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The great afterglow

Genesis turned it on again
A commentary on the tour and the DVD release When In Rome 2007

1 Afterglow

"Like the dust that settles all around me / I must find a new home" (Genesis, 1977)

Now it is well over fifty years old and we still do not know what it is called: Rock? Pop? Music for the young? Commercial music? Muzak? Or a phenomenon of mass culture that in developing produced lots of spin-offs, refinements and counter-movements? Is it an institution of self-discovery, of resistance? A promoter of individual freedom? Or the work of the devil? Or one of many cultural highpoints of mankind? Whatever it is, it is certain that something exists on this planet that has many names, many faces, many stories, many sounds, many philosophies, but that is mainly one thing – an art of music based on blues, jazz and classical music. It cannot be called music just for entertainment, neither can it be termed serious music nor “music for the youth based on electric guitars”… It makes sense, of course, to call it “rock music”, but one ought to bear in mind that there are many “rock bands” who expanded the term “rock”, sometimes to the point of pointlessness.
It has been obvious for quite some years now that rock music is dying. 50 years are not much in a man’s life, but in rock music it is a lot. It becomes ever more commercial, more predictable, less authentic – and even if it pretends to, today’s rock music has nothing to do anymore with rebellion, social criticism, expansion of mind, self-fulfillment or discovery. The veterans from rock’s early days have, however, not left the stage yet and (frequently after long breaks) keep celebrating their art. Bob Dylan apparently still wants to tell us something, the Rolling Stones will be there for the next fifty years, too, and even Chuck Barry still manages to come on stage and play Johnny B. Goode. The Police have got back together in 2007, the year of the reunions, Led Zeppelin played a gigantic one-off show (almost) in their original line-up, and prog rock veterans Genesis provided a big bang for their fans. Their choice of songs exposes them for what they are: nothing less than a group who were always masters of their craft; a group who created subtle, sophisticated, virtuoso pieces of art as well as catchy hit radio songs; a band that expanded the boundaries of rock music in the early 70s and that has become a symbol for the fate of rock music today. For however big they are, however great songs they have written and however great the atmosphere may have been at their live concerts, they stand as much chance of revitalizing frail old rock music as freshly casted mainstream wannabes or ambition-free exchangeable alternative musicians. Despite commercial rock in the spotlights or indie music in the underground: Rock music is dying. All the people who feel homeless and misunderstood and imprisoned and wrong,  they should not try to find their home in rock music – they should walk the lonely streets tinged by the evening sun and cry out their desire for something new: "Like the dust, that settles all around me I must find a new home! The ways and holes that used to give me shelter are all as one to me now!".
All these great reunions are not a new rosy dawn of rock music but only a pleasant evening red, a final gasp for air and recognition before the curtain falls for good – a big nostalgic circus for those who were terribly excited when Stairway To Heaven became finally available on vinyl or when that funny I Can’t Dance video was on all screens.
For those who could not attend Genesis’ Turn It On Again tour and for those who were there and want to take this piece of music history home, the three Brits released a 3DVD box that contains the free show in Rome and a tour documentary that meets everybody’s standards and may be sufficient for the fans as a fine package of nostalgia that shows another band that has become a symptom of this cultural dusk. May we hold that against them?

2 I Know What I Like

"Gambling only pays when you're winning" (Genesis, 1973)

Why did they use the same Genesis logo for the DVD that was used on We Can’t Dance, the last Genesis studio album with Phil Collins? Certainly not in order to mark the beginning of a new chapter. Why did they not design a new logo? Or use the one from, say, Abacab? Is the DVD somehow based on the 1991 pop rock album? Certainly not.  The cover only seems to address itself to the fans of pop Genesis. Except for the logo it is very neutral. An elegant black, in the middle a futuristic stage with strange Las Vegas light effects, and thousands of people in front of it. When they read through the track list on the back radio Genesis fans will notice that they only know eight or nine of the 23 songs listed. They will miss songs like That’s All, In Too Deep, Jesus He Knows Me and, if they know Genesis only from a bad radio station, also In The Air Tonight and Another Day In Paradise. Passionate fans on the other hand will be happy though they may have wished for a Dance On A Volcano rather than a Land Of Confusion (pun intended). Whatever camp you are in, the 30-odd dollars are well spent and nobody really had cause to feel disappointed.

