Stick around for 40 years and naturally you're going to evolve through various phases that will appeal to different people.
Genesis has pondered this and understands it beautifully. The band pulled into Mellon Arena Sunday night on its first tour in 12 years with a 2-hour-and-40 minute set that was guaranteed to please, whether you like the "Lamb" or "Invisible Touch."
This wasn't the Peter Gabriel-led reunion that the hardcore following has been clamoring for, but we'll try not to dwell on that.
As it turns out, Genesis made a pretty good choice 33 years ago when it let the drummer sing. Phil Collins was able to quarterback the old art-rock sound for a while before saying, "what the hell," and the turning them into the pop machine that made an arena reunion like this even possible.
He's also held up well, looking somewhat like your gym teacher. In fact, all the members of Genesis still look fine and gentlemanly -- although that's hardly even important to the proceedings.
The band still fills a room with glorious sound and light, all on a set that looked like a stadium piece squeezed into an arena. Rather than all the ramps some bands use, Genesis says "let there be lights." They had a super, high-tech, industrial-looking layout with a giant LED spread that constituted a screen to show the band, abstract designs and a few creepy-scary closeups on Collins.
With Collins and Chester Thompson both on their kits, Genesis began smack in the middle of its career with a rousing "Duke/Turn It On Again," and then traveled in both directions. They did songs to get people dancing at concerts, songs to sweep you away to dreamy places, emotionally scorching ballads and songs to just blow you away with musicianship. It's totally weird that it's all coming out of the same band.
We got some of that funk-era Genesis in the beginning of the set with the oh-so-timely "Land of Confusion." Then Collins asked, "Any old people here tonight...except us?" Obviously, the answer was Yes (and not the Rick Wakeman Yes). With that, Genesis launched into the highlight of the show, a frenzied "In the Cage," powered by keyboard wiz Tony Banks pumping out the tension. OK, Collins doesn't hit the goosebump-inducing high notes Gabriel can, but he sang it strong and then ran to the drums for the proggy jam that ultimately came out the other end with a majestic "Afterglow."
Longtime guitarist Daryl Stuermer got his chance to shine -- and soar and shred -- on "Firth of Fifth," an instrumental that offers the feeling of flying through a fantastical land, without the benefit of drugs.
One of the reasons Genesis became popular in the '80s is Collins' balance of chops and showmanship. Unlike Gabriel, he'll goof with the crowd, as he did on "I Know What I Like," complete with circus-like tambourine trick, and the encore "I Can't Dance," with his comical strut. He can also turn sinister, as on the "huh-ha, huh-ha's" of the pounding "Mama," bathing him in a red-light closeup a la Vincent Prince.
"On behalf of the group," he joked after that, "I would like to apologize for the disgusting nature of that song," and introduced one that goes to a "place of innocence." It was "Ripples," a thing of pure thing of beauty delicately handled by Banks.
Drum solos are an arena cliche, unless Collins and Thompson are holding the sticks. They started by beating on stools and then eased over to their kits -- Thompson's enormous, Collins' more kid-sized -- for a workout that balanced flash with nuance, leading into another far-out jam, "Los Endos."
To close out the set and start the encore we got the lights-up, poppy, sing-along Genesis of "Invisible Touch" and "I Can't Dance." The final thought, though, a was a shimmering "Carpet Crawlers" that reverted to the original idea of a full-fledged reunion.
It wasn't meant to be this time -- or maybe ever -- but the "and-then-there-were-three" version of Genesis remains a force that can dazzle with beauty, intensity or pure fun.
© Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by Scott Mervis