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Phil Collins 2019

Phil Collins not dead yet, but live in Australia

Seems so long they've been waiting…

The third year of his Not Dead Yet tour took Phil Collins back to Australia for the first time since his Far Sides Of The World tour in 1995. He played shows there in January and February and even headed to New Zealand for his first time ever. This short leg of the tour began with a stadium show in Brisbane, Australia, on 01/21/19. It was followed by three arena shows in Sydney, another on in Adelaide, two nights in Perth and two final Australian nights in a football stadium in Melbourne. The first week of February saw Phil and his band play two open air shows in New Zealand.

These summer shows Down Under marked the return to open air. The previous North American leg of the tour in the fall of 2018 took place mainly in closed venues. Except for the Sydney and Perth shows, all gigs took place in open air. While Phil would play shortened sets on his South American tour in spring 2018 (his first shows there since the Both Sides tour), fans in Australia and New Zealand were treated to a full two-hour set that was performed in one go without an interval (like the North American tour in late 2018 and unlike the 2017 European gigs).

Set und Setlist

01Though the set has been changing slightly between the different legs of the tour Phil and his band played the same set every night in Australia and New Zealand. The only exception was the final show of the tour in Naupier, New Zealand, where it rained very hard and Can’t Turn Back The Years was dropped. As in North America and on the shortened open air sets of 2017 and 2018 (Dublin, Hyde Park, South America), I Don’t Care Anymore has probably been dropped for good. Whereas the song was played right after the interval in 2017, it appears that the song has lost its main function in a show without an interval, which is a pity. Apart from that, the Genesis song Throwing It All Away that had slipped into the South American set lists seems to have found a steady position in the first third of the show, pushing out solo songs such as One More Night and Wake Up Call). While the position of “uptempo song from No Jacket Required” towards the end of the first half was filled by Only You Know And I Know, Who Said I Would has taken over since the UK shows in later 2017 and would seem to be a fixture in the set.

Now for the surprise of the Australian and New Zealand leg of the tour: You’ll Be In My Heart returned to the set in North America in later 2018, but Phil’s Oscar-winning contribution to Disney’s Tarzan was not played Down Under (even though Phil’s First Final Farewell tour did not take him there either in 2004/5); the band performed a shortened version of Inside Out as a kind of introduction to Who Said I Would. This is probably meant to recall the No Jacket Required tour of 1985, when Phil first came to Australia. Inside Out also segued into Who Said I Would back then, but it was played in full back then. The 2019 version of this song that had not been played since 1990 has lost the interlud with falsetto and sax solo; some people feel it had lost its appeal because of that. I appreciate the song as a three-minute intro to Who Said I Would, but I think it’s a poor substitute for You’ll Be In My Heart. This switch shortens the show and moves the weight or the set list even further back to the 1980s or, particularly, to No Jacket Required. Since Wake Up Call was dropped in South America there are no songs from this millennium in the set list, and only two songs from the 1990s (Can’t Turn Back The Years from 1993’s Both Sides, and the title song of 1997’s Dance Into The Light).

2Still, Phil Collins played an entertaining, varied and most of all, happier show than in 2017. The rather sentimental, nostalgic narrative of the first half of the show (storyline: Against All Odds – Another Day In Paradise – One More Night – Follow You Follow Me – Can’t Turn Back The Years) is broken up by various brass songs such as I Missed Again and Hang In Long Enough and by replacing One More Night with Throwing It All Away. This gives the show a very different emotional flavour. Phil Collins himself seems much more at ease and happier – and his voice is stronger and more assertive than in 2017.

The Setlist Down Under:

Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
Another Day in Paradise
I Missed Again
Hang in Long Enough
Throwing It All Away
Follow You Follow Me
Can't Turn Back The Years
Inside Out
Who Said I Would
Separate Lives
Drum Trio
Something Happened on the Way to Heaven
You Know What I Mean
In the Air Tonight
You Can't Hurry Love
Dance Into the Light
Invisible Touch
Easy Lover

Take Me Home

I would like to tell you my impressions of what may well have been Phil Collins’ last two shows in Australia that took place in Melbourne on February 1 and 2, 2019. Some very close friends of mine live in Melbourne. I had been wanting to visit them for years, but could not make good in my promise so far. Around the time Phil Collins was asked about a live comeback when the Tarzan musical premiered in Stuttgart, Germany, in late 2013, and replied that he might have to take a look at Australia, my promise was refined to “If Phil Collins plays Melbourne again we will go there together…” When Phil announced his Australian tour dates in summer 2018 the time had come for me to fulfil my promise…

My impressions of the shows in Melbourne

(AAMI Park, 01st/02nd February 2019)