During the main menu of the DVD parts of The Cinema Show and Duke’s Travels are playing. The previous Genesis DVD had Mama in the main menu, but in the current DVD you have prog rock at its purest. The DVD menu itself makes clear that this will be no simple pop concert. So there was no fear to tick off the pop fans right from the beginning. Good. After all, the show does not begin with a pop song either.

A brief digression: What you do not hear on the DVD is the pre-show music. Of course there is no music from the setlist nor Dusk or Harold The Barrel (many in the audience would not even begin to suspect these were Genesis songs), but the audience is put in a pop mood with many songs well-known from the radio (and frequently with that nostalgia factor again). The people in charge of that probably had Follow You Follow Me in mind and thought this was an oldies concert. The concert is thus not a new chapter in the book of Genesis but an opportunity to reminisce together. It is also evident that many have come to see Phil Collins. When I was on my way to the Leipzig show (thanks to the Genesis fanclub I won the tickets from) the radio presenter announced Sussudio and added that this song would certainly be played that night at the show. Had it been Ray Wilson at the microphone the Leipzig Zentralstadion would never have sold out even if tickets had been half the price.  So most people have come not to see Genesis in all their splendor, but to see Phil Collins live again.  Even 20 years ago fans were divided amongst themselves: some considered them a great pop band with some youthful follies, others see them as a group of prog rock artists  who have defected to the mainstream. Perhaps that gap could have been bridged if the pre-show music had consisted of Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love or even Peter Gabriel’s Passion? The atmosphere before the show is always crucial for how the music is perceived – the surroundings were always important, and the Genesis shows on this tour unfortunately had the same surroundings as Bon Jovi shows.

The last time Genesis opened their show with a prog song not known from the radio was in 1984 when they began with Dodo; the ’87 tour began with Mama and the first song on the We Can’t Dance tour was Land Of Confusion. In 2007 they finally dared to kick off their show with some bombastic prog rock again.  While the band are coming on stage to thunder the Behind The Lines intro through the Circus Maximus an animation plays on the screens. It shows a TV set that is switched on: At first it shows a TV test pattern, then the images change as if someone were zapping through the channels. We see a roaring beast, a bit of Phil Collins’ mock TV evangelist sermon from the Jesus He Knows Me video, a younger Phil Collins who stands in front of a TV camera with his band mates Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks and says: “Hi! We are Genesis”, excerpts from the videos for Robbery, Assault & Battery, No Son Of Mine, Jesus He Knows Me, In Too Deep and Follow You Follow Me. Then ever more TV sets begin to move across the screens like a giant swarm of bees before they finally arrange themselves into a map of the earth with all seven continents. Europe zooms in and a sign “Roma” appears. What does this animation want to tell us? “Genesis are a household name all over the world with their hits”? “Millions of TV sets are turned on to see Genesis”? “Genesis were everywhere”? “They put more value in their hits than in their prog classics”? “They are playing for the pop fans and throw in a couple of embarrassing classics for nostalgia’s sake”? Isn’t this a bit over the top and self-complacent? Of course you can associate “turn it on” with a TV set, but why do they have to present themselves as an almost pure-bred pop band? Do they perhaps feel a certain embarrassment about the things from their Storm And Stress period? Or should we simply consider that TV is a mass media and that there is hardly any place in it for large-scale prog rock, and that now that Genesis turn it on again they are playing not only for the people who know Genesis from the TV only but also want to offer something to the fans of their progressive era – perhaps in order to make up for the commercialism of more recent decades? We can only speculate and it depends on the temperament and taste of the individual which alternative they consider more likely.

