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Review: Genesis Live 1973-2007 Box Set

© allaboutjazz, by John Kelman

With all of British mega-group Genesis' studio discography now available in remixed/remastered form, including 5.1 surround mixes and a bevy of bonus audio and video features, the only commercial material left to receive engineer Nick Davis' careful attention is its series of four live albums. These begin with Genesis Live (Charisma, 1973) and end with The Way We Walk—originally issued as two separate releases, The Shorts (Atlantic, 1992) and The Longs (Atlantic, 1993).

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While Davis' work on the previous boxes—1970-1975 (Rhino, 2008), 1976-1982 (Rhino, 2007) and 1983-1998—has been the subject of some controversy, Live 1973-2007 is going to be the most contentious box amongst hardcore Genesis fans, for a number of reasons. Unlike many bands that evolve over the years, Genesis morphed from its early, progressive rock beginnings into a stadium act in the 1980s and 1990s, one that could also be found in heavy rotation on MTV—appearing, at least on the surface, to have deserted its art rock roots. While it is true that the group adopted a more decidedly pop approach in its later years, longer songs like "Driving the Last Spike" from We Can't Dance (Atlantic, 1991), "Domino" from Invisible Touch (Atlantic, 1986), and "Dodo/Lurker" from Abacab (Atlantic, 1981), while less complex than, say, the group's epic "Supper's Ready" from Foxtrot (Charisma, 1972), were all far from radio-friendly. In their largely episodic construction, they were clear descendents of early masterpieces like "The Knife" from Trespass (Charisma, 1971) and "The Cinema Show" from Selling England By the Pound (Charisma, 1973).

Equally, while early episodic pieces like "The Musical Box" from Nursery Cryme (Charisma, 1972) and Selling England's "Firth of Fifth" were filled with shifting meters and challenging, interlocking parts, shorter songs like Selling England's "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)," Nursery Cryme's "Seven Stones" and Foxtrot's "Time Table" all demonstrated a group more concerned with songs than the grandstanding instrumental virtuosity so often at the root of early 1970s progressive rock.

In the final analysis, even amidst the instrumental brilliance, Genesis was always a songwriting band—a characteristic revealed, perhaps, most vividly by listening to the group's discography chronologically, from its earliest days to its final studio gasp on the unfairly overlooked Calling All Stations (Atlantic, 1998). More than the previous boxes, which capture specific periods in the group's development, Live 1973-2007 documents the group's evolution in a more self-contained fashion. As such, it's bound to have fans who prefer the "prog" Genesis to the "hit making" Genesis content (or vice versa). But it's also possible—hopeful, even—that this box might make at least partial converts of both factions; uniting, rather than polarizing.

1972 (l:r): Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Tony Banks
1972 (l:r): Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Tony Banks

Still, there's plenty more controversy to be found. Unlike previous boxes—which had, in addition to 5.1 surround mixes on either SACD (in the UK) or DVD-A (in North America), a wealth of audio and video extras including interviews with the band, hard-to-find or previously unreleased odds and ends, and some terrific concert footage—Live 1973-2007 has but three bonus DVD-A discs with only 5.1 surround mixes and no video content, and the transitional Three Sides Live (Atlantic, 1982) and The Way We Walk excluded (though they do receive new stereo mixes.

The reason for the 5.1 omissions on Three Sides and The Way We Walk is because the DVD box that's to come will have surround mixes of the concert performances from those tours. Still, it's nice to see the running order of The Way We Walk restored to concert sequence over its two discs, with the three tracks not performed on that tour—"Mama," "That's All" and "In Too Deep"—appended as bonus tracks at the end of the second disc. With the previously unavailable "Turn It On Again" added, it makes a complete performance from the We Can't Dance tour. There is a reason why there's no video footage, however: the next Genesis box will be an all-video one, reissuing its commercially available concert DVDs and, hopefully, more.

The addition of a full CD and DVD-A from the group's 1973 performance at The Rainbow in London, England raises yet another contentious issue: the dearth of previously unreleased material in this box set—although, in truth, there's more than meets the eye. It's true that the five tracks from The Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles performance of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Atco, 1974), that are appended to the end of Genesis Live as bonus tracks, first appeared on the Genesis Archives, Vol. 1: 1967-1975 (Virgin, 1998) box set. It's equally true that five of the Rainbow tracks also appeared on Archives. But, in another controversial move that remains a sore point to this day, when Archives was being compiled, singer Peter Gabriel was so unhappy with his original performances that he overdubbed all his vocals to the Rainbow songs and the entire two-disc performance of The Lamb that was, perhaps, Archive's biggest carrot.

