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Not Dead Yet live
Still Not Dead Yet Tour Essay

Phil Collins: (Still) Not Dead Yet Live 2017 - 2019

Sheffield vs. Prague, or Why the tour is important


Prologue ...

Phil Collins live. That was always something I wanted to see. And it always delivered. I attended my first Phil Collins show at the Niedersachsen stadium in Hannover, Germany, on September 3, 1994. It poured down for much of the show but Collins delivered. I paid 60DM (30 EUR) for that ticket. Three years later I went to the Trip Into The Light. For 70DM (35 EUR) Collins played us a fantastic two-and-a-half hour show. It was the tour with the round stage, it was spectacular, the band were excellent and Collins in perfect shape. I saw the show in Dortmund three times and another time in Frankfurt. 

Then came the Big Band tour. And Collins delivered again, albeit something completely different. He sang only two songs in the encores and just played the drums for the rest of the night – this was musical heaven on earth for me. Others disagreed, and left the show in droves after a handful of songs. When Testify came out in 2002 Collins did not want to tour with it. The promo event in Hamburg was special nevertheless. A stripped-down stage show, interesting set and a piano version of In The Air Tonight surprised his fans. It turned out later that he did not want to do without a tour. In 2004 and 2005 he played his First Final Farewell tour – and I was there, of course: in Milwaukee, twice in New York City and twice in Dusseldorf, Germany. Then Genesis went on tour, and I went to see them several times. The Motown showcases in North America and Montreux were another special moment. I skipped those because I was hoping for shows closer to where I lived in the following year. Those did not come up, Collins retired and made headlines with his health rather than his music.

Hopes went up in 2014 when Collins rehearsed in Miami to see what was possible or how they could do live appearances. The list of the songs that were rehearsed spread quickly among the fans, but nothing came of it. In 2016 we saw Phil at the U.S. Open and in a talkshow on American TV (e.g. here), and later that years the bombshell burst: Using a walking stick Phil took the stage at a press conference in London and announced his stage comebeck. My first thought: Wow! My second: Really?

The man could hardly walk and did not look as if he could do a half-hour show.


The tour approaches ...

Fifteen concerts were announced, five each in London, Cologne, and Paris. Later a kind of dress rehearsal in Liverpool was added, as were open air / festival shows in Dublin and in Hyde Park, London. Ticket sales began, and a number of questions loomed large in my head: Am I prepared to drive more than 550km or fly even longer? And even more crucial: Do I want to see Collins again? And can he still play the drum fill for In The Air Tonight? He had not ruled it out at the press conference. When the ticket prices for Cologne were revealed, I knew: Without me. The best seats (seats!) in the arena cost 350 EUR. Prices in London weren’t any better, and they suddenly had a reseller scandal. Indifference spread, and quite a bit of anger because someone who stood up for fairly decent ticket prices suddenly demanded grotesque sums of money (or at least did not stop someone else from asking them).

The tour approached, and I had no ticket. I did not feel like going either. The first feedback arrived from Liverpool. Yes, he sat throughout the concert, and no, he did not play the drums at all. All this confirmed that I was doing the right thing, wasn’t I? Well, there was this video of You Know What I Mean that really gripped me: Phil Collins sitting at the piano with his then sixteen-year-old son. That was beyond moving. I was also very surprised to find he had brought back I Don’t Care Anymore.

I still left it at that. Then Phil had his accident in London that meant two shows at the Royal Albert Hall had to be postponed. A couple more dates were arranged around the postponed shows, so the UK was treated to a brief and unexpected tour in autumn 2017. That was an opportunity to see a show after all, and so a couple of friends and I flew to Sheffield in later November.


Sheffield, November 24, 2017

It was the second show of the autumn/winter leg of the tour. Sheffield was a new destination for me. We flew from Prague (which is more easily reached from Dresden than Berlin) to Manchester and took a rental car to Sheffield. We checked in at the hotel where there was a slightly grotesque congregation of elderly ladies in Santa costumes and some kind of pajamas, and went to the show full of excitement...
The venue filled slowly. It was full, though not completely sold-out.