Behind The Lines is played admirably, it works well as an opener though it was lifted from its Duke context. Confusing for the radio fans, but a welcome surprise for the album fans. It is followed by Turn It On Again, the title song of the show. Once a song about merry obsession and self-isolation in TV it now is a famous party number tinged with nostalgia – and it seems strange when Collins shouts “turn it on again”. Does he mean the audience? The band? Himself? He definitely hast he audience eating out of his palm. As usual. He still engineers an easy atmosphere, takes photos of the audience (thus symbolically diminishing the distance between star and fan by taking photos of the audience instead of being photographed by them) and talks in the local language (reading from a big sheet of paper, as usual). And then suddenly the next songs is – a commercially highly successful song about child abuse. How strange. Imagine you meet an old friend again after fifteen years, you talk merrily about the good old times and after ten minutes he suddenly starts to talk about child abuse. How does that feel? Does one want to hear that? Can one stand to hear that? Does the audience know what the lyrics are about? Or do they merely remember that the song was all over the radio when they spent their holidays in Tyrolia? Does this very serious topic move the audience in Rome? Or are they merely happy to hear the voice of Phil Collins who won an Oscar for his Tarzan song? Is is not a bit morbid to create nostalgia with a song about child abuse? Let us imagine a drama about this topic is played in New York, the actors are great, the text is great, and in the end the audience are cheering, applauding, laughing with tears of joy in their eyes – one can imagine that.

The song after that, Land Of Confusion, is quite similar in this respect. It was a big success, had a great video, and the “oh-ohhhh-ohh” is perfect to sing along – but does one really understand the lyrics? Does not Collins appear like a creature behind thick glass panes as in the zoo, someone who does a good job interpreting the song, who cannot really convey the emotions in the song but is being watched playing the thoughtful, critical pop musician? Do people applaud because they find their desperation expressed in the song or because that is what you do when a song is over or because Collins still can sing very well?

To sum up all these questions in one single question: What did Genesis think when they put two serious, thoughtful songs right at the beginning of the show? If they still want to say something they ought to show that they do not want to bring on the party with these songs, and, if necessary, accompany their message with new, unequivocal videos. Everything else seems very morbid for me, and it does not matter that that was certainly not the intention.

This is the very problem of rock music: The lyrics lose their meaning. In the past rock music was a means to convey the messages, values, and moods of a new way of life. Today it is merely about dancing, spending your time, recreation, and rock music along with the rock bands who currently enjoy success is nothing more than a museum attraction. Credibility is lost, so is the esprit, on the large scale (world-wide culture) as well as on the smaller scale (the Genesis tour).

Genesis know exactly what their fans want: entertainment. The band certainly never claimed to change the world, and this must not be criticized. In the early years with Peter Gabriel they shows that entertainment in rock music can be more than dancing and singing along. Gabriel has managed to maintain a dignified, serious quality in both his albums and his tours, and it is a much rarer occurrence that someone screams into Here Comes The Flood than into No Son Of Mine. Perhaps Genesis cannot but go for easy entertainment, perhaps it is the fault of Invisible Touch and I Can’t Dance that the band has lost their serious, melancholy, thoughtful image so that even serious, sad and critical songs are not perceived as such anymore. Perhaps.

Perhaps the audience is at fault, too, because they are just looking for a great time, because they do not want to get knocked out anymore by the magic of art,  to sympathize with the fates the lyrics talk about.

The Cage-Medley after Land Of Confusion will unsettle the pop-era fans even more. This is no Deep Purple rock, no Zeppelin rock, no Stones rock, and yet it is rock. The lyrics are outlandish, kafkaesque, surreal, with a manic mood – everything fits, except for the background animation of a silver man running in front of a red glowing gate, a cage that breaks into pieces with him at some point. The band play the 1974 song with virtuosity and Collins sings it much better than Gabriel, who wrote the lyrics, ever did. So they still got it. But though they play one of the highlights of the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway album with lyrics that can stand on their own the song itself cannot create the mood of the whole album. It is like watching isolated scenes from a film or showing a couple of great photos to your friends without telling them the story behind the picture. I seem to expect too much from the show that merely intends to present Genesis as a multi-faceted band. It works, to be sure, and I have not much cause for criticism at this point.

