Blue Snaggletooth Reviews:
First Time, 18/9/07 (Wachovia Center, Philadelphia PA)
With bootlegs playing in the car, my wife and I drove down south to my brother's house. I convinced her to wear my Lamb Lies Down on Broadway shirt, which has never fit me very well but looked fine on her--she was one of only two people I saw with Lamb shirts that night, even though she dislikes the album (!). She will have trouble forgetting that night for a while, because she tried to get out of our row of seats by going down to the next row, put her foot in the wrong place and got her leg stuck when the seat folded up under her. She has a nice bruise and a cut on her shin now.
The location of our seats was very good. They were in the 100s, so no upper level, and we happened to be in a section right near the entrance of the arena, so it was very easy for us to exit after the show. Also we had a good view of the stage, not too far away, even if our seats were on the sides and basically at a right angle to the stage. The acoustics of the hall were good; I had been worried that, it being an indoor venue, I might have the awful experience I had seeing Peter Gabriel in 2002 at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford--my wife and I had gotten high-level seats and sat through some of the worst sound I've ever heard at a concert. Fortunately there was none of that here.
To get the down sides out of the way first: the people sitting behind us were drunk. There were plenty of perfectly nice, middle-aged rockers in the audience, with families, who were not drunk. There were plenty of totally excited fans who were there to listen to the music and not be obnoxious. However we were sitting directly in front of the five or six 25-year-old drunken idiots. I know they were 25 because that was one of the first inane things that one of them yelled out to anyone who cared to listen. One of them seemed convinced that Peter Gabriel was going to join the band on stage--a sure sign, amongst the many others, of his being wasted. They claimed to be the "most excited" (read: drunk) people there, but spent a lot of the show talking over the music or leaving to get more drinks.
Unfortunately I found this all very distracting, so much so that I had to mention it first. I didn't want to pay attention to them but it was hard. I was also in the process of getting over a cold, which did not help my overall mood.
Now let's get to the positive part. I've been listening to recordings of Genesis for most of my life, and for seven or more years I've been listening to an ever-lengthening collection of "unofficial" live recordings. Actually being there is, well, different. Regardless of any idiots who may be standing behind you at the time, it's better. These guys know how to play music. The opening chords of "Behind the Lines" are killer, really a fantastic way to open the set. Now that I've heard them open that way it seems odd that the only other time they started the set with that song was in 1981. The instrumental passages in particular sounded really good--I was pleasantly surprised by "Second Home by the Sea," a strong jam with more power than I expected. There were the old standards like "In the Cage" and "I Know What I Like." I can't tell you how many recordings I have of these songs, and there have been times when listening to bootlegs where (I admit) I've groaned at the thought of having to plod through another version of these well-worn classics. But seeing them live was different, altogether different. It was so much fun to be there with the audience singing along to the chorus of "I Know What I Like," and the instrumental medley connected to "Cage" was blistering.
It was so exciting to finally be in an audience doing all the things that I'd watched or heard other audiences do a hundred times before: the silly cheering for the Domino Principle, the "Oh-Oohh-Oh!" refrain in "Land of Confusion," yelling "Hey!" in time with Phil's tamborine slapping during "I Know What I Like" (I was not fooled when he switched from two "Heys" to one!), and of course singing along at the end to "Carpet Crawlers." I even got to salute right back at Daryl when he was introduced (I'm sure he saw me). My main regret was not having the balls to get up and jump around like an idiot during the bridge in "Invisible Touch."
There really was a good crowd there that night, drunken idiots excepted. "We go back a long way, don't we Philly?" Phil asked at the end of the show. The band were able to book three consecutive nights at the Wachovia Center, and this first one was a sell-out. Before the show began I overheard a father giving a Genesis history lesson to what I assume were his sons, telling them about the uncertain period when Gabriel left the band. He made sure that they understood that, even if they lived a very long time and saw many other drummers in their lives, they would never see a better drummer than Phil Collins. During "Throwing It All Away," when the cameras point into the audience and project shots on the big screen, the camera found a sign with the message: "Still Turned On." The crowd cheered like crazy. I was surprised to hear extended cheering after the "Cage" medley, having somewhat come to the conclusion that most people there wanted to hear "Invisible Touch" and songs of that ilk. It was great to hear everyone in the audience anticipate Phil's singing in "Afterglow" (which is going to look like an orgasm when I type it): "Ohh, Oooohhh, OOOHHHH!!"
