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Hobbled Phil Collins is steady on the hits in 1st U.S. tour in 12 years

From a seated position, Collins hurtled through fan favorites in Philadelphia Monday night From a seated position, Collins hurtled through fan favorites in Philadelphia Monday night Matt Smith

"Don’t be alarmed," Phil Collins assured the crowd as he plopped himself down into a swiveling chair Monday night in Philadelphia, having just taken the stage for his first tri-state area concert in 12 years.

Collins, 67, briefly explained to the Wells Fargo Center audience what many already fans know: a past back surgery has left the pop-rock icon with a "drop foot," essentially a nerve problem that makes it difficult for him to walk or balance himself. So on his new Not Dead Yet World Tour, Collins is forced to either limp around with a cane, or perform from a seated position, the latter of which was his preferred method Monday (and so far each date on this U.S. leg, which just began last week).

We’ll discuss the music, which was mostly stellar, in a moment, but just another note on Collins’ current state: for an artist who was known for decades as both the virtuosic drummer of prog-rock royalty Genesis, and the animated solo star who made it okay for regular-looking dudes to lean into their aesthetic mediocrity and jump around on stage, it must be killing Collins to remain so immobile. Moreover, it must have taken quite a bit of courage for him to come back at all and reveal the vulnerability of his condition in plain sight. Kudos to Collins for doing any of this when he absolutely didn’t have to.

Hobbled Phil Collins is steady on the hits in 1st U.S. tour in 12 yearsMatt Smith | For NJ Advance Media

Now, onto the show. Luckily, Collins’ vocal ability has not gone the way of his body, remaining largely intact: that same nasal, sonically slicing, almost mechanized tone bounding from the PA as he rocked around in his seat and threw up his fist. Granted, he’s abandoned some of his top register — a troupe of four backup singers took the high harmonies on "Sussudio," "Something Happened On The Way To Heaven" and "Who Said I Would."

Hobbled Phil Collins is steady on the hits in 1st U.S. tour in 12 yearsMatt Smith | For NJ Advance Media

But if you purchased tickets in order to hear a full ledger of Collins hits performed by a sprawling band — 14 members including a four-piece horn section — across two hours, and were not yourself so concerned with perfection, this was a fine night out. Collins also made sure to visit a handful of Genesis tracks, prefacing "Throwing It All Away" with the notion that he played in Genesis "three or four-hundred years ago." The best of that bunch was an extended, vibrant full-band jam to "Invisible Touch" near the end of the gig.

Though it was certainly a bummer to watch the old Genesis photo montage — of Collins, Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and others bouncing around and laughing as young musicians — juxtaposed with Collins now, slumped in his seat, wearing a windbreaker jacket and baggy slacks. Later, the 1993 track "Can’t Turn Back The Years" felt particularly somber in this setting.

Hobbled Phil Collins is steady on the hits in 1st U.S. tour in 12 years
Matt Smith | For NJ Advance Media

Perhaps the most thrilling member of Collins’ big band is his son, Nicolas, who at age 17 is now touring as his dad’s full-time drummer. Nic got to show off a bit in a propulsive drum solo duet with percussionist Richie Garcia; the pair then came down to sit and bang on cajons next to Collins, who played a percussion block to form a small acoustic drum circle.

Hobbled Phil Collins is steady on the hits in 1st U.S. tour in 12 yearsMatt Smith | For NJ Advance Media

Nicolas also played piano on "You Know What I Mean," with Collins sitting next to him crooning the ballad. I do wonder how many of Nicolas’s high school friends can name one Phil Collins song.

I also wonder if Nic fully understands the gravity of his position, as the young man who gets to play one of the most recognizable drum breaks in all popular music: the bridge to Collins’ first solo hit, "In The Air Tonight," which is this tour’s one true chill-inducing moment, with Collins propped up to standing position and dimly lit, his vocals fervent and roaring.

While some will surely avoid this roadshow like the plague, still not having recovered from Collins’ ‘80s ubiquity and leaning on the merciless vilification his superstardom would eventually endure, there were 15,000 fans who were more than thrilled to have the man back on stage, clapping and singing along. When Collins visits Prudential Center in Newark Saturday, I trust it will be more of the same.

© NJ Advance Media, by Bobby Olivier

Video

"Against All Odds & Paradise & I Missed Again" Phil Collins@Wells Fargo Philadelphia 10/8/18 Jim Powers

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