Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel, and Michael Rutherford formed Genesis whilst attending an English boarding school in 1966. Their only desire was to write pop songs for other rock bands. Wunderkind Jonathan King discovered them and wanted to groom them as the next Bee Gees. Early in the band's career, Gabriel felt so intimidated by the stage that he suggested the band play behind a black curtain.
He instead found a different way to play the central role as frontman: He would hide behind makeup, masks, and costumes. As the band sat earnestly in a semicircle around him, Gabriel would portray an array of characters depicted in the band's epic-length songs. Sometimes there were costume changes within songs.
He was like the Nicki Minaj of prog rock.
During the early '70s, Genesis would find notoriety as one of England's pioneering prog bands alongside King Crimson and Pink Floyd. Though the music offered the grand dynamism of noodling keyboards, intricate fretwork, odd time signatures, and dynamic tonal shifts, Gabriel stole the show as the band's main man. He once modestly said, "I just poodle about and put on silly costumes."
What follows are the ten most famous Gabriel-concocted looks for Genesis during its early years, long before Phil Collins brought them from prog to pop.
10. Early signs of showmanship
The beginnings of Gabriel's stagecraft began circa 1970, when he stood behind a bass drum and told surreal stories to the audience between numbers while the band tuned up or tried to fix broken equipment. In 1971, so enthralled by the music, he broke his ankle while taking one of the earliest documented stage dives into a rock audience. The still above comes from an early 1972 appearance on Belgian TV.
You can watch the entire performance here:
9. The Ageless Egyptian Prince
Just a few months after Genesis' appearance on Belgian TV, Gabriel put on eyeliner before it was called guyliner to become the Ageless Egyptian Prince. He then decided to shave the hair from the peak of his crown, creating an unnatural illusion of the oddest balding pattern ever conceived.
8. The Watcher of the Skies
For the alien visitor known as the Watcher of the Skies, Gabriel wore a headdress with large batwings projecting from each side, a large rainbow cape, and eye makeup that glowed under the blacklit stage.
Here is a chopped-up performance of the song:
7. Old Henry
Old Henry crept out from behind the curtain toward the end of the ten-minute "The Musical Box." A tragic character, he was the victim of murder, resurrection, and, sadly, rejection.
6. The fox's head
Old Henry was not always the face of "The Musical Box." Around 1972, the song took an even more surreal turn as Gabriel played the role in a fox's head and red dress.
You can see that version toward the end of this brilliant collage of early Genesis clips as accompaniment to the song (specifically at the 7:30 mark):
Magog was a biblical character from the Book of Genesis and "Supper's Ready," a song composed of seven sections, inspired by a creepy hallucinatory night Gabriel had with his future wife. When he wrote the lyrics, Gabriel said he was thinking "about good and evil and forces working against each other."
4. The Flower
During the very long, 25-minute "Supper's Ready," the song turns toward "Willow Farm," an alternate reality where things move so fast, everything changes on second glance. "Supper's Ready" was the band's lengthiest song ever and a highlight at live shows. Below, you can watch the entire thing unfold.
During this 1972 clip, Gabriel tells one of his surreal tales as an introduction:
Gabriel began decking himself out as Britannia during the tour for the band's 1973 album, Selling England by the Pound. He wore the outfit during "Dancing With the Moonlit Knight," a song critical of social situations in their homeland, showing a rare social concern for Genesis.
Here he is introducing the character before the band takes off on a dynamic six-minute journey:
It was back to more surreal and existential territory for 1974's the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a mythic journey of self-actualization for a Puerto Rican New York City street punk named Rael.
Here is part of one of the themes, "Back in NYC," pyrotechnics and all:
1. The Slipperman
During Rael's travails, he contracts an STD following an orgy with three half-snake women called the lamia. It turns him into a lumpy, bumpy slipperman. The only cure? Castration. Not much complete footage exists of these Genesis shows.
Here's a pretty comprehensively compiled "performance" of "The Colony of Slippermen":
References: The British Invasion by Nicholas Schaffner
Genesis I Know What I Like by Armando Gallo
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