1976 (l:r): Steve Hackett, Bill Bruford, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, Tony Banks
1976 (l:r): Steve Hackett, Bill Bruford, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins, Tony Banks

Here, Gabriel's original vocals are restored, and they do, at least to some extent, explain the vocalist's decision to re-record his tracks: he lacked the stamina and, at times, range in live performance that would improve significantly in his post-Genesis solo career, and there are some major flaws to be found in these recovered vocals. Imperfections aside, however, the spirit of Gabriel's original performance is, most importantly, restored, making these versions—also remixed/remastered by Davis—clearly the definitive ones. With the outcry against Gabriel's decision to re-record his vocals for Archives, this restoration should be met happily—though, no doubt, there will be those who will complain that the entire Lamb show hasn't been restored and included. Without hearing the original vocals, of course, and considering the flaws that Gabriel lets through here, it's impossible to know the shape of those other vocal tracks.

All of this means that Live 1973-2007 possesses only five absolutely brand-new, never-before-heard bonus tracks. In addition to "Turn It On Again," from The Way We Walk, there are four tracks from the Rainbow show: "Watcher of the Skies" and "Musical Box," both only available on the DVD-A (a sensible decision, since they're very close to the versions on Genesis Live and including them in CD form would have necessitated stretching the single, full Rainbow CD into a less-than-packed double) and, on both CD and DVD-A, "The Cinema Show" and "The Battle of Epping Forest."

So, with all these potential issues, what does Live 1973-2007 have going for it?

Plenty.

First, Davis' remixes/remasters are as good as those on 1970-1975, which has been met with less criticism for what some consider excessive compression on the other two studio box sets. All four live albums sound richer, fuller and more alive than earlier versions. There will be the inevitable discussion about Davis' mixing choices—decisions that have been approved by the band—the truth is that there are now plenty of hidden details revealed for the first time. Genesis co-founder/keyboardist Tony Banks may consider Genesis Live to be an inferior performance (originally a radio broadcast, but the only one available from that time with multi-track masters), but equally, he's said that Davis' remix/remaster significantly improves the disc, and he's absolutely right. This new version possesses far more of the power, energy and, especially, magic of Gabriel-era Genesis—a quality that, despite plenty of other positives to describe post-Gabriel incarnations, was lost when the singer left after the Lamb tour completed in 1975.

1973: Peter Gabriel
1973: Peter Gabriel

Seconds Out, often considered the group's best live release, has never sounded better, and Three Sides Live, which suffered from especially poor sound on initial release, now matches the rest of the albums in sonic depth. It's great to have the running order of The Way We Walk restored, especially with the curious decision to end the original The Longs with a drum duet (The Drum Thing"). The group has, smartly, not remixed or remastered the double-disc from its 2007 reunion tour, Live Over Europe 2007 (Atlantic, 2007), but space is left in the box to slide that set in, making Live 1973-2007 a complete document of Genesis' entire, commercially available live albums.

Hearing Gabriel's original delivery on the Rainbow disc—especially on "Supper's Ready," for which the Seconds Out version has long been considered the gold standard—and the five bonus live Lamb tracks demonstrates the significant difference between his approach and that of Phil Collins. Even in the drummer-turned-lead vocalist's early days as Genesis front man around the time of Seconds Out, where he was intentionally aping Gabriel's delivery, Collins may have possessed greater range and stamina, but he lacked Gabriel's narrative beauty. Gabriel always was—and would remain, in his solo career—a more considered singer, but it was that very consideration which made Genesis' early, tale-driven material especially compelling, in particular songs like "Epping Forest" and "Get 'Em Out By Friday"—miniature musical theater both, with Gabriel assuming multiple roles.

Live 1973-2007 encapsulates, in one self-contained box, the remarkable evolution of Genesis, from its progressive roots on Genesis Live and Seconds Out, through the transitional period of Three Sides Live, through to the arena and million album-selling megastars of The Way We Walk and Live Over Europe.

Yes, there are plenty of radio shows out there but Live 1973-2007, like the previous box sets, is about releasing Genesis' commercial releases in significantly improved form. Despite less overt bonus material (though, with Gabriel's restored vocals, there's actually nearly 100 minutes of music that's not been commercially available in precisely this form), that should be reason enough. But if another one is need, it's this: there's no other place to experience, so clearly, the constant thread that winds through Genesis' lengthy existence—and, despite a number of emphatic shifts over the years, there is a thread. Genesis, an emphatically songwriting band with the added benefit of outstanding instrumental performances, is all here on Live 1973-2007, a box set that suggests serious reconsideration of the clear arc that defines its entire career.

And that is, in the final analysis, the purpose of Live 1973-2007. There are plenty of radio shows out there, of near-excellent quality, that the group could have culled for this box, but the entire Genesis box set series has been about releasing its already available commercial discs, in significantly improved sonic form.

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