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The Lamb Over Italy


Concert report: The Musical Box performs The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway in Milan (January 16, second show) and Turin (January 17)

"The Lamb" is a hymn to the integral innocence of the human spirit meeting the bacon slicer of a corruptive society; a forerunner to the ‚street music’ of the late 70s and far better crafted. That’s why the legend of the piece grows stronger through the years while much rival material has gone siwftly to the dumper.“

(Tony Stratton-Smith, Milton Keynes, Oct 02, 1982, cf.. Archive I booklet, p. 66)

This is supposed to be a report, but it really is a eulogy.

A eulogy to The Musical Box who give an opportunity for those of us born too late, those of us who were not old enough or not even born in 1974/75, in short: The Musical Box give those among us who could not see Genesis perform their art rock opera The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway the opportunity to trick nature, history and biology simultaneously. It is as if we had climbed into H.G. Wells’ time machine and ended up thirty years before. What’s more, we catch up with something that we could not even dare dream of ten years ago. 

The first part reports from the TMB shows in Milan and Torino. The train drivers were on strike in Milan when the Musical Box concerts took place, and the whole of Torino is one big building site (because of the Olympic Winter Games in 2006), the bus from the city centre to the venue, the Mazda Palace next to the Iuventus stadium, takes 90 minutes plus a 20-minute walk. Milan's Teatro Smeraldo is located snug in the centre, not far from the Garibaldi station.


The Musical Box’s venue in Milan is a smallish old theatre with a wonderfully comfy atmosphere. The floor seats were all taken during both shows in Milan. There were some free seats on the gallery, but you could not see everything from there. It is fantastic to experience the band from so close in this this theatre. The stage is quite high there so that nothing obstructed the view. Turin’s Mazda-Palace is much larger but also much more impersonal. It is a kind of industrial pavilion in the outskirts of the city which gives the impression of the big-scale concert. Any kind of atmosphere was only created by the great acoustics, the terrific concert and the enthusiastic audience. The Turin venue holds far more people than the tiny theatre in Milan. Still all the floor seats were taken and only the seats on the very left and right ends of the gallery seats remained free so that the venue was sold out to about 80 percent – with no loss to the mood at all.

Attending a concert in Italy is something that takes getting used to. If you know what you are in for, you are going to have lots of fun. Though both venues had seating that does not mean at all that everybody sit down quietly and listen. At the very first opportunity people will loudly discuss the lighting effect with the people next to them – at the risk of missing the next three effects. Conversations provide a constant background noise. It is, of course, forbidden to take photos, but when the audience are reminded of this detail by the band they seem to see it as an incitement rather than anything. People merrily lift their mobiles everywhere to record parts of the show. It is nice to see, I think, that the audiences here have some basic rules and habits that they really stick to. Besides that, people keep going out and returning with beverages. This concert is, after all, a big party. A good part of the audience is made up by parents who have taken their children along for a night of reminiscing. An Italien prog rock newspaper handed out flyers in Milan stating that Genesis were still the number one act for Italian prog rock fans. The Italian audience furiously applauds every solo as if it were a jazz solo though Genesis’ solos are of course all fixed, improvisation being restricted to the beginning of The Waiting Room. You have to know these things if you plan on attending a concert in Italy, and if you do, you can enjoy the colourful chaos, the enthusiasm, the party atmosphere and the lively reception of sophisticated intellectual music. And the brilliant merry atmosphere. And the ecstatic calls for encores. At the end of the Milan concert there was no end of exclamations, all I could hear around me was “Bella!”, “Bellissima!” or simply “Mamma mia!”.

The stage setup was already drawing a lot of interest before the show began. Droves of people were inspecting the stage. Gabriel-Denis-Rael has three microphones and he switches between them in between numbers or at times even in mid-song. One is situated behind Hackett-Denis on the left-hand side of the stage, another one, the lead singer’s microphone proper, is placed (almost) centerstage, while the third one is to be found above Banks-David’s keyboards. Gabriel runs and rushes around, constantly switching mikes.
The stage setup followed quite a severe aesthetic, which makes for a brilliant contrast with the (mostly) black-and-white slide show. The dominant impression is that of a two-colour scheme, one of which is on Rael, the other on the band. While the band, for example, are covered in a bright red light, the spot directed at Rael is white or blue or another strongly contrasting colour. This effect is terrific. It’s such a simple idea, but what an impact is makes!

