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Brand X Special: An Urorthodox History
Not Dead Yet live
Richard Macphail Ma Book Of Genesis
Not Dead Yet 2017 Reisebericht

Phil Collins - Not Dead Yet - Europe 2017

A (rather personal) report from my trip to Phil Collins' Not Dead Yet Tour 2017


Against All Odds. It came as the proverbial bolt from the blue when Phil Collins announced his stage comeback as a solo artist at a press conference at the Royal Albert Hall London on October 17, 2016. The selection of shows would take its motto Not Dead Yet from the title of Collins' autobiography, released around that time, and take him to London, Cologne and Paris for five shows each in June 2017.


A personal aside. When these choice live dates were announced twelve years – half my life, since I am now 24 – had passed since the Serious Hits … Live! CD in dad's car radio had raised the desire to attend a Phil Collins show. Up to that moment my CD collection consisted of a couple of compilations with music from the early 2000's, and I would pretend to enjoy the R'n'B and hip hop music my school mates loved so much. Secretly, though, I created mixtapes with songs from the 70s and 80s that I came across in music lessons or the musical workshop at school; I would copy them from the “Kuschelrock” soft rock compilation CD series my parents had. I had never been to a “real” concert, but from what I heard on Phil Collins' only live album it just had to be the greatest experience ever to experience this full-blooded musician on stage. The euphoria in the beginning of the album, before drums and brass kick off Something Happened On The Way To Heaven; the excitement when you wait in anticipation for that legendary drum fill in In The Air Tonight, when the pent-up energy is finally unleashed in the singing drummer singing and drumming his heart out; the unending singing of an audience in bliss at the end of Take Me Home … in short, I loved that album.
Soon I had my own backup copy in my Discman (do you remember?) and I was determined to attend a Phil Collins concert at the next opportunity. It must have been Christmas 2005 when my mom gave me Phil Collins' Love Songs compilation. The CD box contained the flyer that advertised the DVD for Phil's farewell DVD. I searched the internet only to find that Phil had, in fact, turned his back to the stage. I was devastated; I had obviously missed the last opportunity to see my hero live. Despite this disappointment I began to work my way through his albums and began (this was in 2006) to follow the discussions in the forum of the German Genesis fanclub. Later that year rumours about an upcoming Genesis reunion thickened. The rest is history. It was not difficult to persuade my parents to go to the Turn It On Again tour show in Frankfurt with me, and I used the time up to summer 2007 to really get to know the music of a band that would become my favourite band for life…
This Genesis concert, my Genesis concert, was the day I had looked forward to most of all during the first twenty-five years of my young life (yes, Genesis fans have always been a bit nerdy … I still have a great life) – and yes, it was fantastic. Yet therea was unfinished business: that Phil Collins concert.
Years went by, Phil had turned me into a drummer, or, at least, he had turned me into someone who has been trying very enthusiastically to learn to drum for the last ten years, and he opened the doors to a lot of terrific music outside the world of Genesis – and I had not given up hope to see him live in a solo concert so that I would be able to “give back” something in the limited ways a single concert-goer can. When Phil played a few unexpected Going Back show in 2010 I got not bring myself to go to Montreux and spend a heap of money to watch Phil Collins sing only songs written by others and songs for which I am too young for at that. I seem to have hoped that there would be more. The same applies for the performances in support of the Little Dreams Foundation Phil played in Switzerland in spring 2016. Phil's health issues were well-documented by then. Had the dates not collided with my high school reunion I would have spent even more on a concert ticket and driven all the way from Bremen in Northern Germany to Switzerland to see Phil Collins perform seven songs.

Not Dead Yet. After the re-release of his studio albums and the publication of his autobiography Phil announced those five concerts each in London, Cologne and Paris. Unfortunately, I was at the other end of the world at that time, and without an internet connection on the open seas I could not get any tickets for the Royal Albert Hall, in my eyes the most beautiful concert venue ever. My girlfriend secured tickets for the first Cologne show, and on my return to civilisation I mustered what little French I know to buy a ticket for the last show in Paris (my reasoning went something like this: “Bercy must be great, Phil has recorded two DVDs there; I haven't been to Paris for some time, I have not been to the Louvre and I could visit friends…”). I also bought a ticket for the final additional show in Cologne which I would see with friends from the fanclub forum who suffered a similar fate Phil Collins-wise.

