40 years ago, a bunch of twisted limey kids who never had much in the way of musical training and had little success outside of Belgium and France with their previous albums, although they had a pretty fervent cult following, started writing a fourth album. Their prior album, a mix of short and long songs steeped in English folk music and some trappings of the burgeoning Prog movement, had met with minor success.
Of course, part of the interest in the band was generated by the theatrical costuming that the lead singer, Peter Gabriel brought to the stage, using multiple costumes, makeup, and sideways stories to fill in gaps while his bandmates tried to keep their instruments in tune and operating properly. The irony is that the costumes and weird stories were something Peter did to temper his intense uncomfortableness on stage
The band wanted to do a long involved conceptual piece with a single, more or less, storyline, and abandoning the typical songs about hobbits and fairys and other planets, decided to write a psychological hallucinatory journey revolving around a Puerto Rican New York street punk.
The result, of course, was the double album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Genesis performed the show about 100 times in 1974-1975, and the stress of Peter Gabriel becoming the most prominent face of the band, as well as the complexity and difficulty of doing the show, finally propelled Gabriel to leave the band. After that, Genesis (or Gabriel) only performed portions of the album ever again. And being young, they had no idea they were creating an epochal performance, and never bothered to properly record it in audio, video, or even photos for the most part. All part of history….
One of the recent trends in music that I have never been fond of is the “Tribute” band. Cover bands that specialize in one band’s music. Kind of lame. Not Punk at all.
But Toronto’s The Musical Box takes a quite different approach, and their subject matter supports it. They perform early Genesis tours as theatrical reproductions. They re-create the entire experience; the show is a number of talented musicians acting out the parts of the original musicians, down to the on-stage banter. (one of the funniest things to watch is the way Gabriel was supremely awkward on stage, especially in the early shows.) they have had access to the Genesis Archives to research costumes, equipment, instruments. The instruments are all restored or recreations of the original ones. The band wears wigs and period-appropriate clothing. Even mistakes are re-created (“that…was an unaccompanied bass pedal solo by Mike Rutherford” and “Phil! There’s people out there!” one time when Collins was not paying attention to his cue in the intro to “Supper’s Ready”).
This year, for whatever reason, they decided that it would be the last year they toured with the Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Now, I have seen them do this show twice in the first year they brought it through town, but it’s been a while and I figured I wasn’t going to miss the last time. After all, during the original Genesis tour, I was a scrawny young teen and barely conscious of rock music, let alone bizarre weedy prog from England and they didn’t come through Wisconsin anyway.
And it didn’t matter; I didn’t ‘get’ Genesis until they released Duke, and then kind of romped through the back catalog. It took me some time to warm up to the Lamb; it was far different than anything else.
Another important thing to reveal: While in grad school, I scraped together enough money to get my first CD player, the cheapest available. And Wife Sublime, for my birthday right after, bought me the first CD transfer of the Lamb. It cost like $40. That kind of thing is why I love her so. It sounded so fucking amazing, there was so much music and sounds that never showed up in the vinyl, regardless of what the vinyl purists insist.
So I got right on that fucking ticket queue, and got fourth row tickets in the Riverside Theater. This was our view:
Those pictures a bit misleading, as the iPhone defaults to a wide angle. Also, it is kind of crappy at theater pics, which has been noted here before. So from here on out, it’s stoleded internoodle pictures.
Up until Gabriel’s departure, Genesis performed the whole thing all the way through. You know what that Limey Fuck Mick Jagger says: “Nobody wants to hear your new album” They played nothing BUT their new album. Big brass ones, indeed.
And it was deluged in lighting effects, costuming, stage effects, and three video screens (except in 1974, projection video was problematic, so it was layered, timed, and sequenced slide shows).
So the Musical Box show is replete with lighting effects, costuming, makeup, stage effects, and three video screens. All of which are 1974- appropriate. Funny note: the members of Genesis say that in the 100+ performances they did of the show, they managed to get teh slides to work properly 1o or 12 times at most. It is a tribute to the research and effort TMB put into their work that it works flawlessly in these performances.
