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Playing a Couple of Old Chapters and Familiar Verses

Photo by Robert Caplin

The Genesis paradox was back at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Reunited for the first time in 15 years, Genesis was its divided self: the progressive-rock band of the 1970s, playing suitelike songs filled with odd meters, elaborate scenarios and speedy filigree, and the pop hit-makers of the 1980s, with shorter, hook-laden songs about personal matters like love.

Yet onstage the pop hits that kept Genesis on the arena circuit for more than a decade were less exhilarating than the prog-rock that might have left Genesis a cult band. And both, unfortunately, had more than a whiff of routine. Three and a half months into its reunion tour, Genesis was more proficient than invigorating.

The lineup of Genesis that is now touring is the one that persisted after the guitarist Steve Hackett left the band in 1976. Phil Collins had already moved from behind the drums to lead vocals, replacing Peter Gabriel. Mike Rutherford, on bass, added guitar to his studio jobs, and Anthony Banks’s keyboards more than ever defined the sound of the band. For concerts, Genesis added Daryl Stuermer on guitar or bass and Chester Thompson on drums, who are still with the group three decades later.

It’s the curse of the reunion tour: How does a band reclaim songs it made when it was younger, fresher, more reckless and, perhaps, getting along better? Genesis strove simply to repeat itself. At one point Mr. Collins did a tambourine solo — knocking it against his head, his elbow, his knee — that he had done in younger, leaner days, with old video to make the comparison crueler. “Apart from us, how many old people here tonight?” Mr. Collins had joshed earlier. He often seemed bored with his own between-numbers shtick.

Because Genesis songs are so thoroughly composed, live performances are largely recitals of the familiar. Genesis did play mix-and-match with songs from the Gabriel era, connecting songs from different albums into well-paced, speed-fingered medleys (while suggesting, perhaps inadvertently, that the old suites were hodgepodges to begin with).

When Mr. Collins went back to his drums, he and Mr. Thompson made some rhythmic sparks. But only a few songs — the booming, ominous “Mama”; the arpeggio-flinging “Firth of Fifth” — held any sense of rediscovery. Top 40 blockbusters like “Hold On My Heart” and “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” simply sounded obligatory, spurring more conversation than arena singalongs.

Genesis songs have always held a melancholy undercurrent. The churchy grandeur of Mr. Banks’s keyboards often accompanies narrators who are isolated and despondent. The tour is named after the song “Turn It On Again,” which isn’t about, say, rekindled love, but about a character so pathetic that his only friends are the television characters in reruns. For a concert that had nothing particularly wrong with it but little to make it vivid, the song was all too appropriate.

© New York Times, by Jon Pareles

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