The mini-tour had been announced, I had my tickets and everything would be peachy. Wouldn't it? I read, I almost devoured Phil's autobiography and I was shocked to see just how far we had lost Phil to the remorselessness of rock stardom and how very close he had come to losing his life. Of course I paid close attention to his promo appearances with a walking stick and slighty rusty voice in autumn 2016. Sometimes they worked better, sometimes not so well, but he aways did his best. I remained optimistic that he would be fit for the tour … somehow.

On the evening of the tour start in Liverpool (which, like the show at Dublin stadium and the festival performance in Hyde Park, had been tagged on) I follows the news on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The news were sobering: Phil still needs his walking stick. He sits throughout the concert. Contrary to what he said he could not even drum In The Air Tonight. The set list leaves out many songs that had been considered staples (You'll Be In My Hear, Two Hearts, Both Sides Of The Story). Phil's voice is thing. He seems incredibly old, fragile and tense. Fans in Liverpool are very positive, media coverage is more benevolent than ever – in the fanclub forum Phil is “written into his grave”, as it were, and I have only a week to adapt my dream of a Phil Collins concert that I have had for half my life to the information I have received. I like the set, I enjoy the good performances of some songs (e.g. Follow You Follow Me, I Don't Care Anymore, You Know What I Mean), and I look forward to Cologne. Four days before the Cologne show I hear the news that Phil has fallen in his hotel room and has a laceration on his forehead, that he was in hospital and could not complete his run of shows at the Royal Albert Hall. Sceptics and critics in the forum find themselves confirmed. A day passes before the statement that the Cologne shows will take place as scheduled. Off to Cologne I go …


Phil Collins Köln 2017Cologne

Cologne, Germany, June 11, 2017, 8:15pm: Showtime for my first Phil Collins concert: I've been waiting for this moment … well, you know, right? The lights go out, Phil walks out onto the stage, hangs his walking stick on his armchair (what kind of furniture is that, anyway?) and sits down. Here he is. He reads the introduction in halting Germany from some sheets of paper: “aber, um ehrlich zu sein, ich habe euch vermisst” (but, to be honest, I have missed you). I have missed you, too, Phil. My heart is beating fast, tears come into my eyes. When Against All Odds begins to play (from the off, as it were, because the band is still hidden behind a kind of gigantic screen) all doubts disappear. This is Phil, he does his thing, and it is good. Take a look at me now. Kudos to Phil for taking the stage like this, with a big plaster above his left eye. The first minutes of a Phil Collins concert in 2017 are unsparing, shockingly honest, and deeply moving. The man who used to be full of energy and full of enormous musical talent now sits on the stage in this peculiar chair, alone, immobile, marked by the blows and downsides of his career, illuminated from both sides with lamps, and sings Against All Odds for his audience. He has not lost his special voice – but he does not even try to hide that songs like Against All Odds have become hard for him to sing. Lyrically it is the perfect song to start with. The composition is flawless, and it is the open, unhidden fragility that makes it so special, so beautiful. When the drums come in the screen reveals the silhouettes of the band behind Phil Collins. Right behind and above him we see the shape of Phil's sixteen-year-old son Nicholas hitting the concert toms of his Gretsch drumkit in “that Collins way” before the rest of the band join in. This gimmick will not remain the only indication that Phil's second youngest son is the driving force behind a stage comeback that is remarkable in every way. The audience are moved and the third round of applause rings out only a handful of minutes into the show.

Against All Odds, which is played without a sax solo like the 1984 studio version is followed by two other ballads: Another Day In Paradise appears very early and, contrary to my expectation, not unplugged but with the full band. The intro is used to pull up the curtains and fully reveal the band once the well-known keyboard chords ring out. One More Night fits well into this first, sentimental part. Nic Collins, astonishingly, drums this live on a Roland sample pad, whereas the rhythm loop used to come from a drum machine. George Shelby plays a wonderful long sax solo. The atmosphere in the venue is great, not least because of the amount of hits played. The set becomes more exciting when Phil announces a song from his most recent (fifteen-year-old) album Testify (2002): Wake Up Call is apparently one of his personal favourites; after all, Phil picked it with In The Air Tonight and Easy Lover for the Genesis sampler R-Kive (2014). It is therefore no surprise that the song has its live premiere on this tour, but it is still remarkable because Can't Stop Loving You, the hit single from the 2002, is not played. Wake Up Call adds pep and speed to the show and is much stronger live than in the studio. Follow You Follow Me was the next song, one of my secret hopes for a Collins tour and one of my highlights in the set. The idea suggests itself not to relate this song to a couple but to the relationship between Phil and his fans. The plan works, the whole arena gets it and sings along while video footage from 45 years of Phil Collins in Genesis and solo contributes to the warm feeling of nostalgia.

