Genesis – O2 Arena, London, 26th March 2022 – Thinking about describing this thing, this band called Genesis, brings you up short, if you think about it in any honest way. Because you’re looking at a double image of two bands, each a phenomena in its own right, with meaning for a great number of people. And here at this final night – and what a thing to happen, to draw such an emphatic line under it all in such a clear-eyed and poignant way – this half a century of music deserves to be looked at honestly, for the unique thing it is.
For a start, Genesis aren’t two bands – they’re a band with two audiences. One of them doesn’t immerse themselves a piece of music for hours, repeating it until absorbed down to the last note, living with it and rediscovering it over and over again, but instead bumps into it on the radio or telly, lives with it as a background or soundtrack to a long drive or a nice night out. And one does. In a strange parallel universe (with a bit of a blurry overlap), there exists this enormous creature of late twentieth century pop music machine, once vast enough to creep into every point on the planet, and this other thing that was kind of unique and curious and innocent and extraordinary of itself, with its own powers. Never the twain shall meet – except they do, because its all supposed to be the same thing called Genesis.. Both audiences are going to be present tonight, in the vast crowd that this huge, peculiar venue can hold. The Big Pop Music crowd seem to be in the ascendant, the people who are vaguely aware that that sledgehammer guy was in them once, but are really here because they like Phil Collins. They’re here for Phil.
And that’s okay. Because we all are.
I’ve been pretty rude about him in the past. That’s entirely down to discovering (after some scepticism) there was this weird and exciting and surprisingly good thing called ‘early Genesis’ and resenting that they ended up being just another cheesy popular music combo. ‘Earlygenesis’ was like nothing else; forget all that nonsense about ‘really long songs’ and ‘it’s just pretentious’ etc, usually read from a script written by someone who read it somewhere and never actually listened to any of it: those albums were melodically gorgeous, it had musical quirks that made the melodies go further and deeper and deliver huge emotional weight, and whether Gabriel or Collins is writing, nails a sense of time and place with its references to a childhood England – and oh but the drumming was just …exquisite, magical, you got caught up in it, the whole was and still is a bundle of nothing quite like it. And many many others felt the same. The magic persists as the songs become more, well, radio-friendly. Anyway, you all know the story, suddenly it was all MTV, crack-the-States, repetitive, simple…
Let’s stop there. People need music. It’s vital. What’s important is how it fits with our personal brains and ears, and people who need their music to be relatively simple and poppy deserve to have it delivered with honesty and the right intent and heart. So let’s get over ourselves and our snobbery and Let People Enjoy Things. OK, we can still grieve for the unique band we lost (and never really found a replacement for despite many best efforts). We can also say the public wants a lot more than the public gets, but in the late 80s and 90s the Industry was run by radio programmers etc who didn’t believe that. Rutherford, Banks and Collins chose to craft harmless, heartfelt songs that passed the gatekeepers of the time. Songs that made a lot of other people happy. And they made those people happy because one thing Genesis have always done, through all their styles, is aim to put some emotion into it.
Anyway, time passes. Suddenly, it’s 2020. The gatekeepers are kind of swamped now, it’s a different world, isn’t it? And the big monster called Genesis, it’s still here. We heard that Phil wasn’t well, that he can’t sit behind a kit any more. Damn. But there’s a huge, UK/Ireland tour planned – scuppered immediately by the pandemic.
Suddenly, it’s 2022. So much has happened, and a lot of it has involved loss. And Genesis are on tour, after all – an even bigger tour, encompassing the US. And they’re calling it their last one.
By the time we reach this last, final gig ever, here at the O2 Arena, the penny has really dropped, regarding Phil Collin’s physical health. And yet – how bad can it be, he’s on tour! Tours are tough! He must be kind of okay, right?
