Granted, such striking success had as much to do with inclement weather Friday night as it did the performance itself, surprisingly robust despite earlier reviews to the contrary and a rather stiff appearance in July at Live Earth. Five songs in, as the prog-rock veterans indulged their first (and longest) epic of the night, a 30 percent chance of rain quickly became a soaking reality for the 18,000 or so on hand, sheets of heavy drizzle almost mirroring the movement of the music.
As Phil Collins intoned "I've got sunshine in my stomach" at the outset of "In the Cage," the first piece in a medley often employed as Genesis' finale years ago, the clear skies suddenly grew misty and ominous. As the scene shifted to "The Cinema Show" and then the instrumental passage "Duke's Travels" (a change from the usual "Slippermen"), the rain started to fall harder – and yet the crowd's attitude toward this natural nuisance rapidly evolved from inconvenience to burgeoning ebullience, a muted might-as-well-play revelry settling in.
Finally, as the soothing "Afterglow" carried this 15-minute mega-composition to its finish, the wetness momentarily began to let up – while the Bowl itself, bathed in bright yellow, was illuminated as if the sun were rising just behind us, a nifty trick achieved by rows of powerful stage lights placed throughout the venue.
"Well," jovial Collins said dryly, "if there's one thing you can depend on at a Genesis show, it's (bleepin') rain."
Protective plastic shields were put up around Tony Banks' keyboards, lest they fry; later a giant umbrella was positioned over him. Stage hands emerged to mop up the floor around Collins and guitarists Mike Rutherford and Daryl Stuermer. "Stick with it, kids," Collins said, as if to his band mates as much as the audience.
And sure enough, for the better part of an hour the rain subsided while Genesis' show gathered momentum, the low-key nature of the players (including longtime second drummer Chester Thompson) overcome by a vivid backdrop of giant visuals that only needed a few inflatable animals to measure up to the Pink Floyd display Roger Waters presented here recently.
Soon a pattern surfaced: epic, hit, epic, hit, epic hit. It answered a lingering question: Which Genesis would show up on this tour?
I don't mean which incarnation, for obviously the absence of founding members Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett meant there would be no suite from "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," say – although the group often dipped into its early-'70s catalog, most notably for a sequence from "Selling England by the Pound," dovetailing from "Firth of Fifth" (and a supreme Stuermer solo) to "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)."
Rather, which aspect of this Collins-led Genesis would dominate? By the time of its commercial zenith (circa 1986's "Invisible Touch") the band had greatly downplayed complexity in favor of more straightforward MTV-driven hits, while still allowing room for sprawls like "Domino," another epic resurrected at the Bowl.
Thus, would this apropos-of-nothing reunion – accompanied only by the gradual reissuing of the band's catalog by Rhino Records – be more geared toward fans of "Throwing It All Away" (here a night-brightening singalong) and "Hold on My Heart"?
Certainly those soft-rock staples, along with other popular favorites like "Land of Confusion" and "Follow You Follow Me," were prominently featured. But neither did they overwhelm the proceedings or alienate hard-core fans, who delighted in darker entries like "Mama" and "Home by the Sea," as well as lesser-known tracks like the sumptuous "Ripples …" (treated to Roger Dean-ish visuals) and the churning instrumental "Los Endos," preceded here by one of the few engaging drum solos I've ever sat through.
Indeed, it was often remarkable how well the back-and-forth between radio fare and wilder flights of fancy meshed, never bogging down the evening's flow, instead achieving a crescendo of sorts by the time a fireworks-enhanced "Invisible Touch" concluded the main set.
At that point, however, the rains had returned – and with an unrelenting force that eventually did in the band. Banks' keyboards appeared to lose power during that last cut, and Genesis subsequently threw in the towel, perhaps prematurely. "We were gonna play one more song," Collins said, "but things are breaking down, and you're soaked."
The crowd hardly cared, clearly craving more, though even if they had gotten an encore, they might not have heard what they desired. Typically the group has returned (as it undoubtedly did Saturday night) with "I Can't Dance" and the "Lamb" feature "The Carpet Crawlers." Missing, then, were several staples: "Abacab," "Misunderstanding," "No Reply at All," "Man on the Corner," "That's All," "Dodo/Lurker" … it's a long list.
Genesis probably needed another hour to really produce the sort of deeply satisfying, career-spanning show some of us anticipated. All the same, these stalwarts, overdue for Hall of Fame recognition, fared just fine, serving their legacy quite well in the face of bad weather that easily could have made this a wash out.
© The Orange County Register, by Ben Wener