The crowd was a little uncertain about whether it wanted to stand up or sit down, and so patches of the audience would get up in a wave, and then slowly sit down again as the music changed. "Hold on My Heart" was a good sitting-down song. I remember recently being at a Bob Dylan concert where the great majority of the audience stood for the whole performance, and I remember finding it very tiring; but I would have been willing to stand through this whole show, if everyone else had been doing it. There were a few brave (and inconsiderate) souls willing to stand by themselves when everyone around them was sitting--I was not one of them.
I couldn't help comparing the show to the other European gigs I'd heard, especially the Dusseldorf show, which I have in its entirety on DVD. In some ways the Philly show upped the ante of the European gigs. Phil was naturally more comfortable with an English speaking audience, and now that they've done quite a few shows he was able to expand on his song intros. He did a good one for "Home by the Sea," making sure we were all spooked by his whispery ghost noises. He had a funny comment about how old the songs were before "In the Cage." His segue into "Ripples" after "Mama" was very funny--he apologized for the filthy nature of the last song and promised the band would never play it again. Maybe. (My brother made the interesting comparison of Phil's audience patter being like that of a grandfather entertaining his grandkids with some timeworn material.)
The drum duet was more impressive than I'd seen at Dusseldorf, which is saying something. Phil and Chester are getting very expert at tapping the legs and rungs of the stools at the beginning of the duet, and Phil was ducking down low and getting in some sweet little rhythms. Interestingly, on all the Encore series shows I have, you can hear Phil start yelling along as the duet reaches its climax. I couldn't hear him do this at the Philly show--I'll have to see what the Encore recording reveals. (The Encore confirms this--Phil does not yell along on the drum duet.)
The stage was necessarily smaller than at Dusseldorf in order to fit into the stadium--the extended side wings I had seen in Germany were totally removed here, and the stalks behind the screen may not have been as tall and did not have the fabric stretched between them (though there was a large backdrop behind everything). There was still an amazing light show, and there were still lighting rigs to travel up the stalks and shine red eyes down on us during "Second Home by the Sea." I was pleasantly surprised to catch a few graphics on the main video screen that I hadn't seen in my previous viewings of the stage show. The running man during "Cage" is a nice image, the animations during "Follow You Follow Me" were nice, and the nostalgic photos and videos during "I Know What I Like" were great--though I wonder who picked out the pictures of Phil.
I was also pleasantly surprised that we actually got to see the fireworks go off at the end of "Invisible Touch." I thought that this kind of pyrotechnic stuff was largely frowned upon in American shows nowadays, especially at an indoor arena, but they did it and it looked very cool.
Some other memories about the performance: I had heard Tony stumble on a few of the European recordings during the bridge section of "Cage," but he seemed to pull it off pretty smoothly this time. However I thought the band got a little unstable near the beginning of "Firth of Fifth," which I heard in one of the other European shows--Tony is perhaps still wrestling his demons on this song. I think my wife and brother agreed afterwards that even though "I Can't Dance" is definitely not their favorite Genesis song, the performance the band does for that one makes it a lot of fun. Though I didn't really notice it, Phil's voice was getting a bit tired by "Carpet Crawlers" and he strongly urged the crowd to sing along. There were a few times during the show when he put his hands to his ears to aid in singing. Oddly, I had the feeling a few times that the sound seemed wavery or off-key, like when a bootleg recording has a speed problem. I wonder if this was just my imagination of something to do with the acoustics of the hall--or an actual power fluctuation at the keyboards!
In the marketing department: the show began and ended with a recorded female voice reminding the audience that they could purchase an "official bootleg" recording of the show, "from the soundboard," on theMusic.com. I felt this was a bit tacky. Having absolutely no other alternative, we all stood in line and my brother and I bought our obligatory $40 T-shirts. Then my wife went back afterwards (hurting her leg in the process) and bought me a keychain, a mug, and a programme--for my birthday, which happened to fall between my first two Genesis concerts ever.