4Another rarity marks the end of the sentimental first third of the show. The ethereal intro from the 1997 with Daryl Stuermer's guitar soundscapes develops into Can't Turn Back The Years from Phil's personal favourite album, Both Sides (1993). One can't help but read the lyrics autobiographically, which makes the song even more intense and melancholy – but that gives it precedence in the context of this show over other candidates from the album such as Both Sides Of The Story and Everyday (songs I had hoped for). Musically, the song is much stronger than on the album, particularly because of Daryl Stuermer, Luis Conte's percussions and Nic Collins who plays this drum machine pattern live on his Roland sample pad.

At the end of this trip down melancholy lane the wind section comes on stage, the lightshow becomes colourful at last and the light-footed part of the show begins: I Missed Again and Hang In Long Enough are played on a par with the 2004/2005 performances. The songs are powerful and underline that Phil Collins does not even consider playing a chamber concert just because he has mobility issues – he goes all in and wants to entertain the audience just as always. And it works. The band are really tight and create the perfect symbiosis of a groovy rhythm section and hot trumpets that became Phil Collins' trademark on his first four solo albums. I cannot stress enough what an incredible good job Phil's son does on the drumkit. It is as if he and Leland Sklar on bass had been playing together for years instead of a few months. Nic's dad, too, has audibly prepared and rehearsed for a tour of singing sitting down. During the second half of the show his left foot runs a marathon, as it were, as Phil taps all the quavers with his foot. Everybody has quickly got used to seeing the singer sitting in a chair. So what?

After the band introduction Phil asks Bridgette Bryant, who has returned to the band for the first time since the 1990 Serious tour, to sit in a chair next to him. The LED stage backdrop turns into a starry sky as they sing Separate Lives. Yes, it is corny. It is also beautiful and among the strongest vocal performances of a Phil Collins who is 66, after all. If he had not done it before he certainly won everybody over with this. It is a good thing in my opinion that Bridgette Bryant and not Amy Keys sang Marylin Martin's part so that the 2017 performance is on a par with the Serious tour version. Another rarity before the break: Only You Know And I Know from No Jacket Required (1985) is a song few people would have earmarked for a 2017 Collins set. The song, which was last played live on the Both Sides tour in the mid-90s, may have been included due to Nic Collins's intervention. It is the song that has aged least well soundwise, but the uptempo song has much of what makes out Phil Collins the song writer and arranger: groovy drums with simple, well-laid-out breaks, perfect horn parts, edgy vocals up the singer's singing capabilities and not least an excellent bridge that builds and deflates the tension. Though the live performance of this song was not perfect in the 80s, the 2017 version lives up to the standards of the 1990s tours.

Cheekily announced as an opportunity “for you and us” to have a pee, the break did not interrupt the show very much. The screens showed lovingly created retro commercials that featured various Collins songs. This afforded the band the opportunity to continue on a completely different footing.


This is done in the ways of echoes from previous tours: Nic Collins enters the stage and briefly plays the drum pattern of I Don't Care Anymore before he throws himself into an entertaining drum duet with Luis Conte. It may sound strange, but I did not miss Phil Collins – the son sounds so similar to his dad. It may be worth mentioning at this point that Nic Collins plays a brand new white Gretsch USA customized drum kit with concert toms that have exactly the same peculiar measurements as the ones his dad used to play since the mid-80s. The set is a twin, as it were, of Phil's white kit from the Invisible Touch tour. Unlike Chester Thompson's or Ricky Lawson's drumkits it has the advantage of sounding exactly like Phil's studio drumkit - just like Phil would sound if he could accompany himself on the drums.

