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Phil Collins of Genesis

Fans attending the first night of Genesis’ two night stand at New York’s Madison Square Garden last night (December 5) needed to show up with a ticket, proof of COVID vaccination and managed expectations. That’s not a judgment of the band, it’s simply reality.

As most everyone knows, singer Phil Collins has struggled with health issues that prevent him from being able to play the drums; his ability to walk is even limited. One of the many great things about seeing Genesis in their heyday was Phil’s incredible drumming, whether it was during the Peter Gabriel era, or after Collins replaced Gabriel as the frontman: even then, he’d be behind the kit for half the night, going beat for beat with touring drummer Chester Thompson.

Thompson is no longer part of the Genesis crew, and there are no longer any “drum duets”;  Collins’ 20-year old son Nic is now the band’s touring drummer. Fans may have caught Nic drumming for his dad previously when Phil kicked off his solo “comeback” tour in 2017. Powerhouse drumming is clearly in the family DNA. Genesis’ music is much more complex than most of Phil’s solo material, and Nic was more than up to the task. He’s definitely his father’s son. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s also a singer/songwriter.

Phil’s abilities as a frontman are also diminished: he now performs from a chair. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is his charisma: the audience delights at every facial expression, every gesture, and of course, his singing. Even seated, he’s a master performer who clearly basks in the love from the audience. (On a personal note, watching the audience response reminded me of an interview I did with Phil in 2016, before he returned to the road. I pointed out that he took critics way too seriously, and that the millions of fans who love him are unaware or uninterested in what critics think. The cheers that erupted when he simply spoke to the crowd was proof positive of that.)

The rest of the band — guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford (apparently playing very inexpensive instruments ) and keyboardist Tony Banks, along with longtime touring bassist/guitarist Daryl Stuermer and two backing singers, combined power and precision, going back and forth from progressive rock epics like “Home By The Sea/Second Home By The Sea,” “Domino” and “Firth of Fifth” to hit singles like “Turn It On Again,” “Land Of Confusion” and “I Can’t Dance.”

One of the most poignant moments of the night was perhaps the least well-known song: “Fading Lights,” the final song from their last album with Phil Collins, 1991’s We Can’t Dance. It starts out as a ballad: Phil singing delicately over programmed drums and Banks’ lush synthesizers, accompanied by Rutherford’s gentle guitar playing. The lyrics include, “Like the story that we wish was never ending/We know some time we must reach the final page/Still we carry on just pretending/That there’ll always be one more day to go.” They must had an inkling that an era was ending when they wrote those words; on some level, they knew that Collins was planning on leaving the band. On the studio version, at 3:35, the song shifts gears, and Collins got behind the drum kit for one last epic Genesis jam – the song clocks in at 10:27. Last night, the song ended at 3:35, a wistful reminder that those three men will never jam like that again. “Fading Lights” abruptly switched to an instrumental jam of the Gabriel-era classic “The Cinema Show.” Phil sat in his chair, smiling, as he watched his longtime bandmates and his son, with love and admiration.

Genesis: Their Greatest Songs, Ranked