03Phil Collins turned 68 between the shows in Perth and Melbourne. Realizing this, a number of fans sang Phil Collins a “happy birthday” from the front rows at the first show in Melbourne. Though the AAMI park in Melbourne is a medium-sized football stadium of 30,000 seats there were no standing areas. Prices were correspondingly high. When I attended the Friday show on my own I had a seat to the right of the stage in the upper tier (for AUD 250, approx. 155 EUR); the night after that I sat in the upper tier opposite the stage with my Australian friends (tickets were in the second-cheapest category at AUD 175, approx. 110 EUR). Now your feelings about stadium shows may be ambivalent because of the size of the venue, the distance to the stage and logistics (especially when this combines with steep ticket prices), but a large body of people that have come together to enjoy their favourite music together and have a good time can be a fine recipe for great moments and fond memories. To cut this rambling short: I loved Phil Collins’s intimate, sentimental indoor shows (not just at the Royal Albert Hall) in 2017, but I equally loved the two big parties in Melbourne in 2019. It is entirely possible that the European stadium shows in the summer of 2019 will provide an even greater atmosphere.

The AAMI is no giant stadium by European standards, but a rather compact building that is closed at the sides and has wave-shaped roofs on grandstands of different heights. In a way, the building resembles the hexagonal shapes on a football. I experienced remarkably good acoustics on both seats. There was no support act except for a local radio DJ who did his best from 7 to 8 to warm up the stadium with dance music from the 80s (Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind & Fire etc.). Local staff were relaxed; there were official merchandise stall already outside the stadium, and lots of promotion stuff by sponsors. At the stand of one radio station you could slip into a gorilla costume and drum along to the drum fill from In The Air Tonight on a bass drum. I enjoyed the creativity of the management in the stadium. There were many signs with security advice and other information, and these had captions lifted from Phil Collins’ current setlist (e.g. “Dance Into The Light – however, please keep the aisles clear”, or “You Can’t Hurry Love – for your safety, please don’t run”). The Friday show was pretty much sold out, while you could still get the odd ticket for the additional show in Saturday. On the days of the show I hardly noticed any free seats.

3Phil Collins walked onto the stage around 8.30 (after Salif Keita’s Soureba, as usual) with a walking stick. It was getting dark so most of the show took place in darkness. Temperatures were around 22°C on Friday and 36°C on Saturday afternoon. The indoor shows used to have a curtain between Phil’s chair and table and the rest of the band; the outdoor shows do not so that band are visible all the time while Phil welcomes the audience. No words of retirement. Phil declares he was delighted that the audience chose his performance from the plethora of attractive events that take place in Melbourne on Friday and Saturday nights. He announces that he will remain seated for most of the night (“foot’s fucked / getting old sucks”), which he hopes will not stop anybody (himself included) from having a great time. On the second night he also mentions that this was his last show in Australia.

Against All Odds has grown much stronger than at the beginning of the tour when Phil’s attempts to reach for the high notes would be quite pathetic (and it was and is still right to begin with this song). Phil is coping well and adds fine phrasing to the final chorus; in Melbourne he would repeat the lyrics of the first choruses in the final chorus (i.e. “… and there’s nothing left here to remind me…” instead of “… but to wait for you is all I can do…”) – intentionally, perhaps, but then the lyrical gaffes have grown in numbers. The song does a good job as the opening number – the audience are delighted when Phil finishes his (harrowing, in Melbourne) introduction, Brad Cole begins to play and the audience hear Phil singing for the first time. (Actually, judging by the age structure of the Melbourne audiences, this was likely the first, and perhaps last, Phil Collins show in their lives; that made the evening extra special). An extra applause rang out when Nicolas Collins joins in on the drums. I suspect that many people in the audience kept wondering who the obviously very young drummer is until Phil reveals the secret and confirms the palpable assumption that the drummer is, in fact, his young son. Another Day In Paradise works very well as the second song in the set. The intro is even more majestic than at the indoor shows as 60,000 clap along to the bass drum. In the outro Phil sticks to the lower notes. Oh well.

4I Missed Again and Hang In Long Enough mark the change of atmosphere in the set much earlier than in 2017. Phil’s voice seems more at ease than in the beginning of the tour. He keeps singing notes he would avoid or leave to the backing vocals before.