To everybody's delight the drum duet eventually does turn into I Don't Care Anymore. This jewel in Phil's oeuvre and the standard opener on his tours in the 80s appeared to have sunk into oblivion since the Both Sides tour. Either Phil has rediscovered it when they prepared the re-issues or Nic has talked him into it because he wanted to play that hypnotic drum pattern on tour… Whatever the reason, I am deeply grateful for their decision to pull out this number and celebrate it this way. The brooding keyboard sounds, the long whining guitars, that thunderstorm of cymbals in the outro … fantastic. Plus Phil's surprisingly strong vocals. Huge! I still felt that this was probably the least-known song in the set and not quite what most people in the audience wanted to hear. It was, however, one of the biggest highpoints of the tour, despited slightly garbled lyrics at the first Cologne performance.

The next song is one of the biggest Collins crowd pleasers: The whole audience stands as one man when Something Happened On The Way To Heaven rings out and the big party begins. Collins seems uncomfortable with his voice here, but since everybody sings along he simply leaves most of the choruses to the audience.

Another highlight, In The Air Tonight. Brad Cole has given the ultimate Phil Collins song a new vocoder intro; other than that it is largely unchanged, except for the fact that Phil does not play the drum break himself. Though it had obviously been planned and rehearsed otherwise, it seems to have been decided for safety reasons to let Phil stay in his chair and let Nic do the drumming. He does a brilliant job with it. Phil, on the other hand does not seem to pay enough attention to the structure of the climax unless he himself drums (more on this later). The version from the first Cologne show remained unsurpassed (caveat: Youtube analysis!). The pre-programmed drum loop continued for a couple of bars when the song had ended already – this got Brad Cole the hairy eyball from Collins senior. The highlights continue when Phil makes his way to the concert piano where he sits next to his son on the piano bench and tells of the time when Nic listened through his old albums and asked his dad to teach him this one song: You Know What I Mean from Phil's 1981 debut Face Value, is by far the biggest surprise in the 2017 set – and the emotional climax of the show. Father and son at the piano for this wonderful ballad: even a dyed-in-the-wool Collins critic will have to admit that this scene is touching.

The rest of the show keeps people on their feet, for what follows is a fireworks of hits: You Can't Hurry Love, Dance Into The Light, Invisible Touch, Easy Lover and Sussusio follow each other and create a party atmosphere. You Can't Hurry Love sounds like always while Phil seems to run out of steam a bit in Dance Into The Light. Invisible Touch is spot on, and the brass arrangement is probably the only legitimate live version of this tongue-in-cheek 80s synth pop song. I for one prefer this arrangement over all the live version Genesis have brought to the stage. Easy Lover is always a great song, though it is funny to see Phil perform with song with his backing singers. He accepts the situation with an ironic smile. Drum machine, synthesizers, trumpets and confetti bring up the rear of the concert: Nobody really needs Sussudio in 2017, but it is for this very reason that Phil Collins and his band play the song the way they play it: by not taking it seriously at all. Since the early 90s Phil has not been able to put the amount of strength into his voice that is required to have this song not sound completely dorky. Though he had in 1997 and 2004/5, Phil does not try to do it in 2017 but sings a melody that has not all that much to do with the original anymore. This brings a fresh not into a song that has been played to its death. I couldn't stand the song, but the horns and the stage show improve it – and I do accept that Sussudio is for most people in the audience what I Don't Care Anymore is to people like me.

7The Lanxess arena crowd is happy and applauds Phil Collins frenetically when he rises from his chair, apparently contented, possibly also a bit relieved, takes a few bows with his son and the rest of the band and ambles off the stage. There is thundering applause – like me, most concert-goers are deeply grateful to have attended this Phil Collins concert, and of course they do not let the old man go without an encore. As in Liverpool and at the London shows prior to this Cologne concert, Phil leans on the concert grand piano and sings an English version of Edith Piaf's Hymne L'Amour, If You Love Me (Really Love Me). This is no ordinary lovesong in the context of this particular tour. Phil must have been unhappy with the reaction of the Cologne audience because he struck the song from the set after the second show.

