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The book on Genesis: Hit-making trio version of the band regroups



And then there were three.

It was the title of a 1978 album, and, once again, it's the story of the Genesis "Turn it on Again" reunion tour that brings the band to Pittsburgh Sunday night for the first time in 15 years.

It came this close to being all five principals of the seminal British band.

Two years ago, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Tony Banks sat down and discussed the possibility of reuniting to perform "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway," the band's majestic 1974 concept album.

Gabriel abruptly left Genesis after the "Lamb" and the five members had collaborated only two times since then: for a one-off live performance in 1982 in England to benefit Gabriel's WOMAD project and then to re-cut "The Carpet Crawlers" as a worldbeat piece for a hits record.

Collins was willing to go back behind the drum kit and give Gabriel center stage, but in the end, Gabriel demurred, again frustrating the fans who have been waiting three decades to see the Genesis that helped pioneer progressive rock in the early '70s.

The genesis of the band actually goes back 40 years, to 1967, when it formed as more of a pop outfit. By the second album, "Trespass," Genesis was deep into the experimental sound of contemporaries such as Yes and King Crimson. Collins and Hackett came on board for 1971's "Nursery Cryme," opening with the jarring 10-minute epic, "The Musical Box."

Gabriel led the band for three more albums up until "Lamb" and then departed for an innovative solo career that would include a groundbreaking, face-melting third album and hits like "Solsbury Hill," "Sledgehammer" and "In Your Eyes."

Genesis decided to carry on with the less mercurial Collins on vocals and, at first, stayed true to the template of heady, dreamy prog. But with the departure of guitarist Hackett and the onset of synth-rock and MTV, Genesis traded in the past to become more of punchy pop band and scored its first hit with "Follow You Follow Me" in 1978. The hits flowed freely after that, right up until '91, with tracks such as "Misunderstanding," "No Reply at All," "Abacab," "Paperlate," "Land of Confusion," "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" and "Invisible Touch."

Collins, despite looking nothing like a pop star, was even more successful outside of Genesis, scoring six No. 1 singles, starting with 1984's "Against All Odds." Rutherford also hit No. 1 with Mike + the Mechanics, a side project that continues to be a going concern in Europe, although one of its singers, Paul Young, died in 2000.

When Collins left the band in '96, Banks and Rutherford attempted the and-then-there-were-two version of Genesis with singer Ray Wilson, which did OK in England but got little attention in the States.

Fast forward to June: The reunited trio, along with drummer Chester Thompson and guitarist Daryl Stuermer, kicked off its tour in Finland, playing songs from all phases of the Genesis catalog. The North American run begins Friday in Toronto, and on Sunday, Genesis plays the Mellon Arena in the first Pittsburgh date since headlining Three Rivers Stadium in May of 1992.

Recently, bassist Rutherford, while enjoying his morning tea, talked about the tour and the early days of Genesis.

How does it feel to be back with Genesis?

It feels great. This tour has been such an enjoyable tour to play. Maybe having new no album out is quite a nice thing. Your brain is thinking just about one thing: just about the tour, the music, you have more space in your head for that. It's very powerful. I'm very pleased. The standard musically is the best we've ever had.

How did this reunion take shape?

Phil and Tony and myself see each other quite a bit from time to time. It's been discussed for the last few years. Phil's been keen on saying, "We ought to do something." But obviously, he's been with Disney -- "Tarzan" kind of locked him up for a while. One day we had a chat and said, "yeah," and by the time we finished talking said "no." So we've been close before.

And then two years ago we had a talk about maybe doing something with Peter and Steve, maybe do a few shows of "The Lamb." It was never really done well at the time. We talked about that and realized if we did that it would be a few years away because Peter has an album coming out next year. After the meeting we talked and said, "Why don't we do something, the three of us?" And that was it. It took five minutes.

Are you disappointed that the full reunion didn't pan out?

Well, some people say, "You're back together, and Peter and Steve didn't join you." But that's a different thing. This is the three of us with Daryl and Chester, which has been the main part of our career, really.

How do you go about working a set list? Do you leave behind the songs from Gabriel's era of Genesis?

Well, you kind of go back to the last two tours, which goes back to the '90s. And then just peel some things away, like which songs are a bit tired. We dropped two or three, and having no new album this time, we've got like a 40-minute slot where normally new songs go which we can actually put a range of old stuff in.

When you listen back to the old Genesis material, do you feel like it has held up?

