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Genesis dazzles with old, new at United Center

But for the most part, the 2 1/2-hour show served as showcase for musicians who are at the top of their craft, and it was clear the band put some thought into the play list for what was the first of three almost-sold out shows.

Without a new album to support, it would have been easy to churn out the hits and toss in a few nuggets for the older fans. But the boys mixed things up nicely, blending Top 40 hits with seldom-heard gems, making for a memorable show.

Fans knew from the start, as the band dove into the instrumental "Behind the Lines," that a special night was in store.

Genesis stayed true to the promise of lead singer/drummer Phil Collins, who early on said, "We're going to run through all the different periods of Genesis, and we hope there will be something you like"

Was there ever.

After the percussion-heavy "Turn It On Again," with Collins sharing drum duties with Chester Thompson, the band tore into the bleak "No Son of Mine," with Collins spitting out the bitter lyrics. Then it was to the "Land of Confusion," originally a Reagan-era shot at Cold War politics that is as relevant today given, as Collins noted, there's "not too much love to go around."

Then it was a trip in the "Wayback Machine" as Genesis returned to the days of former frontman Peter Gabriel with a stirring rendition of "In the Cage" from their 1974 breakthrough album "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway." The grand, sweeping song started with Collins on lead vocals and ended with keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist Mike Rutherford, on the double-neck guitar, trading sizzling solos.

Gabriel, by the way, was invited to join this tour, but declined.

"In the Cage," followed by "Cinema Show," "Duke's Travels," "Afterglow" and the newer song "Hold On My Heart," set a tone for the night as the band hop-scotched through the years. Many of the songs evolved into dazzling jam sessions.

Collins was quick to introduce Thompson and bass guitarist Daryl Stuermer, both with the band roughly 30 years and both of whom are content to let the main trio - Rutherford, Banks and Collins - grab the spotlight while providing a strong base.

You don't realize how many hit songs Genesis has had until you see the band live. Nor do you think of their wide range. From their progressive rock beginnings to their pop rock years, the band has always struck gold. So it was Tuesday.

Calling it the band's "scary song," Genesis broke into "Home By the Sea," paining an eerie picture of a house surely absent from Great Britain travel guides. That segued into "Second Home by the Sea," another jam session bathed in a rainbow of lights. The stage, with a video screen shaped like Gumby's head, served as fun eye candy.

And, somehow, the sound was pristine in the cavernous United Center.

Although the set list has not varied on the current world tour, the songs - and Collins' bantering - did not seem stale. They may have played "Follow You, Follow Me" thousands of times in 30 years, but it still sounded fresh.

So did the rollicking instrumental "Firth of Fifth" and the gentle "Ripples." The latter was played after a scorching version of "Mama," with Collins looking downright devilish in tight closeups. Tongue in cheek, he apologized for "that disgusting song ... filled with sexual innuendo," and vowed Genesis "won't play that song again until tomorrow night."

The lovefest with fans was evident when they sang "Happy Birthday" to Rutherford, who turned 57 Tuesday. He, Banks, 57, and Collins, 56, have aged well, although the bald Collins fondly recalled, "when I had hair, and when Tony's hair was dark."

A photo montage featured shots of the band over the years. Included was Gabriel, who has enjoyed success on his own, as have his former mates. One wonders if Genesis would have sold as many albums had Collins not moved from the drums to replace Gabriel as the singer. One thing is certain: We wouldn't have one of the best frontmen in music. Collins is a warm, engaging soul, and did all the talking as Rutherford and Banks stayed silent. And he proved he can still handle the drumsticks.

The band closed with the hit songs "Tonight, Tonight" and "Invisible Touch," complete with indoor fireworks.

The encore, a nod to when they were MTV stars, found Collins leading the guitarists on a stroll around the stage during a funky "I Can't Dance" while Rutherford's smile lit up the arena.

"OK, now we're to the last song," Collins said to a chorus of boos. "We have to be back in the home by midnight. Thank you all for coming. This is a very special song to us. We hope you like it."

They did, judging by the thousands of voices that sang along with him on a lovely "Carpet Crawlers."

Walking across Madison Street after the show, I overheard a man ask his friend for a review. "I don't know what to say," the overwhelmed friend repeated.

"Wow" covers it.

© Daily southtown, by Steve Metsch

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