As Three Sides Live gets underway, we find Phil Collins at the drums, where he may never be found again — but only briefly, as he jumps up almost immediately to take the mic for "Behind the Lines." It’s really the perfect opening image.
After all, the song — like much of what Genesis would do in the ensuing decade — is a softly contoured pop confection, impossibly removed from the progressive narratives that once propelled their work from the decade before. Collins and Co. spend the rest of the film striking an impressive balance between both worlds.
In fact, Three Sides Live perfectly captures a band in transition, somewhere between what they had just been and what they were about to become. Interspersed with other songs from the Duke / Abacab period are behind-the-scenes footage from the on-going tour, notable for the big cars and the big wristbands, more than for anything that really happens.
No, the bulk of what resonates with Three Sides Live — filmed in November 1981 on tour due as a stand-alone DVD for the first time on November 4, 2014 via Eagle Rock — takes place on stage, as Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and touring members Chester Thompson and Daryl Stuermer begin an alchemy that will ultimately bring Genesis to the top of the pops. Already, you hear it inside "Misunderstanding," a bittersweet tale of romantic mishap; and, more particularly, in "No Reply at All," with its plasticine riff.
Genesis is changing, right before your eyes. And it makes minor triumphs like the title track from Abacab, featuring a canny mixture of prog and new wave, seem like a sadly missed opportunity — rather than the promising update it felt like at the time. Of course, we know now that the rangy menace of "Dodo/Lurker" will soon give way to something far more radio-ready and, alas, far less interesting. But that hasn’t happened just yet, and Three Sides Live is stronger for it.
In fact, Genesis deftly walks a very fine line along their own quickly fading dichotomy. They offer an intriguing, but not overlong medley of older moments, including "In the Cage," "The Cinema Show" and "Colony of Slippermen." And that’s coupled with newer, more straight-forward conceits like "Man on the Corner" and "Turn It On Again." Perhaps the most telling reach back into the catalog can be found in "Afterglow" from 1976’s Wind and Wuthering — the final album featuring guitarist Steve Hackett. This remains one of the most overt early hints at where Genesis was going, long before "Invisible Touch" was a gleam in Collins’ eye.
As such, Three Sides Live — which is rounded out by seven complete audio-only tracks from the same tour — serves as a recommended entry point for anyone who came to Genesis via the MTV era hits, and is now curious about what came before. Here’s a perfect bridge backward.
© Something Else!, by Nick DeRiso