Genesis broke up. His solo records stopped topping the charts. Movie producers stopped calling.
Now Collins is back at the larger-than-life level. A Genesis reunion tour came to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday and will stop at Giants Stadium tonight. And just like in the '80s, he is dominating.
It's not only because he's the lead singer. His partners Mike Rutherford (guitar, bass) and Tony Banks (keyboards) played well during Tuesday's 2 1/2-hour show. So did the band's longtime touring musicians, Chester Thompson (drums) and Daryl Stuermer (guitar, bass). But they had virtually no stage presence. And Collins, still impish at the age of 56, had loads of it.
Even when he just played drums -- and "just" may be the wrong word, since he is still one of the best drummers in the business -- his charisma was obvious, as he often projected a sense of abandon that added immeasurably to the music's appeal. And while Banks, Rutherford and Stuermer tended to keep their solos short, Collins and Thompson teamed up for a long, exploratory drum duet late in the show.
Collins was also a shameless ham, mugging during "Mama" (with the video cameras relaying close-ups to the capacity crowd) and leading the crowd in an "I love Genesis" chant. He marveled that some of the songs were more than 30 years old, and teased, "Any old people here tonight?"
Collins, Rutherford and Banks, who haven't toured together as Genesis since 1992, clearly view this tour as a career retrospective. They didn't just perform the obvious hits ("Invisible Touch," "I Can't Dance," "Turn It On Again"), but revisited material from the band's early days as progressive-rock trail-blazers. The show closed with "The Carpet Crawlers" -- a song from the group's landmark 1974 album "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway," with Collins singing the lead part that Peter Gabriel originally handled. Another "Lamb" song, "In the Cage," dominated a long, intense medley that concluded with the pretty 1977 ballad "Afterglow."
Throughout the show, complex compositions like "Firth of Fifth," "Los Endos" and "Behind the Lines" alternated with relatively sedate pop songs like "Hold On My Heart," "Throwing It All Away" and "Ripples." Collins was on the move constantly, playing drums during instrumental passages, then walking to the front of the stage to sing. He sang from behind his kit during only one song, an awkwardly slow version of "Follow You Follow Me."
"I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)" was accompanied by old photos and videos of the band -- some featuring Gabriel, as well as former guitarist Steve Hackett. At the end of this number, Collins played a dancing percussion solo, tapping a tambourine on his head, his knees, and other body parts; the video screen showed vintage footage of him, from an old concert, doing the same thing.
"I Can't Dance" began with the band stripped down to its core trio, and Rutherford playing some uncharacteristically gritty blues-rock guitar riffs. Then Thompson and Stuermer joined in, and Collins, Rutherford and Stuermer lumbered around the stage in a ridiculously stiff manner, echoing the song's famous video (an MTV staple, back in '92).
There was no new material in the show. The band hasn't come up with any since getting back together.
No announcement has been made yet regarding the possibility of more Genesis projects beyond this tour, which began in June and ends in mid-October. But certainly, everyone seemed to be having a good time on Tuesday. And there is enough obscure material on old Genesis albums for the band to come up with infinite variations on the current setlist, even without any new songs.
© Star-Ledger Staff, by Jay Lustig