Gabriel-Denis opens the show from offstage. We see his shadow on one of the projection screens and he is apparently wearing something like the batwings from Watcher Of The Skies. The shadow welcomes the audience and tells the first half of the story of The Lamb. As usual, Gabriel speaks broken Italian which brings on the occasional big laugh from the audience and really brings everybody into the mood. Then they’re off.
The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway opens with three parallel slides showing New York’s skyline from the sea. Super. It’s a smashing rock song. It gets everybody going and set the pace for the evening. There is even more oomph to the opener in Turin where Denis is immediately recognizable as Gabriel. In Milan, however, the keyboards and his voice were initially too low in the mix so that it took me til “And out of the subway…” til I rediscovered Gabriel in Denis’ voice. After that, the Milan mix was brilliant, too. Then the end of the world in the second song. Fly On A Windshield is one of the chronicler’s all-time favourites. Hackett-Denis’ guitar solo is terrific and the change just before Rael’s voice comes back in is overwhelming. Even at this early moment there is the impression that will be confirmed over and over again throughout the show: The individual songs are so good live! Let there be no doubt as to the chronicler’s love of the studio album, but when played live, these songs take on an incredible, an almost impossibly strong power and elegiac drama.
Gabriel re-emerges onto the stage after the brief Broadway Melody Of 1974 from under Banks-David’s keyboards. Laying flat on his bare stomach, he plays the flute. The shirt remains off for In The Cage, the next highlight of the show. Later Denis wears a white shirt again under his Rael jacket.
The audience claps out the rhythm in the beginning of In The Cage, but they stop as the song develops as this number just takes your breath away and demands your constant attention. This song was better in Turin, too, because the keyboard solo came across much better due to an improved mix. The drum part just before the line “Outside the cage I see my brother John” seemed better in Turin to me, but those are details. It’s a smashing number, played hard indeed and sung flat-out, just the way it has to be. Then there’s the weird and wonderful Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging, an epitaph, we think, for capitalism and market economy. The mike brings out only parts of Gabriel-Denis’ voice, the music breaks down more and more, marvellous, even better than on the record. What a beginning! What a great performance! Gabriel then tells the story of the second half of the record using less Italian words. For the last part of Rael’s story he will stick to English. That’s what it would have been like at the time in Turin.
The next part kicks off with Back In N.Y.C., a song that looks back at Rael’s streetfighting time. During the third verse Gabriel throws a bottle onto a big stone in the rear of the stage. It explodes, all goes as planned, no need to complain to the pyrotechnician, it does look like a Molotov cocktail. The scene grows more intense shortly afterwards when Rutherford-Sébastien abruptly brings in his bass pedals that made both venues shake. Another highlight. A fine performance of Hairless Heart helps everyone to relax from such an intensity before the next climax in the shape of Counting Out Time. The band obviously enjoy playing this song (flawlessly to boot). The interpretations than can be derived from the clever use of the slide shows have been pointed out elsewhere in this report. The band hit all the right notes, even the peculiar ones in the middle of the song. It is almost like the real thing, only with fewer flaws. The staging is very smooth, the images can be seen very well. At times it takes a blink or so before the slides come into focus, but one hardly notices.
Carpet Crawlers is just soooooo beautiful, a number to sit back and enjoy before another highlight. The Chamber Of 32 Doors makes marvellous use of the drums that sound like a heap of rubble when they suddenly come in – a terrific live number. The lyrics are about Rael’s search for someone he can trust, the central topics being these:  “I’d rather trust a countryman than a townman” which anticipates the beginning of the green movement. His preference for “a man who works with his hands” criticizes egomaniac leaders (“I’d rather trust a man who doesn’t shout what he’s found”) – there’s just so much in these words. The lyrics are an assembly of all those central questions all those people in social and ecological pressure groups were asking themselves at the time.
Gabriel introduces the third part or Rael’s story after the final chords of this masterpiece. Funnily enough, parts three and four are introduced at the same time before they proceed to play the final two sides of the record in one go. It seems the band told him that he wasted too much time with the stories.