This is how it looked, and pretty much from our POV:
I won’t tell you it was astonishing because all these years later, we have all seen bands with much more extravagant shows. Shit, latter days Genesis shows were overwhelming….but the thing is this was 1974. TVs were based on vacuum tubes. Computers occupied rooms, not our phones. We still thought we might go back to the moon…
And although the instruments and the lighting and the music was all 1974 all the way, the sound reproduction from stage out was not; PA and sound board and speaker stacks were 2012 vintage and oh yes that was fine, fine indeed. The bass pedals made our seats shudder and our ears wiggle; the guitar parts were clear and undistorted. The drummer put punch into the drumming that does not exist on the records (and as far as I can tell from the live versions I’ve heard, that Collins never managed live) and he never missed a cymbal, a drum drop, or a fill in vocal. Many moments, I just looked back at what the drummer was doing. He wasn’t just precise; He was Phil; maybe a better Phil. Certainly a less annoying Phil.
And they played all the way straight through. Who did that, in 1974? Would Pink Floyd have done the Wall that way if these limey punks hadn’t done it five years before?
And physically demanding! Oh my. At one point, the singer (Denis Gagne) crawled up under the “Tony Banks” keyboard riser to sing into a stage level microphone, while laying on his lungs and diaphragm and bending his whole body backwards; and then he played a flute solo. NOT A WELL THOUGHT OUT SCENE, GABRIEL.
Beyond that, Gagne-as-Gabriel was scampering around the stage, up and down risers, popping in and out from various points of the stage, changing costumes, singing, playing flute, and crawling, jumping, and mugging with some of the other band members. And keep in mind, this is all based on evidence that Gabriel did this during the original tour.
Look, I saw the Genesis final reunion tour the last time, and we had 28th row or something like that. It was great, believe me. But Phil Collin’s voice had dropped a bit, and they focused on their more poppy and successful albums. And then, they closed with “Carpet Crawlers” and not only was it not nearly as good as previous tours, but holy fuck, this “Tribute Band” from Toronto made them look bad when they did in the course of doing this entire 94 minute stage show. Shit, I would have hung it up too.
It was entrancing. It was perplexing. It was aggravating and lovely, and amusing and triumphant. After playing the Lamb, they toweled off and played “The Musical Box” with the old-man mask and the uplighting that latter-years Genesis revisited for their performances of “Mama” and for an encore they played “Watcher of The Skies”. They played for 2 1/2 hours, and in latter years that was their mark. Before that, a single band rarely played that long; even now, it’s still unusual. It’s hard, and fuck me, but it has to be harder when your doing all those costume changes and theatrical shit.
It is a statement to the intensity and excellence of the performance that even though Wife Sublime and I had several beers at dinner before and a couple during the early parts of the show, we (especially she) refused to leave once things had started to visit the toilets.
There were folkie moments, and proggy moments, and moments when they went into territory that prefigured Sonic Youth. During one of those moments, they were shining headlights right into our faces; this was not intended to be top forty mass appeal music. It was weird and it was lovely and sometimes it did that all at once. And through it all, they never dropped a note or missed a cue. And beyond that, I think they played better, more coherent and more impassioned than the live version I have heard of Genesis doing the show. Yes, I will say it; The Musical Box is doing this better than Genesis did…
The album was voted the number one Best Prog Rock album in 2007. The album was done by 23-25 year olds who really had no idea what they were doing. And The Musical Box took that heritage to heart, and did what I feel is the definitive version of the Lamb. It was, as far as I could determine, flawless even based on comparison to the studio versions. And the original artist confess they never managed to do that themselves, not even in the studio. It is a testament to the skill and artistry of the members of the Musical Box, not to mention their commitment; if anything, I would say that they have built on it by making certain parts, certain drum fills and guitar bits even crisper and more aggressive. Also to the talent of Genesis, who wrote music that people were still ardently interested in 40 years later. And in the show, we saw a bunch of old fucks, but also a not inconsiderable number of young kids getting into it…
The other day, I asked, how the fuck will I be able enjoy this, and mikey hit the answer: we enjoy this not despite the realities and horror of life, but because of them. Humans do the most horrible things, as we have seen demonstrated so appallingly this week; but humans also do amazing things with art literature, architecture and music. These are the things that put us into touch with the glowing, golden parts our souls. These are the things that inspire us to get up again. We sing; we paint; we write. Yes, I was able to get beyond the Week Of Shit and get a bit out of myself. I found that I was singing along.
Yes, I love this album. I love that band, and this band. I love live music, and live theater, and this was both. But more than that, I love that humans make music; humans make art; humans live, and create, and sing for everything they’re worth.
We sing. We ALL sing. We sing along.