There is certainly no piece of Genesis that could follow In The Cage in a medley better than The Cinema Show. It exudes an incredibly positive energy, has its very own language, and after all these years it is as fresh and light and clean as in 1973. The band play a terrific version and seem to enjoy it very much to show people another side of themselves. The bit from Duke’s Travels does not really fit in – the transition is rather bumpy. They should have gone for …In That Quiet Earth again after The Cinema Show before moving into the Duke part. The transition into Afterglow is fine. Collins cannot repeat his sensational performance from Three Sides Live, but the song still touches something. He sings without any irony, and it seems as if he can still understand and feel the lyrics instead of just rattling it off for the fans as could perhaps have been expected from some things Collins said in interviews before the tour. However, the question remains whether such an emotional piece of music can bring out its full beauty on a tour or whether it just seems like a copy of a memory. 

Many fans felt that Hold On My Heart was the nadir of the set, and when I read that this We Can’t Dance chart hit came directly after Tony Banks’ love anthem Afterglow I thought this was as unaesthetic as replacing Willow Farm with In Too Deep in Supper’s Ready. But it does work. The anthemic, longing, timeless Afterglow is followed by a calmer, down-to-earth Hold On My Heart, like a sober, sophisticated and bourgeois desire to recollect that replies to the violent, boundary-transgressing intoxicating love like a grown-up's conscience the morning after – “I’ve lost everything” is follows by “If I can recall this feeling”. Well done.

It would perhaps been a good idea at this point in the set to play a song that had never been played live before. Such a move would underline the message that Genesis are more than their classics from Firth Of Fifth to No Son Of Mine. It would also offer the fan an opportunity to discover a different side of Genesis live. Another Record could have been a good choice, and its lyrics would have been quite tongue-in-cheek (“there’s an old rock ‘n roller, he’s got nowhere to go”). Just A Job To Do, Anything She Does or the 1986 B-side I’d Rather Be You would have been big surprises – whether they would be pleasant depends on the performance. At least it would have been even more worthwhile buying the double live album made from the shows of the European tour if there had been live versions on it that had never been played live before. Whatever.

It is no surprise that Home By The Sea was included. It unites flawless pop rock and an instrumental with that 70’s prog rock flavor, an instrumental that has always been so much crisper, bombastic and exciting than the studio version. The eleven-minute masterpiece is also a good starting point for pop fans who want to discover the British prog rock scene, so it was justly included in the set list, the more so since it was chosen the fifth-most popular Genesis song by the users of the it forum users. Unfortunately the song did not get the original introduction from the Mama tour 1983/4 when the band had the whole audience shout “huuhh”, played mysterious “thriller music” and made full use of the lighting system – a great atmosphere that was. In 2007 they did not have the audience summon ghosts or levitate the stadium. Did they fear making themselves ridiculous? Do they have to fear at all?

Playing Follow You Follow Me with Collins at the drums was a marvelous idea. The album on which the song was released was the first they recorded as a trio and it marked clearer than ever their turn towards more commercial rock music. This was the song with which Genesis changed their face and kicked off the band’s second life – a good reason to celebrate it together again as musicians. The excellent animations in the background consist of moving images from the album covers, and together with the love song (contrary to widespread opinions the lyrics are not by Collins) they create a sweet, melancholic-nostalgic mood. In a way the band also show (involuntarily?) that they did not lose their sense of bizarre humour by showing Henry as he is decapitated by his nurse (this is, of course, the story of The Musical Box, presented in the shaped of the characters from the Nursery Cryme cover).

The song after that was only played in a short instrumental version, but it would have been one of the show highlights for fans of the old Genesis – after all, an it survey revealed that this song, Firth Of Fifth, is the second most popular Genesis song (beaten only by Supper’s Ready). Collins looks a bit pained on the drums but the mood is great, the band have fun and so it is enjoyable though the audience may be uncertain why they did not play That’s All instead. One has to admire the band’s stubbornness as they try to remind the audience of the “good old days” or simply prove that they can do more than just write radio hits, a statement that really did not come across on the We Can’t Dance tour. To be sure, only few people who went to see the 2007 show will check out the old Genesis records and discover the band’s full variety, but at least they tried. All “full” Genesis fans may fuss about people who complain that the Turn It On Again tour was no fireworks of hits like Collins’ Farewell shows.

