The Musical Box
Parker Playhouse, Fort Lauderdale
July 25, 2014
Better than: You can do better only by using a time machine to see Genesis in 1973.
In the midst of several lengthy, early-era Genesis songs that the Musical Box performed last Friday, I came to a realization. There is just no way a band like Genesis could have existed today. Young music fans just would not have the patience for it. They wouldn't appreciate the rich complexity of these songs, the wry, surreal humor that references everything from myth to sexuality.
Genesis was an amazing product of a popular music movement revolting against short pop songs, prog rock. It, and similar British bands like Yes, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd, practically dared pop radio to pull one of its songs out of context from its albums in search of a single. This was nearly impossible given that some prog rock songs even took up the entire length of one side of a record.
Live, the experiences were similar, most musicians did not care for the spotlight, content with slideshows and projected images while the bands focused mostly on complicated music with odd time signatures and left-field tonal turns. Genesis was a bit different thanks to frontman Peter Gabriel's theatrical tendency. He incorporated costumes, makeup that glowed in black lights and surreal and sexually-charged monologues to introduce the band's songs, which averaged 10 minutes in length. The group's lengthy solos allowed Gabriel time to wander backstage for sometimes elaborate costume changes.
See also: Ten Most Underrated Prog Rock Albums
That sort of showmanship just does not seem to exist in rock nowadays (pop artist like Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry take up where Gabriel left off). It's a marvel that the musicians behind the Musical Box still exist.
The band reproduces this early era of Genesis not only note-for-note but also gesture-for-gesture and outfit-for-outfit, down to drummer Phil Collins' white overalls and guitarist Steve Hackett's strawberry decorated racing jacket.
There's a firm devotion to re-creating the actual performance of Genesis from the early '70s -- with no revised solos or editing of the songs. In a world of samples and backing tracks, this troupe from Montréal, Canada, also doesn't offer any short cuts. It plays nearly identical instruments that Genesis used, utilizes vintage lighting, and the band's original slideshow, featuring expressive water colors, photographs, and some animation. So exacting is it in its replication, that drummer Marc Laflamme even plays with the same drum configuration used by Phil Collins. Vocalist Denis Gagné recites the same monologues Gabriel gave between songs that used to only be found on bootlegs.
But those are details, and the biggest marvel is how it carries on this performance for two straight hours and members never broke character. The consuming effect could be discombobulating for a 21st century concert attendee. If you have a sense of awareness of pacing and construction of contemporary music, the patient development of these songs feels almost alien.
"Dancing With the Moonlit Knight" opens a capella and builds from the quiet tinkling of bells and gently stroked guitars to gradually bolder instances of crescendos before a driving interlude. There are a couple moments of bombast featuring a blaring mellotron and ultra-active drum fills to allow for guitar and keyboard solos. Then it calms for a peaceful moment of humming electronics and shimmering guitar, creating a meandering ambient two-minute finale that demands silence from the audience.
That's only the second song of the night. Most numbers share a similar complexity, ending with the seven-movement, 25-minute epic "Supper's Ready," which also features three costume changes during the song. Throughout the show, Gagné shows he's mastered the choreography, down to every inflection and gesture, Gabriel used in the monologues preceding some songs. The rest of the band, however, like the real Genesis, does not offer any grand gestures but focuses on a meticulous re-creation.
During the lengthy keyboard solo of "The Cinema Show," there is a crazy bit of prophecy. Double-necked guitar/bass player Sébastien Lamothe as Michael Rutherford, keyboardist Guillaume Rivard as Tony Banks and Laflamme, the Phil Collins stand-in, are given a moment alone on stage as the famed trio who kept the Genesis name alive through its more famous configuration of the 1980s.
Beyond the sly foreshadowing, as with much of the show, the Musical Box ultimately stands as a living testament to the grand songs of early Genesis. With one hand, Rivard re-creates the song's rambling synth solo and reaches howling heights of mellotron work with the other. Accompanied by the mesmerizingly droning foundation of lashing guitars and driving drums by Lamothe and Laflamme, the moment stands out as one of several brilliant musical interludes that showcases the band's talents.
It would be nitpicking to point out the few flaws in the performance, a few misplaced notes or off-key moments. For reference, the Musical Box mostly looked at a famous performance at Shepperton Studios in 1973. Though the film is an hour long, the footage does not offer the full concert, so the band had to perform more in-depth research by referencing bootlegs or photographs to reproduce the other songs. The experience was transporting to the point that when I showed my wife the vintage Shepperton show after the concert -- which she loved even as a stranger to the music -- she called the reproduction by the Musical Box "creepy" in its authenticity.
Personal Bias: Since getting the CDs in the late '80s, I've never tired of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. My familiarity with these songs is almost obsessive.
The Crowd: Mostly older men who dragged their wives to the show, but some younger men looking for false nostalgia (me included).
Overheard in the Crowd: Two loud, inebriated guys battling out who got into Genesis first during the acoustic guitar piece "Horizons." One guy: "I was into them in 1973." Other guy: "Yeah, well, I got into them in '72." Ugh.
"Watcher of the Skies"
"Dancing With the Moonlit Knight"
"The Cinema Show"
"I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)"
"Firth of Fifth"
"The Musical Box"
"The Battle of Epping Forest"
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.