The very last song of the evening, was, as usual, Take Me Home. It is not only Phil's favourite (according to his statement in the Facebook Q&A session in early 2016), but also one of mine and right at the top of my wish list. It was the fourth moment that night that I had wet eyes for joy (I did not mention the tears of joy for Another Day In Paradise and Separate Lives, because I cannot explain them: Those songs do not do much for me). Phil did not play the bongos (as he did on the Farewell tour), the outro has been shortened and Phil left the stage rather quickly, but Take Me Home was still the best possible ending to the show. It gave many people in the audience an impression of a final farewell. I do not give up the hope that Phil follows up the announcement he made in the German title of his autobiography (Da Kommt Noch Was, literally: There's More To Come); plus, with my tickets to some more of his concerts I could, of course, push aside this feeling of good-bye.

After that first night in Cologne I was over the moon, most pleasantly surprised and also relieved about Phil's musical and mental state. It is both obviously and remarkable how much he has improved since the first shows of the tour – malicious rumours claim that Phil had to fall on his head and/or drop some of the pain killers to be himself again. Not so unlikely. Phil sings as well as you could wish him to in 2017 from Cologne onwards. He seems more self-confident and finally happy about his decision to return to the stage. He talks a lot (although precious little in German), jokes around and takes his voice to the limit. His band is perfectly in tune, and even the acoustics in Cologne were nearly perfect from the word go.

When I attended the fifth (and last) Cologne concert a few days later with friends from Hamburg we found this impression confirmed. Thanks to seats a bit further back we could see the lightshow as a totality. We were impressed how much an LED screen, “some lights” and a certain distance to the stage can change your perception of a concert. The fact that Phil played this concert sitting down became less important; I simply listened to the music (in the first half) and celebrated it (in the second half). Though I found the atmosphere better and Phil stronger during the aggressive songs (In The Air Tonight, I Don't Care Anymore), the routine he acquired in the concerts he played before Cologne showed in a very positive way (though he did garble the odd lyrics) … And So To F(rance).


Paris

3

Paris, June 22/23, 2017. My impression was to be confirmed in France. In the afternoon of June 22, I stepped out of the TGV at Gare du Nord into almost 40 degrees of heat (105°F) and made my way to Bercy by Metro. I had found reasonably priced accommodation by AirBnB in walking distance to the arena. I dropped off my luggage, freshened up and walked over to the arena. The Palais d'Omnisport has been renovated extensively (with controversial changes in the façade) and is now called AccorHotels Arena. Fans know the venue from the convert films of the Trip Into The Light and the First Farewell tours (1997 and 2004, respectively). U2 also had their most recent tour filmed there. Phil Collins played the same nights in Paris as in Cologne: performances on Sunday and Mondey, Tuesday is a day off before three nights in a row from Wednesay to Friday. So Phil had already played three of his five shows in Bercy when I entered the very modern glass entry hall of the AccorHotels Arena with my Ticketmaster Collector ticket in my pocket. This plastic card ticket with holographic Not Dead Yet design was the most expensive concert ticket I have ever bought; bought in a panic reaction to my failure to get tickets for the Royal Albert Hall, it was my key to a ticket to the left of the stage. I felt embarrassed by it, so I tucked it away in my pocket and only took it out when I had to. The Paris pricing was not as over the top as in Cologne, but I will always remember the lesson this plastic card taught me when I thumb through my album of concert memories…

The seat I got was not that much better than the cheap (read: not as terribly expensive) seats in Cologne the week before, but it was closer to the stage. Acoustics in Paris were perfect, and I had two great nights there. On the second (or fifth, depending on how you count it) night I had lower level seats on the right side of the arena, surrounded by a Belgian, a Brit and a couple from Denmark. It was a very European evening that was rounded off perfectly with meeting two French friends from my Erasmus term in France four years before. Europe in 2017 also means, however, that I had to leave my potentially terroristic plastic bottle at the entrance. Beer at the AccorHotels Arena was so grotesquely expensive that I rather bought the Phil Collins plastic cup at the merchandise stall and fetched some tap water from the restroom than pay 7 EUR for a beer.

Musically, both Paris gigs were good and solid. Knowing that his audience had come from all over Europe, he spoke little French, but he was in high spirits and he would joke and gesticulate more and more each night. Two things worth mentioning are the outstanding performance of I Don't Care Anymore on Thursday night and the botched version of Separate Lives on Friday night when Phil got the lyrics wrong – not a good thing to do in a duet, but Phil, at ease with himself, saved the moment. Astonishingly, the version of Against All Odds I saw at the last night in Paris (the third show in a row) was the best of all the shows I have seen.