Certain songs have held up, certain songs haven't. Some of them are like period pieces, you can't judge them by today's eye. We play an instrumental section called "Firth of Fifth," which is a period piece. The way we play the parts, we'd never write stuff like that now. But at the time it worked, and you almost have to get your head into that space again to do it.

What will the stage show be like?

It's very strong. We've always been good at producing something quite different on stage, I think. We produced the Verilights, you know, the lights that move around. That was originally a special effect for one of our tours, that's how it started. Now, it's hard to be original, 'cause everything has kind of been done. So we work a lot with screens behind us and film, to try to portray the songs better. It looks very different.

I was just listening to "Supper's Ready" and "Lamb" and thinking about how Genesis was so different from everything else in the late '60s. Can you talk about the original concept of the band? Where did this sound come from?

It's not like you have a plan. What you do is you put those five people -- originally four people together -- in a room and let them write, and what comes out was that. We left school and went away for six months to cottages outside London, and in those six months we sort of found our feet as to how we were writing. I suppose we were kind of outside the business, not listening to much music, and the long songs seemed to come around to where our platform was.

I guess what was big at the time was the Beatles and Stones and all that stuff.

Which we all loved. The Beatles were my favorite group ever. But you can't try and do that. I suppose at the time "hit single" wasn't a dirty word. They made the most wonderful singles in the world, The Beatles. I suppose we just found our feet, and there were no constraints, no record company guy coming down saying this and that. We were allowed to do what we wanted.

Did people embrace the sound right away, or was it hard to sell people on it?

No, we had a small cult, about 50 people at first, a very small cult. We used to go around England and play small concerts, and we built a following slowly and carefully.

When you started making records like "Duke," were you consciously going for a more accessible pop sound?

Well, the first couple of albums after Peter left, we did those first few albums, and I thought we were becoming a caricature of ourselves. We had to change a little bit and get back to writing songs together. And I suppose the long songs, we'd done them. You couldn't keep doing them. When you look at the journey of Genesis, where we started to where we are now -- although the longer songs are an important part of the set -- it's been quite a range of musical styles, which is a good thing.

Was it satisfying for you as a musician to play the shorter, poppier stuff?

Yeah, the key is the contrast. After a 15-minute song, heavily instrumental, you need to have something to balance it. I think people often forget that the last couple [of records] that had a lot of singles, like "Invisible Touch," still had a couple 12-minute songs on it. But, of course, the way it works, the whole radio and MTV thing makes the single so apparent, so visible, it overshadows the longer tracks, really. That's why it's nice doing a tour. People are reminded how much the band is about longer songs.

Are there two sets of Genesis fans: the ones who gravitate toward the progressive and the ones who like the poppier songs? And how do you keep both happy?

I don't think you try. You can't try. You'll find that there are three sorts of fans, really. Ones who came in the early days and stayed with us still and prefer the longer stuff. Those who came in the later days, with the hit singles, and then got into the longer songs. And there are those who started out at camp and didn't like enough, then left. If you ask 10 people what their favorite Genesis song is, you'll get a big difference in range. And that in a way is part of the success, I think.

A lot of people love Genesis, but, critically, it seems like you're caught in the middle. People say the early stuff is too pretentious and the later stuff too commercial. Does that wear on you?

Well, I kind of got over that. I try not to read too many reviews, because an editor is putting someone who doesn't like you out to see you. I think live there was less of that. We always had a better reaction. It is what it is.

You're not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What are your thoughts on the British progressive rock bands being overlooked?

It seems the thought-base [of the Hall] is that it's geared toward more guitar-oriented bands. I'm not going to lose sleep over it, but I think it's odd. It would be nice to be in there, but it's not something I'm going to worry about.

Do you hear the music of Genesis reflected in current bands?

I know bands like Coldplay ... Chris Martin said he enjoyed our stuff. I think in the last few years what's quite nice is that English bands have reappeared a bit. Snow Patrol, Coldplay, bands who create moods and atmospheres again. For a long time in America, these bands couldn't get in the top 30. Now, these atmospheric bands are coming back in America, I think. It's a sound that America doesn't really do, does it?

Are there any plans for Genesis to record new material?

No. We're not going to think about it until we finish the North American tour. We haven't really gotten back on the bandwagon of what we used to do to write an album, go on tour. We're taking this back into our lives as something fun to do, and it's been really fun so far. Then we'll just see.

© Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, by Scott Mervis

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