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Musical Box pays stunning tribute to Genesis

Peter Gabriel, who left the English quintet after the work was performed in its entirety on a 1974 tour that included more than 140 dates, has said that the legendary progressive rockers were rushed in finishing the double album, and the second disc -- or LP, for longtime fans like me--isn't nearly as good as the startlingly brilliant first.

There's also the fact that the story, which was oddly prescient of the soon-to-explode punk movement while simultaneously reaching back to the most nonsensical, absurdly self-indulgent psychedelia, is pretty much inscrutable.

More than a guilty pleasure

I must have listened to the album 500 times over the last 30 years, but I still can't tell you exactly what's going on when Rael, a Puerto Rican graffiti artist living in New York City, descends into a hallucinatory underworld of lamia, slippermen and carpet crawlers to rescue his brother John. For the matter, I've never had a clue about what that lamb was doing in Manhattan, or why it decided to recline on such a busy thoroughfare.

It doesn't matter. More than just a guilty pleasure from the ponderous past, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" represents a pinnacle of wildly inventive cinematic rock which still inspires many of the most ambitious bands today, from the Flaming Lips to a new generation of progressive rockers like Coheed & Cambria and the Mars Volta.

Genesis itself has been missing in action since 1997's abysmal "Calling All Stations," but it had begun a sad, steady decline into vapid mediocrity in the late '70s, when guitarist Steve Hackett quit and Phil Collins started his slow transformation from superhuman drummer to decent frontman to buffoonish cartoon and pandering poseur.

How to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "The Lamb" when its creators have no inclination to leave their yachts and mansions, much less talk to one another? Enter the Canadian Genesis tribute band, The Musical Box.

Great night for graying fans

Passionately, obsessively, some would say creepily devoted to duplicating the sounds and spectacles of that 1974 tour, The Musical Box thrilled a packed crowd of graying progressive-rock fans and a smattering of younger acolytes with its note-for-note, scene-by-scene, nearly two-hour recreation of "The Lamb" in all of its mesmerizing beauty and mind-boggling silliness at the Vic Theatre on Friday night.

The term "cover band" hardly does this group justice. Licensed to perform the work by its heroes, these guys obtained more than 1,000 original slides that Genesis used as backdrops during its tour; scoured the world for the exact vintage instruments, and painstakingly reproduced the stage props, costumes and scenery -- an especially questionable endeavor, since what was impressive in '74 now looks underwhelming and pretty ridiculous, like comparing the special effects on the original "Star Trek" TV series with those of the recent movies.

But it was always the music that mattered most, and here the group shined.

Denis Gagne was a convincing Gabriel whose voice grew stronger as the night progressed, really blossoming with the gleefully rambunctious "Counting Out Time" and the gorgeously lulling "Carpet Crawlers." Like Hackett and keyboardist Tony Banks themselves, Francois Gagnon and Eric Savard astounded listeners with an extraordinary arsenal of otherworldly sounds. And bassist Sebastien Lamothe was great, too, though I found it disconcerting that the faux-Mike Rutherford was actually a dead ringer for the real-life Hackett. Maybe plastic surgery would help.

A Collins clone

If you think that crack is far-fetched, it was positively eerie how much Martin Levac resembled "The Lamb"-era Collins, complete with the beard, bald spot, New York City T-shirt, goofy grin and massive left-handed drum set, which he assaulted with a fury, finesse and virtuosic technique that were unparalleled -- that is, unparalleled by anyone since Collins circa '74.

Just like the real deal, this holodeck version of "The Lamb" petered out during the second half, limping toward the grand finale of the raucous "It." I'll never fathom why Genesis didn't end the album the way it started, with the reprise of the fantastic title track. But far be it from The Musical Box to try to improve the original.

The group returned for two well-deserved encores. Plenty of people were shouting for "Supper's Ready," the other epic masterpiece by early Genesis, but I called out for "We Can't Dance," its dreadful 1991 hit. Both requests were ignored in favor of the track that gave The Musical Box its name, from 1971's "Nursery Cryme," and "Watcher of the Skies," from 1972's "Foxtrot." But I really couldn't complain.

For 2-1/2 hours, I was transported back to the wood-paneled basement rec room where I spent countless hours listening on headphones and pondering the universe while staring into the lava lamp. Then I left the Vic, hopped into my time machine on the corner of Belmont and Sheffield, and happily returned to the present.

© suntimes.com, by Jim Derogatis

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