However that may be, we are in for a big thing. Lilywhite Lilith opens this part, followed by The Waiting Room, another highlight. Even if you do not like this song, the live version The Musical Box perform will take your breath away. The experimental part is fine, then the bang! Gleaming white light floods the audience from both sides of the venue – and the band move in for a smashing second half of the song. Best of all at this point is Martin Levac who does not only look like Collins but also copies his drumming technique to the minutest detail. The Waiting Room is just incredible, a true peak of the show. Anyway has Gabriel-Denis lying lazily on the left-hand side of the stage, probably enjoying Hackett-Denis superb guitar solo. Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist is introduced with a shadow play be Gabriel-Denis. He is wearing a kind of stag antlers and does a little death dance. Musically, it’s a terrific duet of Hackett-Denis and Collins-Martin, who often sings backing vocals during other songs and adds a fine la-la-la to the guitar parts. Another highlight approaches: The Lamia is the more intense because of the surrealist Lamia slides and the circular blue curtain that is pulled up around Gabriel. He vanishes behind it, only to become visible again in the chorus as an archetypical representative of mankind as he moves the curtain himself. Just beautiful, so sensitive and so fitting for the lyrics. Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats and Ravine are something that could be called a “sound painting”. The song intensifies a mood, in this case the mood of sorrow, desperation, lonelyness, which is reflected in the slides. They show a single person in a wide and open landscape, for example, in a desert. The slides are a great means of intensifying a feeling expressed onstage. Sometimes they are also used as a contrast, clashing with what happens on the stage – there’s no end to their stylistic use.
After that, it’s the maniacal Colony Of Slippermen, a brilliantly performed highlight from the keyboard solo to the rises up to the individual verses. There’s a sense of suspense right from the very beginning when a spideresque being slowly works its way through a plastic sheet covered in red light. Then Gabriel-Rael-Slipperman stands up in his surrealistic costume and displays all of his horrifying glory. Who could ever conceive of such a costume? In the beginning the costume appears and is presented like something straight out of hell, Gabriel takes to jumping around in it near the end of the song, which brings satirical note into the horror painting of this number. Incredible. A culmination of visual and auditive experiences.
Ravine and the beautiful The Light Dies Down, which is played a bit slower than The Lamb, help to relax before the superb keyboard solo and the otherworldly drumming in Riding The Scree produce another highlight. In The Rapids is accompanied by slide show images from someone near rapids and waterfalls, just like on the LP cover. The lyrics from the Slippermen to the Rapids are about moving on from pure revolting. There has to be an ethical component in the revolt, Gabriel thinks, it is all about the meaning of life, about nonviolence and solidarity, if you will. Gabriel propagates ethical altruism in these songs. Though John has betrayed his brother Rael for the second time in the Slippermen, Rael rescues him in the rapids when John is in danger and shouts for help. This is almost Christian charity, but it is tinted in a Buddhistic message. If you are altruistic, that is, if you disregard your own ego by helping and rescuing others, you will experience It, the meaning and happiness of life. It means: There is a bit of God in everyone of us, in every thing, every being, so you had better try to treat it with respect, not to destroy but to protect it. The final message of The Lamb is very similar to that of Supper’s Ready. While Supper’s Ready promises salvation by divine, messianic help from outside, The Lamb brings salvation by the human act of solidarity: It is real, it is rael. Write that  together and you get “Israel”, a symbol for the escape from the diaspora of sorely tried mankind. With this message Gabriel of course transcends Rael, the punk before punk, and his “no future”. There is a future, there is a utopia. The Lamb propagates solidarity with the other, with “Brother John” – it becomes a political project that Gabriel fights for with his human rights activities. The visuals become very confusing for the audience at the beginning of It (yet another highlight): Amidst strobe lighting Rael appears simultaneously on the top left side and on the top right side of the stage, symbolizing, I think, Rael and his saved brother John. Out goes the light and lo! There’s Rael centerstage singing the song that  rumbles like thunder and ends with some pyro-explosions. What a finale! Mamma mia!

The dress-up orgy continues with the encores The Musical Box and Watcher Of The Skies. Gabriel-Denis is wearing a much finer batwing suit than on previous shows, he is clothed in a green cloak and features impressive dramatic gestures. We won’t tell what they look like because if you’ve made it that far, you have experienced the best, most wonderful, most fantastic art rock opera in rock music history live, far superior to The Who’s Tommy or Quadrophenia or Floyd’s The Wall, and I know what I’m on about because I’ve seen The Wall live at the time. There is nothing that could come even close to The Lamb. Don’t miss out on this journey through time. It is most likely that this opportunity will never come back. The Musical Box have created an exceptional show that will hardly ever be repeated in this exceptional quality.

by fang

translated by Martin Klinkhardt

The Musical Box

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