The song after that was the band’s first single chart hit. I Know What I Like heightens the feeling of nostalgia, particularly when Collins performs the tambourine tarantella almost in synch with his alter ego on the screen who dances with the tambourine at the beginning of his career as a singer. Old photos from the slightly dusty photo album of the band may cause misty eyes with some fans. It is good that the band chose this song for the “little trip back” instead of Fading Lights because that would have been a look back from an outsider’s point of view. The nostalgia is more honest with the 1973 song – and Collins shows he still enjoys the piece. And the “whole” fan was happy that, as in the Old Medley in the early 90s, a bit from Stagnation (1970) could be heard near the end of the song.

Mama was one of the most unusual chart hits of the 80s. Gloomy atmosphere, obsessive lyrics, the terrible laugh, powerful drumming – an excellent example for rock prop with prog roots. Collins still manages to deliver a credible performance of this dark side of mass-compatible Genesis. And even if he keeps up an ironic distance to the song and takes songs like You’ll Be In My Heart and No Way Out more seriously you would not notice, he is a good actor. This song had to be in the set list, it is arranged brilliantly, a thrilling experience even if you are a bit fed up with the studio version. Ripples is a gift to fans of “all Genesis”. It is presented on its own, not hidden in some medley or other. The band make a point of not dissecting their old pieces but playing them complete, which balances their presentation very well. Collins still sings very fine, the band play it easily but consummately. Once again the demonstrate that there is much to discover in their discography, and this is a good choice to whet your appetite for the lyrical, gentle Genesis. Those who came to see Phil Collins may feel a bit confused by the song; isn’t that an enjoyable punishment?

A song to loosen up everybody follows; Throwing It All Away puts the audience in the centre. Live shots of parts of the audience show up on the video screen during the song. “This is you” may be the message. A friendly gesture that tries to shrink the distance between stars and fans symbolically though it does not fit the lyrics. How effective it is in the end is up to the individual.

Domino is another song that attempts to melt 80s pop with 70s prog. Pop fans will be disappointed that there are no two hits in a row. It is a gigantic piece that pulls you with it, and once more the band shows courage in playing this. It has been established long since that this is no Phil Collins show – and apparently the band do not care that they overtax, even bore the radio fans of Sussudio and You Can’t Hurry Love. The conversation with two stools and its slow development into a drum duet is likely to please everybody. It is not boring at all, but it is much fun to watch the excitement and the growth in it: Great music does not always need lyrics or guitars or a keyboard. Would it be so strange to write an instrumental pop song in which all you hear is two drummers?  The drum opens a new musical horizon to the pop-oriented audience – Collins and Thompson want to excite, astonish and infect everybody with their high spirits: quite right to include this art of pure drumming in the set list and thus to draw attention to the rhythm as the spine of the music, to drumming as the most primitive, oldest art of music.

The Drum Duet could lead into no other song than into the majestic Los Endos. A terrific prog rock classic. Its cheerful dynamics shows the band at their artistic peak – even after 32 years this piece is so unusually alive and timeless that one cannot image that someone in the stadium stands completely unmoved and waits for the next piece. Here the question arises again: For whom are the playing? For the audience or for themselves?

The next song, Tonight Tonight Tonight, does not fit into the setlist at all. Such a climax should not be followed by the irrelevant shortened version of the dark epic from Invisible Touch. It seems they decided to play a couple of well-known songs in order to not tick off the pop fans too much. The song does not really support the great drama of the show and may be a bit strange to people who do not rate Tonight Tonight Tonight amongst their favourite songs. Perhaps they could have played another song here they never played before; an acoustic version of the 1980 B-side Open Door for example, with Rutherford on guitar and Banks on piano, or More Fool Me with Rutherford and Collins only. After that they could have gone on with another bang...