The farewell in Paris became even more touching when Phil's youngest son Matthew came on stage during Take Me Home on the last night, took his father's hand and led him from the stage.

I spent the second night in Paris with catchy Phil Collins songs in my ear on the empty Champs Élysées. I was booked on the first flight with a no-frills airline from Paris-Beauvais to Dublin and decided I did not need a hotel. My bus to the airport left Port Maillot at 4:30 am. I walked around until then – as if I had not walked enough on my five-hour visit to the Louvre … ;-)


Dublin

DublinI felt rather exhausted when I landed in sunny Dublin and looked up my accomodation, which turned out to be the best AirBnB experience I have made so gar. I stayed in a beautiful house in the south of Dublin with a lovely young family. After a quick shower I met forum user Alex22 in the city. Alex, another Hessian, had contacted me some time before the Dublin show and we had agreed to discover Dublin together. After a walk through St Stephen's Green park and the Dublin Pride Parade we had lunch on the patio of a pub and talked music. This is, basically, how the day went on: pubs, beer, music and talk about music. Dublin's pub area Temple Bar is the best place for this and we had a great time.

We arranged to meet for an Irish breakfast on Sunday morning before we more or less repeated the previous day's activities. Phil Collins' show in Dublin was an add-on and sort of a warm-up for the big Hyde Park gig in London a few days later. Support acts in Dublin were Blondie and Mike + The Mechanics. Prices were far more affordable than in London, Cologne and Paris. I wanted to see this show for a number of reasons: The opportunity to see Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford live and open air on the same stage for the first time in ten years and to be able to see this from the arena was the pivotal reason for me to return to Bremen from Paris via Dublin (c'mon, it's not a detour, is it?). I had never been to Dublin before. Ticketmaster offered a print@home option for added security which is why I decided to buy a front of stage ticket for the end of my personal Phil Collins selection of shows (and it cost only a little bit more than the “cheap” Cologne ticket).

14Alex had a regular arena ticket. We spent the day at the ticket agency's at the stadium trying to upgrade his ticket – alas, to no avail. The boss of security at the designated Front Of Stage entrance was very understanding. He told us to queue at “his” gate so we could get into the stadium together. We had a a couple of pints of Guiness in a pub near the stadium while the Mechanics rehearsed Silent Running which sent shivers down my spine. Half an hour before admission time we went back and joined the queue. We nearly made it together into the front of stage area, but unfortunately the tickets were scanned again so Alex was sent off to the regular arena area. We had to watch the show each from our own place. I picked the front row stage right where I stood between an Irishman and a young Brazilian. The Aviva Stadium even had Guiness on tap – for half the price of a Heineken at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris.

12The concert was a great experience. Blondie did not thrill me that much as a support: Their songs had been transposed until you could hardly identify them (Maria!) and the band was too punk, all in all (the glass screens around the good drummer did not help much), so that the best thing about their performance was the slogan on Debbie Harry's t-shirt (“Stop Fucking The Planet”). Mike + The Mechanics gave a performance I really enjoyed. They played a bundle of new songs while the second half of their set had their classic hits. I was very happy to hear Silent Running, Over My Shoulder and The Living Years – and I am equally happy that I was spared Word Of Mouth.

Phil's set was cut to 90 minutes, which made it compact and very much to the point. It was mainly the ballads that were dropped, so the show began with Another Day In Paradise and Something Happened On The Way To Heaven before the concert continued as usual with Wake Up Call. This meant, funnily enough, that worldwide hits Against All Odds and One More Night were not played; neither were Can't Turn Back The Years and Only You Know And I Know played in Dublin.

14aBecause Phil's set did not include a break the re-entry with Drum Duet and I Don't Care Anymore were left out, too. I am grateful the still played You Know What I Mean before they went on with In The Air Tonight and the uptempo part. Phil seemed fitter in his outdoor jacket and had a good hold on the (not quite sold-out) stadium despite the fact that he sat throughout the show. There was a great atmosphere and acoustics were good enough for a stadium. Nic Collins wore a jersey of the Irish national football team with his own name on the back, which got him a special applause in the band introduction. In The Air Tonight was a bit odd again because Phil sang the climax in a rather aimless fashion. He needed the fill-ins that his son drummed to bring the song to an end, which meant that the Dublin version of In The Air Tonight was pretty long and Phil even went for the higher notes – something he very rarely did on the Not Dead Yet tour.