Collins entered the stage with the aid of a walking-stick and explained in so many words that his leg was weak after a lot of surgery, but that that should not stop anybody from having fun. There was a curtain behind him, so all we saw was Phil in his chair and the two spots beside him. Familiar piano sounds could be heard, and, as in the first shows of the tour, it was Against All Odds that he began the concert. Some things were clear to me right away: All the expectations I might have had from the show had gone out of the window. This was going to be completely different. Collins has grown older, yes, he seems old, and sitting will not help his voice. He will have to strain his voice to manage higher or louder parts of songs, but his singing will be good. Remember, the man is a drummer by training and a singer rather by accident. But the singing drummer, as he liked to style himself, has become a singing ex-drummer. I would not be able to ignore that at any point of the show. Another factor was the lump in my throat. This was going to be emotional. The first lines of the song made that clear.

I was soon overwhelmed with so many emotions - Nic Collins's shadow appears larger than life above his seated father as he hits the drum in the best Collins tradition. Against All Odds has always also meant hard drumming in the middle of a ballad. Applause from the audience.

Sheffield 01

Two other world-wide hits followed: Another Day In Paradise sounds much more like a live performance then on previous tour (thanks not least to Nic’s excellent drumming) and a totally obsolete One More Night. Wake Up Call is the first surprise in the set. It is one of Collins’s favourites from his more recent albums and is well-received. Why this song should be so appealing is a mystery to me, though. “I used to be in a band a couple of hundred years ago”, Collins announces. Yes, he does it again: A Genesis song, Follow You Follow Me. It reminds me strongly of the Genesis tour. The screens show footage from the past of the band – Genesis showed that during I Know What I Like. Unfortunately, Collins cannot drum to this song anymore. Nostalgia spreads through the venue, and Collins’s fear that, whatever he’d play, he’d never play what the audience wanted, is only partly founded. The audience respects this trip into the past. The topic of the next song, Can’t Turn Back The Years, a favourite both of Collins and yours truly, is an apt summary of many moments of the show. Somehow I feel as if Daryl’s guitar playing had never been as good as here during the quiet moments.

When I Missed Again began I realized once more what a fantastic live band Phil Collins has brought together. A number of music magazines have regularly described it as the benchmark in rock and pop. A song like I Missed Again is probably great fun for the band – and the audience. It was followed by Hang In Long Enough – so it took eight songs for some real action on the stage. This was, perhaps, the biggest weakness of the 2017 seat. Hang In Long Enough … During the summer tour I had created a play list on Youtube with live versions of the song from all tours since 1990 (i.e. 1990, 1994, 1997, 2004, and 2017). The band groove, Collins leaps and jumps and runs around … only in 2017 it seems out of place. Everybody on the stage is moving around, the audience have a ball and Collins sits and watches. That kind of moment is hard to digest. Sheffield Band

Phil then introduced his band. Everybody got a great round of applause. When Collins says how proud he is to have his sixteen-year-old son on the drums, even the reserved Sheffield audience break out into a roar. How must Nic be feeling a band full of old men (from his point of view), a band full of legendary names such as Brad Cole, Leland Sklar, Daryl Stuermer, Luis Conte? How does he manage? How does he cope with the pressure of playing to 12,000 people. It is impressive...

Separate Lives worked better as a performance than Hang In Long Enough; Collins would not move much during this song anyway. Bridgette Bryant was back, and memories of 1990 were as much permitted as they were interesting. Collins appeared to be slightly unsure how he should sing the song. 

In 2017 the show was split into two parts. The dark horse of No Jacket Required brings the first set to its end: Only You Know And I Know begins similarly to the 12” maxi version (and the version of the Both Sides tour). The day before Collins had played Who Said I Would for the first time on the tour. Then the interval.

The second part of the set began with a drum duet. Nic Collins got to show himself and enjoyed battling with Luis Conte. The drums introduced I Don’t Care Anymore, and Phil Collins returned during the first bars of the song. Though he did have problems singing this and that part, he did a remarkably good version of I Don’t Care Anymore. Of course, he did not shout anymore as in 1983 or 1995, but it was a solid performance. And it was one of those songs that somehow fit – he didn’t care, he played it anyway. His problems with the singing were greater in Something Happened On The Way To Heaven. His backing vocalists had to help out more often, but it is not an easy song to sing. 

The most emotional moment of the night had come. The band left the stage, Nic came to the front and sat down at the piano (actually, a keyboard made up to look like a piano) with his old man: “Nic listened to my old albums and found one song he liked. One.” Laughter in the audience. “I’ve got no idea how to play it, so Nic learnt it and we’re going to play it now.” You Know What I Mean. Who would have thought that Collins would ever bring back such a jewel? “I wish I could write a love song” – the line sounds crazy today, but he really brought the fragile, desperate feeling into his singing. The lump in my throat was as big as it would get. In The Air Tonight did not change that. Nic drummed through it, and Phil sang it with a lot of concentration. I missed the aggressive singing in the end.