Invisible Touch was certainly as unavoidable as I Can’t Dance, two of the least popular songs with all those who know the complete Genesis – but these pop hits are also a part of the band’s history and so they were played. Grant this concession to the Phil Collins fans who were in the audience in large numbers. The fireworks at the end of Invisible Touch were over the top, though. Was Los Endos not worthy enough? It is a great effect, but disproportional to the lyrical and musical level of the song. The old ritual of letting the audience call for an encore is repeated though it is nothing more than a meaningless routine, a little gag that has not been working for decades – the audience will definitely not influence the course of a completely planned Genesis show by shouting something. The audience simply fulfills the expectation of shouting for an encore – and this is supposedly a sign that the band are playing for the audience only.

I Can’t Dance as the first encore is a given; even the youngest watcher knows this one. Great mood, many people sing along; this is certainly the highpoint of the show for many. Collins does not want to song a long “I” in the chorus, which makes the song sound peculiar. The cool “uh-huh” is missing, too, for whatever reason, but the overall interpretation of the song is good.

Picking a Gabriel-era song to end the show with was a brave decision. The lyrics are surreal, the music a melancholy feast and at the same time powerful, but it does not send the audience home in a party mood. It is a dessert especially for the fans who love The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, a qualification of the pop Genesis, a calm gesture at the artful Gabriel years. Prog fans may consider this an apology for the 7 pure pop songs that were played and accept it as such.


3 Domino

"you're the next in line" (Genesis, 1986)

Some things could have been better, many things worse. They could have played More Fool Me and one or two songs that have never been on any Genesis set list. They could have left out No Son Of Mine and Tonight Tonight Tonight. Collins could have said something about the songs by way of introduction, completely new videos for the songs could have been developed to provide new insights into the songs. If they had performed a couple of new arrangements they would have shown that Genesis are not only good for good repetitions, and they could at least have played Calling All Stations to point out that that album is, in fact, a Genesis album (Collins could have given a good performance of that song). These things are, however, minor compared to what they could have down wrong: A pure hits tour would not have been a dignified act of collective remembrance, but a dishonest, almost (self-)fraudulent inventory. Perhaps it is not really a matter of course that the musicians seemed at ease and in high spirits – they could have spoiled the tour by coming across like tired rockers who play their big hits again without really being into it anymore. Luckily, it all seems different: Honest, mostly, with the exceptions mentioned above.

Unfortunately the DVD was split across 2 DVD which takes away from the live feeling. It therefore seems to me that this DVD is a document rather than a piece of art. As a piece of art it ought to bring out the full live experience, lyrics, music and presentation ought to be in a perfect symbiosis that touches the hearts and changes the perception; this, however, is not possible anymore, not with this tour concept. The DVD is the document of a Genesis nostalgia: The lyrics are not new, the music is now new, the presentation is great but in the end little more than show. It was Peter Gabriel’s intention to bring their audience into a “fully integrated phantasy world” with Genesis. 35 years later all the band intends to do is to celebrate themselves as a varied group with lots of special effects. You can resent that. After all, the band does not really enrich the world of art anymore, participates in culture only passively by letting itself be seen. But perhaps they inspire new, unseen, hidden musicians, perhaps the concert film can be an incentive ringing out in the deeped mazes of the underground, an encouragement not to lose faith in sophisticated art and to keep working on the big, unknown, new thing. “You’ve got to go domino” -  When In Rome may be one of rock music’s last words before cheesy mobile ring tone songs have completely eaten out the core of the European art scene and that very area in the human heart that is receptive to art like metastases. Genesis are the tip of the rock music iceberg, and the sun of decadence burns down remorselessly on all arts of mankind. No iceberg can protect from that. It is time for something new. MTV proves it every day, and so do Youtube, Myspace, Led Zeppelin, a glimpse into the subway, radio stations, The Sun, Hollywood and Genesis. The Brits, however, managed to celebrate the end of rock music in a dignified fashion. They do not attempt any crude embarrassments or playing up to the ever more inattentive hearts of the youth, they do not try to generate attention with scandals, offer final solutions or be cool, they do not show themselves from their commercial side only… they do what they can do well and enjoy doing. They play together, remember the good old days when art was more than singing along, dancing, taking pictures and getting sloshed. And one can understand that the band are happier that the Turn It On Again tour, not the tour with Ray Wilson, is the final curtain … if it is the final curtain, that is….

by Tobias Müller
translated by Martin Klinkhardt