And yet, the band's Tuesday concert at Madison Square Garden was a sell-out, filled with fans of varying ages and both genders who sang the words -- all the words -- to lesser-known works like the clattering "Land of Confusion" and the dour, multi-part "In the Cage." And whenever singer-drummer Phil Collins ventured to the side stages to get closer to fans, they jumped to their feet and screamed as if he were Mick Jagger or Jay-Z.
How on earth did this happen?
Now that rock has moved away from the elaborate, often pompous prog of the late 1970s, it's difficult to remember how popular this stuff was. Along with Rush and Yes, Genesis (especially in its early incarnation with Peter Gabriel as singer) set the standard for serious rock art and advanced musicianship. It would be a while before punk, new-wave and even hair-metal put some of the fun and recklessness back into music.
But Genesis survived that sea-change thanks to Collins, who took over for Gabriel in 1975 and kept the band going almost through the grunge era (he left in 1991). He may be short, stocky and nobody's idea of glamorous, but he's also an uncommonly shrewd songwriter who knows how to update classic pop and soul with a rock sensibility. In other words, Collins can write a hit.
With original members Tony Banks on keyboards and Mike Rutherford on guitar, plus longtime sidemen Chester Thompson on drums and bassist Daryl Stuermer, Genesis again and again made the simple sound complex. The opening song "Turn It On Again" rode a pulsing, dance-worthy bass line. Underneath the sprawling saga of "Home by the Sea" and "Second Home by the Sea" lay some pretty pop melodies. And despite its brooding quality, "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" sounded less like a dirge than an R&B slow-jam ("we're gonna make it right").
The show had its slow moments. The 10-minute drum-jam with Collins and Thompson that followed "Domino" could have used a trim. And Collins, despite his gutsy voice, is no showman: Often he lapsed into an oddly casual pose, leaning back against a railing with legs crossed as if waiting for a bus. Still, he deserves credit for performing a whimsical, head-tapping tambourine dance while his younger, bearded self did the same on a giant video backdrop.
After the hits "Invisible Touch" and "I Can't Dance" came the final song, "The Carpet Crawlers," a sweeping, beautiful number that had the crowd swaying on its feet. Top that, Van Halen.
© Newsday, by Rafer Guzmán