Sheffield 03

The last five songs were the usual Collins party. The only songs missing (compared with previous tours) were Two Hearts and perhaps Wear My Hat. I got the odd feeling during this section that the band were going through it faster than Collins could sing, or rather, that Collins could hardly keep up with them. Sussudio was a farce, that should not have been done like that. But he probably had to play it.

The show ended, predictably, with Take Me Home. Sheffield was an interesting experience. The introspection was exhausting. The show was moving in many parts, nostalgic in others, and some songs were very hard to bear. Even if you had already adapted your expectations, this night challenged the fan on any number of levels. It was good to have been there. Wonderful. And it was the feeling of having seen him for the last time..


The Sheffield set:

Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)
Another Day In Paradise
One More Night
Wake Up Call
Follow You Follow Me
Can't Turn Back The Years
I Missed Again
Hang In Long Enough
Separate Lives
Only You Know And I Know

Drum Duet
I Don't Care Anymore
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
Sussudio

Take Me Home



Prague, June 25, 2019


Some eighteen months later the tour has been renamed Still Not Dead Yet Live. Earlier that year Phil had toured in Australia and New Zealand, where he had, surprisingly, changed the set list a bit by playing a shortened version of Inside Out. He then returned to play Europe in the summer, mainly in big stadiums, with the exceptions of Milan and Prague, where he’d have no support act either. So I had the opportunity to see Phil Collins once more.

Prag 01The discussions on the internet now focused on whether Phil Collins appeared and/or sang stronger than in 2017. There were, interestingly, two main camps: People from one group had not attended any shows, did not find any improvement and were appalled by Collins’s performance (which many of them judged by Youtube clips). The other group had attended shows, and they were usually ecstatic. The level of expectations would have been the decisive factor. People who did not see the show aren’t really qualified to judge it. Youtube clips have never been a good indicator and are really not a good foundation on which to judge a show. I admit that I, too, watched many of them, but what I experienced in Sheffield was something completely different.

We decided to go to Prague for this leg of the tour. It is easy to get there from Dresden, and, more importantly, it is an indoor show. Waiting in a stadium at 35°C or sitting at the far end of it did not appeal to us. Hence, Prague. June 25 was a hot summer day and it was very hot in Prague. We found a place to park our car near the venue, which gave us time for a quick meal in a nearby mall. Entrance procedures were a bit weird – we all had to go through a security check like the ones at airports – this is probably the price we all have to pay, but it delayed the entry quite a bit. When we took our seats at 7:50pm the arena was full but only a third of the seats in the stands were taken. In the end, the show began with half an hour’s delay, with Salif Keita’s Souareba that has been the final pre-show track at Phil Collins shows for years.

The interval the show used to have in 2017 was a thing of the past. Phil Collins would play the concert in one go. The show as well as the setlist had changed from 2017.

Prag 02

To be honest, Collins did not seem any fitter than in 2017. You always had the impression that he found it incredibly difficult to stand and walk. The curtain was gone, so Collins entered the stage shortly after his band to riotous applause. The atmosphere in Prague was far better than in Sheffield. Every now and then there would be loud rounds of cheers, and the audience was in excellent spirits before Collins had even said a word. He spoke a couple of words in Czech before he switched to English for the rest of the evening. There was a huge applause when the drums came in in Against All Odds, and again in Another Day In Paradise. Nic has fine-tuned his part for the latter song, and the version of the 2019 European tour will probably become the definitive live version.

Prag 04One of the big flaws of the 2017 set was fixed, too: The third song, Hang In Long Enough got the audience going and improved the excellent mood. Don’t Lose My Number was another addition in the set (or rather, an exchange), but Collins sang something completely wrong and threw glances of “I’m sorry” at his band. After the song he explained to the audience: “Did you realize, I fucked up. I have to apologize to my band.” Whether you really need Don’t Lose My Number in the set is a question of personal taste. You could argue that It Don’t Matter To Me, Survivors, or Find A Way To My Heart would have worked equally well, but fact is: You can’t go very wrong with this song, and it is rather better known than the others.


The Genesis track Throwing It All Away came new into the set in the South American leg of the tour in 2018. It works well in a Collins set though I’d have preferred another Collins solo song. There are quite enough hits among them, e.g. Can’t Stop Loving You, Both Sides Of The Story, or I Wish It Would Rain Down. Collins missed an opportunity here in my eyes because Follow You Follow Me stayed in the set. Unlike the first three shows at the beginning of the tour, Mike Rutherford did not appear on stage (the Mechanics’ stint as the support act had been over for some shows), and this was the only moment when I regretted not having been to the Berlin show.

