Genesis is a forgettable adult-contemporary band of the '80s and '90s fronted by a well-liked, amiable bald dude. And Genesis is a rather obscure '70s English prog-rock band with a penchant for extended instrumental jags.
The first band could fill an arena full of mildly interested star-watchers, and the second could thrill a theater full of hard-core fans and enthusiastic air drummers. But put the two bands on the same bill, and you've got some problems.
That's what happened Tuesday night at a packed HP Pavilion in San Jose as Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford performed the first Genesis show in the Bay Area in more than a decade. The band skipped many of its signature Collins-sung hits - including "That's All," "Abacab" and "Misunderstanding" - in favor of a show that drew from all three decades of the band's history, with key contributions from all members of the band, including longtime sidemen Chester Thompson on drums and Daryl Stuermer on guitar and bass.
It was an utterly polished, professional show, with the instrumental segments more John Tesh "Live at Red Rocks" than scrappy, experimental jam band. Genesis played the exact same set they have been playing throughout the tour, from the instrumental opening to 1980's "Duke" LP, which opened the show, to the closing "The Carpet Crawlers," from the band's last album with original lead singer Peter Gabriel in 1974. This is not a band that likes to fly by the seat of its pants. But the band and its crew got better sound out of the echoey arena than most, and the video presentation was first-rate.
Despite the nods toward democracy, Collins, switching back and forth from a microphone in the front to a second drum kit in the back, remained the undisputed star of the show. A born showman and a natural musician, Collins could entertain a crowd simply by banging a tambourine on various body parts, which he did at one point. And take away the tambourine and his microphone, and the former child actor could probably hold the crowd's attention with a mime act.
As a singer, the 56-year-old Collins has held up well, still capable of generating chills with the creepy laugh from "Mama" or tenderly crooning the band's first U.S. hit, "Follow You, Follow Me." And as half of an eight-limbed drum machine with Thompson, his percussive soul mate of 30 years, Collins proved beyond a doubt that he's much more than just a pop star. The pair's extended drum duet, which began with the two standing face-to-face between their two drum sets, was one of the evening's most entertaining segments.
Throughout the night, the pendulum swung wildly from familiar MTV hits such as "Land of Confusion" to "really, really old stuff" (in Collins' words) with shifting time signatures and extended Banks keyboard solos. (Unlike in the Gabriel days, no one came out dressed as a petunia or a she-wolf to add a little visual pizazz.)
The material that came across best was from the late '70s to early '80s period when the band was writing concise pop songs that were still rhythmically interesting, tunes such as "Mama" and the tour's theme song, "Turn It On Again." The atmospheric "Home by the Sea" sounded great, too. But '90s ballads such as "No Son of Mine" and "Hold on My Heart" are just watered-down versions of pretty-good ideas Collins had a decade or two earlier. Thank God they didn't pull out "Jesus He Knows Me."
At around the two-hour mark, Collins and the band wrapped up the main set with a restrained arrangement of "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" that seemed on the verge of exploding but never did. Before the good part kicked in, the music segued into the band's vapid yet catchy mid-'80s monster hit, "Invisible Touch," which ended with an impressive display of indoor fireworks.
The band returned for an encore of "I Can't Dance," from the group's final album with Collins, then Collins announced that for the last number, they would be performing "The Carpet Crawlers," yet another number from the Gabriel days. That was the cue for much of the crowd to gather its things and head toward the exits, creating an odd final memory for a veteran band we were probably seeing for the last time.
© San Jose Mercury News, by Shay Quillen