In the ironically titled "Not Dead Yet" tour that hit a packed Nationwide Arena Friday night, Phil Collins showed what it means for a musician to age with grace and intelligence.
After making his way onto the stage with the aid of a cane, the 67-year-old Collins, his mobility hampered by or in spite of recent back and foot surgery, spent most of the night in a swivel chair.
Rather than seeming diminished, however, his performance seemed concentrated, boiled down to its essence. Focused and present for each note of every song, he seemed deeply aware of just what his body and voice could do in its present state, and made good use of both, rather than straining to imitate what he had done in the past. Instead of using his whole body, he might just express himself with the fingers of his left hand.
And when he stood, as he did for a stripped down, powerful version of "In the Air Tonight," the simple act had a dramatic power equal to any gymnastic feat.
Nostalgia was dispensed with playfully early in the show, with videos of Collins and the other members of "Genesis" backing a performance of "Follow You Follow Me."
Otherwise, though the evening included familiar Collins’ numbers, they were often explored in new ways, grittier and less glossy than the originals..
The singer – whose drumming was confined to one incandescent trio in which he played a wood block – was backed by a band that included both players who had worked with him for decades and an enthusiastic relative newcomer, his 17-year-old son Nicholas on drums. A cheerful brass quartet and a versatile foursome of backup singers contributed on many songs, and Collins made good use of all of them, rather than hogging the spotlight.
The well-paced and elegantly structured show, a generous two hours with no opening act, included some quieter numbers, including a duet of "Separate Lives" that allowed backup singer Bridgette Bryant to shine, but emphasized the more danceable numbers: If Collins wasn’t standing or gyrating for most of the show, members of the audience certainly were.
The upbeat second half of the show included a charming take on "You Can’t Hurry Love," an evocative "Dance into the Light," an endearingly goofy version of "Easy Lover," and an irresistibly over-the-top "Sussudio," complete with confetti and streamers.
Here’s hoping that this won’t be Collins’ last appearance in Columbus, but if it is, it’s a lovely parting gift.
© The Columbus Dispatch, by Margaret Quamme
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