Phil Collins sang that he’s "an ordinary man" during the encore of his Not Dead Yet Tour stop on Thursday night in Cleveland. But his performance during the course of the just over two-hour show was, in fact, extraordinary.
Collins’ spate of bad health in recent years is no secret, and he didn’t try to make it one at the Quicken Loan Arena – how could he, after all, when he entered the stage walking with a cane and spent the vast majority of the show seated. "I do know that I said I wouldn’t be doing this any more," Collins -- who was off the road for a decade before he began playing again during 2017 -- said at the start. "Truth is, I missed you. I’ve had a back operation and my foot is f***ed…But that won’t stop us from having fun, will it?"
He spoke the truth. The concert, which found Collins just past the halfway point of his 15-stop North American leg, established a new kind of template for him. Time may not have been good to Collins’ body, but it hasn’t dulled his voice, which was strong and forceful throughout the 19-song set. The visual heavy lifting was done by his four backup singers and the Vine Street Horns quartet, while Collins’ 17-year-old son Nick caught his old man’s tone on drums and played with an authority and confidence well beyond his years. And even with all that support, the older Collins was still an undeniable presence at center stage, dancing in his swivel chair and, during "Easy Lover," clowning with Arnold McCuller and Amy Keys.
It was a night of special moments, even before the show started as a slide show of vintage Collins photos ran across a scrim in front of the stage. The opening "Against All Odds" was as much a statement about his once-unexpected return to the stage as it was romantic paean, while other numbers – including "Can’t Turn Back the Years" and "Hang in Long Enough" – seemed carefully included as testaments to his perseverance. He even played an electronic touch pad as part of a percussion duel between Nick and Richie Garcia.
With Genesis in seemingly permanent dry-dock, meanwhile, Collins assumed the mantle of carrying the group’s legacy, performing an upbeat pairing of "Throwing It All Away" and "Follow You Follow Me" – the latter accompanied by a touching video of historic Genesis footage -- and, later, a brassy take on "Invisible Touch." Equally moving was "You Know What I Mean," with Nick -- who chose the song -- playing piano as his father sat next to him, with a warm hug between the two afterwards. And the momentous arrival of "In the Air Tonight" right after even brought Collins out of his chair to deliver the angsty classic.
The night finished with a buoyant bomber’s run of hits, including Collins’ cover of the Supremes’ "You Can’t Hurry Love," "Dance Into the Light" and a romp through "Sussudio" with confetti and streamers covering the stage. The lone encore, "Take Me Home," was bolstered by a stronger Afro-Cuban rhythm and a call-and-response between Collins and company and the audience.
Collins wraps up the North American tour on Oct. 28 in Los Angeles, while Australia and New Zealand are on the books for the beginning of 2019. And he’ll likely continue to prove that a) he is decidedly NOT dead yet and b) he’s figured out a way to keep doing it, and doing it well, even if there are things he can’t do up there any more.
© Billboard, by Gary Graff