Phil then announces he would play a Genesis song because he got along so well with his former band mates. He adds that it was pretty unlikely that he chose the one song the fans wished for. Throwing It All Away meets with applause. It fits well into the set, and the “audience participation time” is shorter and less pertinacious than it used to be. Those who did not have the song from Invisible Touch on their wish list are perhaps reconciled by Follow You Follow Me. It is the biggest crowd pleaser so far. A fine film from old Genesis footage accompanies the song on the screens, and all this creates a cozy and sentimental feeling of thankfulness in the stadium. It should be noted that Genesis never played in Australia – except for the Invisible Touch tour in 1986.

Can’t Turn Back The Years still is in the set, and it is a logical continuation of the nostalgic Follow You Follow Me. It is less than surprising that this thoughtful song from Phil’s own favourite album Both Sides (1993) is appreciated more on the “cheap” seats on the second night than in the more expensive seats on the first night where this ballad (as well as You Know What I Mean later on) is ruined with nonsensical smalltalk.

5The uptempo double feature from No Jacket Required, i.e. Inside Out / Who Said I Would was announced as such by Phil. The audience seemed to know it remarkably well – apparently even non-single-tracks like Inside Out used to slip into people’s memories back in the days when people would buy and listen to complete albums. The song seems fresh despite the cuts, mainly thanks to Nics powerful fills on the concert toms and to Daryl Stuermer’s work on the guitar. Phil even sings along to the “oh-oh”s in the chorus (he did not at the earlier Australian shows). The quiet part is dropped, and an extended guitar solo leads into the keyboard bells of Who Said I Would. It has aged better than Only You Know And I Know, its predecessor in 2017/2018 sets, and Phil’s fine vocals and the horn section make this an energetic performance.

People are enthusiastic, so the band introductions fits well into the set at this point. Phil has come to take more time for this (he did not only tell people that he had been making music with Ronnie Caryl for 50 years but also mentioned that they both went to audition for Genesis together). He also has a number of new jokes, when he introduces the horn section ordered by the size of their, umh, horns, or jokes that Leland Sklar was actually clean shaven when he started doing the introductions. The last band member he introduces is his son Nicolas on drums, and it is Nic who receives the most applause. Well deserved – he does a brilliant job, and I, for one, am convinced that these shows would never have taken place without him.

6At the end of the band introduction he asks Bridgette Bryant to come down to him, and they sing Separate Lives. Unlike in South America the year before, the band do not continue to Something Happened On The Way To Heaven. There is, first, a full-blown drum and percussion number. The band leave the stage, while Nicolas Collins and Richie Garcia, who replaced Luis Conte on percussion in late 2018, have a great time on drums, cymbals, congas, bongos and cowbells. It is a different drum duet than the one in 2017 when the basic pattern resembled that of I Don’t Care Anymore, moved in a different direction and returned to it before finally leading into the song itself. Nic drums a multi-minute solo that Richie only accompanies in the basic rhythm. Then they switch roles and Richie bashes the hell out of his percussion castle while Nic only provides the rhythm.

7The stage is quite dark, with spotlights on the two drummers. The video screens show close-ups. Unnoticed by most people, Phil sits in the semi-darkness below Nics bass drum and listens to his son full of fatherly pride and admiration. Right when you think the duet was over, Collins senior picks up the rhythm on a kind of slap-top cajon. Nic from the left and Richie from the right join him with normal cajons. Phil shows that he still can play the percussion, and he encourages the audience to clap (and count) along; it all resembles the audience participation time at the end of Phil’s tambourine dance in I Know What I Like. The drum trio slowly turns to the beginning of Something Happened On The Way To Heaven – Nic Collins has returned to his drum kit and the band has returned, too, so that the intro to Something Happened … evolves from the drum trio (as in the Farewell tour of 2004/5). The drum duet and trio is a fine innovation in the show (since the North American leg of the tour in 2018). It has grown longer, the transition works splendidly, the audience are thrilled, and it is good to see Phil drum again, even if it is only the cajon and not a full drum kit. There is not much to say about Something Happened… It is one of Collins’ finest live songs, a perfect pop song, and the horns get everybody going. As everybody sings along you hardly notice that Phil sings all choruses in a lower voice. Everybody is standing and the audience have reached a level of excitement other artists usually end their shows with.

8But here the band calm them down. Collins junior and senior come together at the grand piano to play “the one song Nicolas likes”. You Know What I Mean from Phil’s debut album Face Value was the surprise in the set when the tour began in 2017, and it is good to see it’s back in the set after it was dropped for the shortened open-air shows at Hyde Park (2017) and in South America (2018).
Fun facts: Phil and Nic do not share the piano bench anymore but use two separate chairs, apparently of the same type the backing singers use. Youtube videos reveal that the grand piano is not really a grand piano but a mock-up with a normal keyboard. Still, this ballad performed by father and son is the intimate highlight of the show.