Prag 7I Missed Again was played again in Prague. Phil had occasionally not played it. And we were also treated to Who Said I Would which was extended by an instrumental saxophone part. After that the band were introduced. Major applause for Daryl Stuermer, and the audience cheered for Leland Sklar before Phil even got around to mentioning his name. I knew something like this only from the introduction of Tony Levin at Peter Gabriel’s shows. It’s great to see how bass players can become cult people. Arnold McCuller joked around a bit with Phil and threw him sultry looks, to which Phil drily replied “later, later”. It was, of course, Nic Collins who got the most applause. Phil appeared to be very moved by the reaction of the audience, and his voice wobbled twice at the beginning of Separate Lives. Still he sang the song with much more self-confidence than in 2017.

Prag 8Prague held a number of emotional moments for me, but I had sort of become accustomed to it by the Sheffield show. This changed with the Drum Trio. Yes, trio. Nic first duetted with Richie Garcia who replaced Luis Conte on percussion. This duet was longer than in 2017. Phil himself sat right in front of his son’s drumkit before he grabbed a kind of digital conga (called cajon; thank you, Brad Marsh, for answering that) and set the rhythm for the second part of the drum solo. Nic and Richie joined in and played variations on the cajon. This was a special moment for me, for it felt like Phil had returned to the drums. I should mention that he kept playing air drums all the time. How does it feel for someone whose health has taken the very thing he does best, indeed, better than almost everybody else? It was a wonderful moment, and the audience noticed. The drum intermezzo then introduced Something Happened On The Way To Heaven. You Know What I Mean followed, and it was wonderful to see that this song had survived all the changes of the tour. “You’re young only once”, said Phil ambiguously when he sat down at the piano and joked about the time when Nic joined the band. 

Prag 06You Know What I Mean was one of the highlights again, but this time In The Air Tonight managed to grip me, too. This was because Collins stood for this song, sang better than in 2017 and let his hair down. After that it was the usual Collins hit party. Sussudio was not as terrible as in Sheffield, but Easy Lover had some moments where I felt embarrassed for Phil. These songs and their show elements are a legacy that does not really fit a 2019 Collins show.

The encore, Take Me Home, seemed to be shorter than in 2017. I loved the fact that it sounded from the beginning to the end because it was played without a drum computer. This song has evolved very well since 1985, and unlike Sussudio I would miss it if it were left out.


The Prague setlist:

Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)
Another Day in Paradise
Hang In Long Enough
Don't Lose My Number
Throwing It All Away
Follow You Follow Me
I Missed Again
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
Sussudio

Take Me Home



Take A Look At Me Now - Collins 2017 and 2019

Prag 03

It remains a question of expectations. The fans get older, the musicians shouldn’t. When he played the first shows on this tour, Phil Collins was 66. In Prague he was 68. To be fair, he appears older than he is. Leland Sklar is older and definitely fitter. Daryl Stuermer is not much younger but somehow still looks like he looked in 1992. All these observations change what we have seen. But then Collins was the one who ran around on the stage, jumped behind his drum kit, drummed and sang at the same time and (usually) to a high standard and generally was the one person to keep the party going for two-and-a-half hours straight. Now he hobbles onto the stage, sinks into his chair and has problems hitting the high notes. He has not lost his humour but he has to work so much harder to make his was through a show, even though it is “only” two hours these days. It was 2016 when he first played In The Air Tonight at the US Open with Nicholas. He seemed fitter and his voice sounded stronger than on the subsequent tour.

Yes, he has grown old, and he is miles away from being physically able to do what he did in 2007. This may be not enough for many fans, particularly for those who loved to see him play the drums. We all get older, we all can do less, and now someone is up there on stage and showcases this change, this effect of life in a concert. How dare he? “Still not dead yet” is the tongue-in-cheek title of his tour, but it is an effort for the fan to put all this into the right context. Expectations determine the outcome. Nobody who expects a Phil Collins on the level of his 1990 tour will come contented out of these shows. But we must not expect that.

Prag 10

The most absurd discussions revolved about his singing abilities in 2019. His voice has aged, too, and everybody can see that Collins is not as strong on the stage as he used to be. He sings well, but by no means as well as he used to be. There is a reason that You Know What I Mean is his finest vocal moment. There are no backing singers here, just his son playing the piano (and Brad Cole adding subtle keyboard chords). It is this song that shows how Collins works best in 2019: when the singing is reduced to expressing the essentials, and when it has this, yes, fragile element. The gigantic sound explosions of Hang In Long Enough and Sussudio are not his thing anymore – or they happen outside the frame of his abilities.