Nothing can really prepare you for his entrance. No so much the reality of this guy working his way across the stage, leaning on a cane, step by very obviously painful step, but the sheer bloody mindedness of the walk. The crowd on their feet, a standing ovation as soon as he appears. He gets to a tall swivel chair, sits heavily down, and the band go straight into the mahoosive tune of ‘Behind The Lines’, as triumphant and cheery and confident as a theme tune from the telly you watched after school, and the lights come up so we can see Collins swivel around to look at his friends and bandmates, and his son, dammit, now behind the kit – and grin with joy.
There is nothing half-arsed about what follows: the crushed nerves in his back mean that he can’t hold a drumstick, so he plays his traditional tambourine (in perfect time) as long as he can; he can’t stand up to sing, so when they launch full tilt into ‘Turn It On Again’ he leans back awkwardly in his chair to straighten up for the big notes, and he never stops moving, never cuts back on the expression or the delivery. It’s not perfect, there are little lags but that just reminds us of the stupendous force of will going on. And it’s not enough to distract – between his vocal delivery, and a pin-sharp, driving version of the band the show is a proper show. The line up is Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks, with touring veteran Daryl Stuermer on his red guitar, Daniel Pearce and Patrick Smyth as backup vocals and percussion, and Nic Collins on drums – he’s great, a little more solid than his father but that’s an unfair comparison.
The choreography of lighting, animation and live projections of the band is spot on – edited immaculately on the fly, held back until ‘Mama’ – Genesis were one of the first bands to use that live, in that song. Then comes the announcement we expected, preceded by a cheery showman’s welcome: “It’s saturday night – let’s have some fun..tonight is a very special night… ” and only then, the first hint of sorrow “we’re playing in London, the last stop of our tour… and it’s the last show… for Genesis”. A collective groan, and applause that swells and lasts almost a minute until Phil manages “yes, it’s hard to believe.. That you still came out to see us!”
And that sets the tone – this night isn’t maudlin, isn’t a longing for lost past glories or a writing off, it’s a warm and loving celebration. It’s a celebration for all Genesis’ audiences, including those who are here because they’re fans of Phil Collins, including those who followed them in their teens. The set includes Home By The Sea, No Son of Mine and Invisible Touch, and some of the Duke period ‘sneakily proggy pop’. There’s also enough to cause that scattered minority of the audience to terrify their neighbours by leaping up to sing along to I Know What I Like and the rather acoustic version of Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – after which the timelessly summery sweetness of Follow You Follow Me unites the entire arena, doing that 2022 thing with the phone torches. That could well be the highlight of the night, with the band gathered around their friend and colleague of half a century; it’s daft to think of the absurd O2 Arena of all places being able to turn into an intimate small venue for a while, but perhaps it was.
Someone had to shout for Supper’s Ready.”there’s always one, he’s here every night, actually Peter’s here somewhere, maybe he could sing it”, Peter Gabriel is apparently in the audience, down the front somewhere, this is about the three of them up there (and the long-standing Daryl Stuermer, 40 years and more of being there at their side), about Nic on the drums and the delight of Phil’s beam as he tries the air drum along, some of us kind of hoped that for the very last encore there might be someone in a red dress and fox head bur no, this is the right way,
The encore starts with I Can’t Dance and finishes with perfection, finishes with a hushed Moonlit Knight from Selling England By The Pound, and, heartbreakingly, riding on the familiar shimmering hi hat ebb and flow, Carpet Crawlers, with Collins conducting the crowd and you’ve got to get in to get out, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks solemn, played with exquisite tenderness. At the end, all the musicians link arms and bow, then the three friends are left, for three last, very slow, very respectful bows to the crowd and to all the others out there, millions, connected for a lifetime by the shapes they drew on the air.
That’s what it’s all about really. We’re not here for long, and our heroes and mums and friends get old, if they’re lucky, or fall by the wayside if they’re not. When the penny drops, you can either despair, or you can gather your friends closer to you and appreciate every second, this was an almost perfect last ever Genesis show. What a privilege. (M)