression of the same piece of music. In fact, all the pieces sound very unlike to original. That’s All showed that not only Collins’ solo songs would be played that night. A brief interlude on drums, bass, guitar and piano became the intro, as it were, for Invisible Touch. Its new arrangements removed it so far from its initial form that one could identify it only at the second go.

Rad Dudeski, the bonus track from the Both Sides Of The Story single, was played next in a great version that paid homage to this almost forgotten track. Against All Odds was closer to the original without losing the jazz influence.

Then came I Don’t Care Anymore. It is one of the classics that have changed so much through the big band arrangement that you had to listen closely to recognize it. The outcome was, however, very worthwhile listening to. So was Hold On My Heart, the song that changed the most – almost to the point of alienation – and gave Harry Kim his big moment on the flugelhorn. In The Air Tonight has been a staple in Phil’s live set for many years, and this mega-hit was therefore played here, too. There is no accounting for taste, of course, but were Daryl’s guitar parts really necessary? Nothing against his playing, but this rather rocky element felt a bit wrong here.

The next two blocks consisted of compositions not written by Phil. Gerald Albright’s Chips And Salsa was followed by Georgia On My Mind. Both pieces fit the set very well and paved the way for the following block in which Oleta Adams, the evening’s other big star, played the main role. She has great charisma and added that special flair that really makes a jazz and blues concert. Oleta sang these songs: From This Moment On, Two Lovers As Friends, I've Got A Right To Sing The Blues, I Won't Be Happy (Till I Make You Happy Too), New York State Of Mind (by Billy Joel) and Watch What Happens. The next piece was Miles Davis’s Milestones. A brilliant duet on drums and percussion turned into an even greater Los Endos – probably the highlight of the show for most people in the audience. This impression may have been affected by nostalgia, for Genesis last played this classic in 1987. Anyway, Los Endos was a grand finale, and it was clear that the band, who left the stage right after this piece, were brought back with loud calls for encores.

Phil sang two of the three bonus songs of the show. First he performed The Way You Look Tonight (music: Jerome Kern, lyrics: Dorothy Fields), then Luis Conté stepped in as the drummer for the Duke Ellington number Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me (lyrics: Bob Russell). Collins can be heard with this song on Quincy Jones’s Q’s Jook Joint. Phil then rummaged through his large treasure chest of hit singles and chose Sussudio (without vocals) as a great finale for an even better show.

It was fantastic to witness famous hits take on new forms. Perhaps Phil has not had enough of his big band project. Perhaps he will plan more shows in this vein. In that case we can only warmly recommend that you buy tickets for the show. One requirement for a great evening is, however, a soft spot for this kind of music and the desire to hear songs you know in an utterly different arrangement.

By Bernd Zindler
English by Martin Klinkhardt

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