The band

Prag 19One of the most constant elements in Phil Collins’s solo career has been his live band. Brad Cole, Leland Sklar, Daryl Stuermer have all been part of it frequently or for a very long time. Amy Keys and Arnold McCuller are experienced hands, and he also brought back Bridgette Bryant. Collins’s old mate Ronnie Caryl plays the rhythm guitar stolidly, a position that was kind of not filled before 1997. The horn section has been in his band (in varying permutations) for ages, too. Harry Kim alone had played countless shows with Collins. Luis Conte quit to have time for other projects. He was replaced smoothly by Richie Garcia. 

The biggest change in the band was – the drummer. There is no second drum kit on the stage, for Phil Collins does not play the drums anymore. And he gave the most responsible job in the band to a sixteen-year-old who happens to be his son...


The Nic factor

I have talked about emotions. Giving Nic Collins the crucial rhythm position, placing a sixteen-year-old in a band full of world-class musicians who could all be his grandparents, was a risk. Leland Sklar has always repeated how well Nic develops and how well he plays. It is probably also due to the experience of Leland Sklar that Nic found the confidence he needed to face those large audiences. Apart from the adrenaline kick and his father’s pride he always got the most love from the audience. He grew more confident, matured and has grown-up, as it were, on tour. Let the professionals judge his drumming – as a layman I say he has done a terrific job. And he is probably the reason that Phil Collins has started to tour again. “I missed that”, Phil would frequently say at shows – what kind of a feeling must it be to be able to do this kind of tour with your son?


Ticket prices

There’s not much good to be said about the ticket prices. There were no new records for so-and-so many sold-out concerts, but that was because the ticket prices for Phil Collins 2017-2019 were absurd to impertinent. Leaving ticket pricing to local promoters was a big mistake. A Collins tour has apparently become an exclusive event for the well-off. This cannot be Phil’s idea, for he made sure for many years that almost everybody could afford a ticket to his shows. It was a point of pride for Genesis that tickets for their shows were cheaper than tickets for U2 and others. All this does not count for anything in 2017-2019. That’s a shame. Ticket prices for the Collins shows in 2017 to 2019 are obscene, period


Prag 11Social Media

Unlike previous tours, everything about this tour is documented, dissected and discussed on Youtube and elsewhere. The atmosphere in the run-up is different, and it frequently changes with Facebook “likes” and comments; in-depth analyses are made based on bad quality videos, ticket buyers talk about the greatest show of all times they are going to see, and everybody is right. If you rely on the collective opinion of Facebook and its cohorts to tell you whether to attend the show or not then you are hopeless. Let us retain a bit of nescience and our love of adventure. Let’s not permit the fear of disappointment to keep us from enjoying things. Things become easier and more relaxed that way, and you may even enjoy the experience all the more.


What next?

Good question. Will there be another album? Is the tour going to continue? Phil is going to play a number of shows in North America again in fall [2019] with no plans beyond that. An Asian tour seems possible. Apart from that there does not seem to be much point in continuing with this tour concept. A new album would be desirable. Phil has not been working on anything, according to his on statements, so he could start from scratch with new ideas. Why not do something completely different. Rick Rubin would certainly be a good choice as a producer and Collins could do something nobody would have expected from him. What we want does not really matter, though. Collins himself would have to have the impetus, and he doesn’t seem to have found it yet.

Prag 22Another prominent issue has resurfaced with the European leg of the tour: What’s up with Genesis? Mike’s guest performance on stage has made it seem less absurd than it would have seemed two years ago. Mike appeared to be open for it when we spoke with him in April 2019 (read the full interview here), and Tony Banks would not rule out anything in our most recent interview with him, though what he said does make a new tour look rather less than likely.

Going out and playing to an audience obviously does Phil a world of good. And it’s good for the fans, too, that he is back and making an offer.

Whatever will happen: It would be great if Collins were to become more active again and stays active as long as he enjoys it. Whichever offer he makes: continued tours, a new album, Genesis, something else, we have the choice: We can go or not not, we can buy the album or not. It’s as simple as that.


by Christian Gerhardts, English by Martin Klinkhardt
photos by Mat Goadsby (Sheffield) and Matthias Fengler (Prag)

 


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