18I had the overall impression that Phil gets the vocals of In The Air Tonight right only if the drums the piece himself or appears on TV (U.S. Open, Jimmy Fallon 2016). The closing section of Take Me Home grew longer and longer as the tour progressed; it became a very fine ending to a great concert and to my personal Phil Collins round trip. After a couple of nightcaps with Alex (at the crowded Temple Bar with live music) I took the plane on early Monday morning to Germany and back to reality …


My journey was all the more special as I had not dreamt of experiencing Phil on tour in this intensity. A show at the Royal Albert Hall would have been the icing on the cake, safely at the top of my virtual musical to-do list. The concept of the Not Dead Yet tour offered this opportunity five times. As I mentioned before, the day of the RAH pre-sales was the only day in the last fifteen years on which it was utterly impossible for me to access a stable internet connection.

19Life has a funny way of helping you out, though. Phil's nocturnal fall after the third London show would help me realize my dream of the Albert Hall. I stalked the Royal Alber Hall website for days in the hope of getting returned tickets for one of the postponed dates in November. In the end I managed to get two tickets, and those were, ironically, for the best seats I have ever had at the Royal Albert Hall. They were even quite cheap compared to the Cologne ticket prices.


London

London, November 26, 2017. Though I am not superstitious at all I consider the London concert an unexpected gift from the gods. I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that this would be “my” last Phil Collins concert. Almost ten years after my personal entry into the world of Genesis I have come full circle in many ways. I would never have discovered Genesis without Phil Collins, and I would have missed out on so much: on so much incredibly great music (even outside the prog rock limits), on “my” instrument and one of my main hobbies, on so many trips to places and concerts (several of those to the RAH) – not least on many valuable encounters and a couple of real friends. I am more than happy that I could see Phil's show in London with forum user Royale. We had met as “rookies” of the same age in the forum of the German Genesis fanclub some ten years ago, and we have become friends through music and countless concerts we have seen together. In Cologne we saw the show from the rear of the venue, so the box close to the stage in London was the perfect finale of the emotional return to the stage of our favourite artist.

24After a laid-back day in sunny London and with good bar meals from lovely pubs we made our was to the honorable Royal Albert Hall. Not only is the whole building a pleasure to look at inside and out, everything about it is special and cannot be compared with those modern run-of-the-mill arenas. Staff are friendly, competent and dressed as in a luxury hotel, and as a visitor you can go nearly everywhere outside the auditorium, for example to look at the photo galleries on all curved floors of the building or to have a drink or a bite in one of the restaurants or bars.

Our seats were in box 6, second tier, which was the front box on the second level of balconies to the side of the stage. This gave us an interesting view of the stage and a nice view of the audience. It does not really matter, actually, where you sit or stand in the RAH – I have never experienced a bad view or bad acoustics there. Shortly before the show began bloodcurdling feedback came screaming from the sound system. From our seats we could see the technicians become very nervous and hectic off-stage. I worried for a moment that the concert might be cancelled for technical issues, but then Salif Keita's Souareba began to play, the house lights went low and Phil Collins came on stage with his walking stick. In his words of welcome he dropped the explanation that he missed the audience for the revelation that he had rediscovered the joy of playing live. He also had “a word of explanation” for the postponement of the shows: “I fell.” Everything else was as usual – Phil's voice was in great shape and quite prominent in the mix. Against All Odds was a bumpy start, but after that his vocals were spot on.

