You just cannot argue with Collins’s extraordinary range of hit songs, especially when performed by a group of musicians as supremely talented as this, a fantastic horn section swinging against slick guitars, rich keyboards and nimble bass like an old fashioned big band playing brassy, syncopated soul.
In this age of giant screens and vast PA systems, does it matter if a performer can’t physically perform any more? Phil Collins, once a mighty drummer and energetic frontman, made just about the least starry entrance I have ever seen at a rock concert.
In front of 65,000 people in Hyde Park, the much loved superstar hobbled on stage with a walking stick and plonked himself down on what looked suspiciously like an ergonomic office chair, next to a small square functional table. Bald, bespectacled, unkempt and unshaven, he looked less like a pop legend than a weary old nightwatchman settling in for a quiet shift with his Thermos and crossword.
Before the band had played a note, without pomp or circumstance, Collins genially explained that he had done his back in, he couldn’t play drums anymore and could barely walk, before reassuring his audience that "everything else works".
Phil Collins, aided by a walking stick, arrives on stage at Hyde Park | Redferns
This was the 66-year-old’s biggest concert since returning from retirement earlier this month, shrugging off physical disabilities because, he insisted, "the truth is I missed you". From the response of the crowd, it was clear that the feeling was mutual.
A trio of backing singers reached for the skies while Collins twisted and contorted in his chair, face screwed up with intensity, singing hit after hit with the same plain yet soulful tone of his Eighties glory days. The standard of musicianship was sensational, veterans playing with joyful exuberance.
Deeply emotional: Phil Collins on stage at Hyde Park | Redferns
But it was up to the youngest member of the ensemble, Collins’s 16-year-old son, Nicholas, to deliver the thunderous fills on In The Air Tonight, and he did his father proud, drumming throughout the show with a skill and confidence that more than justified his place in the hot seat. I suspect he has a lot to do with his father being back on stage.
From Another Day In Paradise to Sussudio, it was a set crammed with monster hits, the kind of songs that have become the fabric of people’s lives, and the audience greeted each chorus with lusty, singalong pleasure. Collins probably wisely kept ballads to a minimum (there was no Against All Odds) and included a couple of the poppiest Genesis classics (Follow You Follow Me and Invisible Touch), keeping the show moving from start to finish.
Indeed, the only thing not moving was the singer himself. There was a peculiar disconnect between what was being delivered to ears and eyes. At one point, close-ups of Collins in his chair on the big screens made me think of Mike Myers’s comical character Dr Evil returning to take over the world in the guise of a soul singer. He performed Easy Lover as a duet with a backing singer, who mimed tormenting him by patting his bald pate and wrapping a leg around his seated torso. It was the most physical Collins got all night.
Yet there was something deeply emotional about Collins returning against the odds, to do something that clearly gave him a great deal of pleasure, and brought pleasure to many more. He had drilled that band to perfection on a set of songs that boasted a superfluity of melody, groove and meaning. By the time he hobbled off, I think everyone in Hyde Park was happy to have him back.
© The Telegraph, by Neil McCormick