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Review: Phil Collins has the best seat in the house at the Bell Centre

Phil Collins performs in Montreal on his Not Dead Yet tour, October 16, 2018 Phil Collins performs in Montreal on his Not Dead Yet tour, October 16, 2018 Christinne Muschi

For all the criticisms of glibness and superficiality Phil Collins has weathered, it would be difficult to conceive of a more honest entrance than the one he made at the Bell Centre Tuesday.

The lights went down, Collins walked out. Slowly. With a cane. To a chair, from which he explained he would be seated for most of the show, because "I had a back operation and my foot is f—ed. But we will have some fun."

Perhaps he was simply managing expectations, defusing any complaints by drawing attention to what couldn’t be ignored. But rarely has a pop star of any age left themselves so exposed.

And he did have some fun in his first solo Montreal show since a 2004 stop on his ostensible farewell tour. "I know that I said I would never do this again, but I missed you," he told the full house of nearly 16,800 in his explanatory notes at the top of the two-hour concert. Sure enough, 16 years after his last album of new material, his performance suggested Collins is on the Not Dead Yet tour purely for the enjoyment of it. Three screens broadcast every strained attempt to hit the high notes, but they also captured a singer finding the soul in songs often derided as shallow.

Phil Collins at the start of his Bell Centre show in Montreal, October 16, 2018 | Christinne MuschiPhil Collins at the start of his Bell Centre show in Montreal, October 16, 2018 | Christinne Muschi

Against All Odds set the relaxed tone, with Collins under two yellow floodlights and the band temporarily obscured behind a scrim. When a drummer’s silhouette appeared, it was as if Collins was being watched by his younger self.

In a way, he was. The drummer was 17-year-old son Nicholas Collins, who added to the through line in a 14-member band featuring longtime collaborators such as guitarist Daryl Stuermer and wizard-bearded bassist Leland Sklar. The playing was sometimes tight-knit to a fault, but left room for some tasteful flash from the four-piece Vine Street Horns and a few spotlight moments for a quartet of backing vocalists. And Collins seemed happy for reliable hands to lean on.

He set up a song by the band he was in "about 300 or 400 years ago," to wild applause from North America’s prog-rock capital. "Before you get excited …" he cautioned, with a disclaimer regarding Genesis’s deep discography and the unlikelihood of anyone hearing their favourite, perhaps for the benefit of those who were pregaming legalization day and hoping for Supper’s Ready. The luck of the draw turned up Throwing It All Away — with the call-and-reply intro familiar from previous tours — and then an engaging Follow You Follow Me, the latter accompanied by video excerpts and footage of Collins palling around with Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett.

It was the most nostalgic moment of the night, tellingly followed by the introspection of Can’t Turn Back the Years. Despite the vintage of every song on the set list, Collins didn’t appear driven to relive the past. He embraced his catalogue from the perspective of a 67-year-old, and not just in terms of physical ailments; frequently sounding thin and pinched, he nevertheless located a deeper tenacity in Hang in Long Enough, more regret in Something Happened on the Way to Heaven. The heartfelt deep cut You Know What I Mean was an inspired choice, with his son switching to piano and the singer offering a dash of trademark self-deprecation: "It’s not a long song, so if you don’t like it, it’s gonna be over really quickly."

Phil Collins is backed by son Nicholas Collins on drums on his Not Dead Yet tour in Montreal, October 16, 2018 | Christinne MuschiPhil Collins is backed by son Nicholas Collins on drums on his Not Dead Yet tour in Montreal, October 16, 2018 | Christinne Muschi

Pacing was more of a problem when lengthy band introductions were followed by Separate Lives and You’ll Be in My Heart, two of the gloopiest songs in the repertoire. An energetic faceoff between Nicholas Collins and percussionist Richie Garcia dispelled the mawkishness; when Collins Sr. joined them on woodblock for the climax — the master drummer’s only instrumental contribution of the night — the effect was both celebratory and poignant.

In the Air Tonight’s monster chord briefly lured Collins out of his chair and into atmospheric lighting. It was confirmation that the signature hit remains more than merely fuel for memes, and was a rare bit of dramatic staging before the uptempo home stretch. If he sounded worryingly frail in You Can’t Hurry Love, he struck the right joyous note for Dance Into the Light, aided by some casual footwork from the brass section and singers. Invisible Touch’s arrangement was a touch overstuffed and Easy Lover was sunk by some awkward physical comedy with vocalists Arnold McCuller and Amy Keys, but Sussudio’s surrender to the ’80s was so complete — right down to the neon streamers — that it would have been miserly to resist.

One wonders how this all played in the upper levels of the Bell Centre, a city block away from the minimalist stage and immobile frontman. But Collins made the most of his circumstances. As he shuffled offstage in the affecting encore of Take Me Home, looking older than his age but embracing his limitations, there was reason to hope he has a few more final farewells in him.

Phil Collins brought a 14-piece band to the Bell Centre in Montreal, October 16, 2018 | Christinne MuschiPhil Collins brought a 14-piece band to the Bell Centre in Montreal, October 16, 2018 | Christinne Muschi

Phil Collins’s set list:
Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
Another Day in Paradise
I Missed Again
Hang in Long Enough
Throwing It All Away
Follow You Follow Me
Can’t Turn Back the Years
Who Said I Would
Separate Lives
You’ll Be in My Heart
Drum trio
Something Happened on the Way to Heaven
You Know What I Mean
In the Air Tonight
You Can’t Hurry Love
Dance Into the Light
Invisible Touch
Easy Lover 
Sussudio
– – –
Take Me Home

© Montreal Gazette, by Jordan Zivitz

Last modified on Thursday, 18 October 2018 07:57

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Phil Collins, Something Happened on the Way to Heaven, Montreal, Centre Bell 2018, not dead yet tour alicesca

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