25Hang In Long Enough and I Missed Again were strong, as was Wake Up Call.I Don't Care Anymore was a highlight (despite some adlibbed vocals). The first part of In The Air Tonight was particularly intense in London. Unfortunately, though, Phil missed the switch to the “all my li-li-li-li-life…” part in the climax and did not go into the higher notes like he did at the first night in Cologne and in Dublin. I still found his vocals at the first of the two November gigs at the Royal Albert Hall quite above average; he also seemed to be in the best mental state I have seen him in at his 2017 shows. He would airdrum several times, smiled, joked around with his band and everybody else. The funniest bit was the announcement at the end of the first half of the concert when Phil anounced the opportunity to take a leak for everyone, adding the request that people use the facilities, not the auditorium. They did not play Who Said I Would before the break, but performed Only You Know And I Know again (and for the last time on this tour). It's a bit of a shame, for Who Said I Would, which has not been played since 1990, has seen some superb performances in 2017.

All in all it was a big pleasure to see my biggest musical hero in fantastic surroundings and excellent company. Leo and I had, like everybody else in the Albert Hall, a terrific evening. The first half of the show was as memorable and touching as the second half was energetic, colourful and life-affirming. Despite the moving Take Me Home I could not shake the feeling that (in keeping with the (German) title of his autobiography) “there is more to come”.

26I am grateful and happy that the Not Dead Yet tour has taken place, in fact, that (writing this in early 2018) it seems to be prolonged for South American fans who have not had the opportunity to see Phil with or without Genesis live. It is obvious that touring does Phil good, despite all his physical limitations, and that he enjoys being on the road with his son and musicians who have been accompanying him for decades. He enjoys the positive feedback and the love he experiences from the audience.

Phil's state of health makes this tour special, touching, and sets it off from all his previous tours and from everything you would have expected. Particularly after his press statements everybody had certainly hoped that Phil would be able to play his trademark, the In The Air Tonight drum-fill. Seeing this lively show man sitting down and just singing is definitely a change and a stark contrast to his performance on previous tours. Some classics that had been set list staples ever since their debuts and become part of the idea of a Phil Collins concert for many people (e.g. Don't Lose My Number and Two Hearts) have surprisingly been left out of the Not Dead Yet tour. There are also hardly any songs from Phil's more recent albums, Testify (2002), the Disney soundtracks for Tarzan (1998) and Brother Bear (2003) and the Motown tribute album Going Back (2010) despite the hits they spawned and the Academy Award winning You'll Be In My Heart.

29There are, however, several treats next to the usual suspects. Phil has blown the dust off some precious songs from his early albums and brought I Don't Care Anymore and You Know What I Mean back to the stage in brilliant versions, while Wake Up Call and Can't Turn Back The Years are two of Phil's own favourites that fit perfectly in with the first, autobiographical half of the stage show. Another highlight in the set is the Genesis song Follow You Follow Me. The biggest surprise in the set would be the return of the No Jacket Required songs Only You Know And I Know and its later successor in the same slot, Who Said I Would. This two-hour 20 song programme is a “best of” rather than a “greatest hits” set, which complements the 2004/2005 farewell tour. Who knows? Perhaps some of the rarely played songs that were rehearsed in Miami in 2014, such as Testify, If Leaving Me Is Easy, or Both Sides Of The Story, may find their way into the live set (again) in the future.

If you look beyond the set list the Not Dead Yet tour has a couple of very fine ideas: The sequence of songs tells a story, particularly in the first half of the show, and, like the autobiography, takes the audience on an emotional and very honest journey. The beginning before and after the curtain is a nice symbol for Phil passing on the torch (or rather, the drumsticks) to his son Nic. The motive continues in the brief drum duet, I Don't Care Anymore,In The Air Tonight and in You Know What I Mean where father and son sit at the piano together. There are many dramaturgical references to previous tours in the Not Dead Yet tour: The show is split in two halves, with the first mainly black and white and the second half colourful as on the Both Sides tour. The second half of the show begins with drums and I Don't Care Anymore – like the tours in 1982, 1985, and 1994/5. There are also references to the Serious tour: the delightful Separate Lives with Bridgette Bryant and the closing of the curtains at the end of the show. Even the pre-show music (Souareba) is the same as on previous tours.

Yes, this tour is a trip down nostalgia lane. It is, however, not a weak rehash but a well-planned thing that Phil put his heart and soul into. Let us hope that Phil and his band keep enjoying this modern style of touring and play not only in South America and other places on this planet. All that remains is do wish Phil health – and say thank you.

by Niklas Ferch, English by Martin Klinkhardt
Photos: Niklas Ferch, Pat McGuirk (Dublin), Leonard Wienke (London)

Phil Collins


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