8The atmospheric highlight of the show is the next song, also from Face Value: In The Air Tonight is celebrated with a slow intro of epic length, justly so, because this song (almost 40 years old, too) is a stroke of genius. Phil stands for this song. A small gesture with immense effect, it underlines the meaning of this song as the “signature song” in Phil Collins’ career. While Phil used to seem a bit lost in the final third of the song looking for the vocal climax since he does not sit at the drums anymore he now appears to have found a way to sing through the song. There are, however, a few moments when it looks as if Brad Cole’s vocoder vocals and Nic’s drumming needed to steer the old man in the right direction. Most people in the audience won’t notice but if you have the countless live versions from various tours in your ear you know what I mean. Still, In The Air Tonight remains the high point of the show for most people, even though Phil cannot play the drums himself anymore.

The final half an hour of the show has remained the same throughout the tour; from here on the concert is one big party and even in the top tiers people don’t sit down again but dance and have a good time. You Can’t Hurry Love changed the mood after In The Air Tonight even in 1990 (compare the recent remastered version of Serious Hits…Live!), but it is played in a short version with an air of “oh well, if we have to”. I, for one, miss Two Hearts – perhaps the song will return to the set. Who knows. The youngest song in the set – Dance Into The Light is only 20 years old – is the one where Phil takes a break. The backing singers do most of the vocal heavy lifting and the audience are partying anyway.

10Invisible Touch is the third and last Genesis song towards the end of the main set, and it is my personal highlight. This is much more demanding for Phil, and he sings stronger and closer to the original version than on the 2007 Genesis tour; this royal pop song from the 80’s benefits a lot from the brilliant horns, especially in the bridge and the outro. Phil also mocks himself a bit when he sings “and though she will fuck up your life / you want it just the same”, stands up and bows to the audience…

Easy Lover sees Phil taking the mickey at himself again – Amy Keys and Arnold McCuller, who share Philip Bailey’s vocals in this duet, pat Phil’s head like an old grandad nobody takes serious anymore. At this point Phil is likely the only person in the stadium who is still sitting (Brad Cole and Nic excepted). The big party reaches its climax in a confetti gun-embroidered Sussusio. When you witness how the over-50 segment of the audience go crazy to this song there is no question why this song must be in the set – despite the rather dodgy vocals. Phil has created a whole new vocal line for the verses; if he accidentally approaches the original tune he sounds like a hissing cat). Just say the word…

After Sussudio and a couple of bows Phil and the band leave the stage amid rapturous applause. The stage is cleared of confetti, and then they return and play the only, wonderful encore: Take Me Home is not just Phil’s but also my favourite song of his, and the lighting crew do a wonderful job. While Phil got the lines mixed up on the first night, it was perfect on the second… I had not believed that I would really get to experience this moment: My favourite artist plays my favourite song as the encore of a wonderful concert I attend with good old friends on a fine summer evening on the other side of the Earth. The audience choir of 30,000 is all the more impressive when the lights are shone on them and everybody can look around.

They're coming to me and I'm taking what's mine…

11From a musical point of view the second night in Melbourne was better than the first, but I have enjoyed both of them tremendously. The concerts showed that Phil Collins has improved a lot during the tour, he has gained vocal range, self-confidence and enjoys the shows and the band with this modern tour. The drum duet and drum trio in which Phil participates was great. It was also good to see Phil play for two hours in a row and having the courage to play songs like Can’t Turn Back The Years and You Know What I Mean in big football stadiums. The set list may have drifted closer to the mainstream, but it is not a fireworks of just the hits (like the 2004/2005 First Final Farewell tour). Fans in Australia and New Zealand may perhaps have wished for more hits seeing that Phil has not taken his Farewell tour to Down Under. I am a bit sad that You’ll Be In My Heart was played so rarely, and I do hope it returns for the European shows in the summer of 2019. The recent change in the set, i.e. Inside Out, shows that everything’s possible. In fact, judging from the set lists of previous tour legs it is almost certain that there will be the odd change for the European tour in 2019. Those who have tickets for Phil Collins’ summer shows can look forward to a merrier show with stronger vocals than in 2017. When I left the stadium in Melbourne everybody was euphoric about the show. Many people had not seen Phil live before, others were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the show despite all of Phil’s health issues that were in the news. From a neutral point of view, the audience were taken on a two-hour trip into their youth and well entertained by an obviously aging mega-star and a brilliant band consisting of word-class musicians. From my point of view, many dreams have come true.

Author: Niklas Ferch
English by Martin Klinkhardt
Photos: Niklas Ferch, Matthias Fengler

read more tour and gig reviews here

A complete list with setlists from this tour can be found here.