For the three central members of Genesis, all 70 years of age and older, to title their latest concert showcase “The Last Domino? Tour” — with lead vocalist Phil Collins nestled into a chair — shows that the prog-pop ensemble has a black comic streak up its sleeves. But the tour is no joke. To see and hear Collins triumph as a stage presence and vocalist at Genesis’ Dec. 2 tour stop at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center was a feat to behold. After being operated on for nerve damage, Collins no longer drums or walks without a cane’s assistance. To that end, he performs, soloing on tambourine and singing while sitting in a chair at stage’s center. And while that may seem restrictive, Collins not only manages but thrives as a vocalist — sort of amazing when you consider that singing while seated is not usually advantageous to breath control or soaring melody. Yet sing out Collins did, with powerfully devilish charm and poignantly determined vocal twists on his side.
If ever there was a reason for Collins to rise to the occasion, Philadelphia was the place to do it. Before the planet was decentralized by social media, it was often the case that bands got their biggest buzz from specific cities with wildly receptive and quickly reacting audiences. To this point, the Philadelphia of the 1970s famously gave still-fresh-faced rock artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Yes and Genesis their biggest crowds. First fronted by magnificently costumed vocalist Peter Gabriel, with drummer Phil Collins keeping the beat in the background, Genesis sold out every show in Philly since its 1973 Tower Theater debut. The group moved to the City of Brotherly Love’s hockey arenas and stadiums once Collins took the frontman’s mic and guided longtime keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist-guitarist Mike Rutherford through the platinum paces of the ’80s and ’90s.
Philly’s forever love affair with Genesis was on raving full display during the first of two sold out shows at Wells Fargo Center (the second show is Dec. 3). Having not been around for 14 years, the trio’s “Last Domino? Tour” showcase satisfied a wild Philadelphia crowd of predominantly over-40s.
No, the tour is not what longtime fans have been truly praying for, that original singer Gabriel and its poetic early six-stringer Steve Hackett would return to the fold for a final go-round. But this doesn’t stop the current iteration of Genesis – which also includes Rutherford’s co-guitarist-bassist of 40 years, Daryl Stuermer, drummer Nic Collins (Phil’s son) and two background singers – ably working out Gabriel/Hackett vintage cuts such as the creepily psychedelic “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” a blowsy version of “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” and, in their encore’s finale, a haunting take on 1975’s “The Carpet Crawlers.” topped with the sinister beginnings of “Selling England by the Pound.”
Yes, Collins no longer drums or walks without a cane’s assistance, yet he truly did not seem hampered by his seating arrangement. Instead, he used his position like another tool in his artist’s arsenal.
Once a soulful vocalist of fine power, Collins, during the Philadelphia concert, nailed the hallowed highs of signature Genesis cuts such as “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight,” jumped through the prog-pop punctuation of “Turn It On Again,” and made an already-ominous (courtesy of Banks’ dramatic organ tones) “Mama” even scarier with a menacing character actor’s growl and cold, cackling laughter.
As progressive rock-turned-platinum-pop hitmakers, Genesis kept many of its tracks blunt and brief, until they didn’t. On the less expansive side, a cabaret-bluesy “That’s All,” an autumnal acoustic version of “Follow You Follow Me” and an oddly Pet Shop Boys-ish “Invisible Touch” punchily cut to the quick. A slow “Throwing It All Away” lingered longer, but was gorgeously re-arranged to suit richer, softer harmonies that highlighted its background vocalists. A tick-tock-ing “No Son of Mine” stretched out and pumped up its stammering pulse in what felt like an “In the Air Tonight” appropriation of Collins’ solo smash.
Though it started off as a crunching, stuttering counterpoint to Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey,” Genesis’ “Home by the Sea,” and its accompanying “Second Home by the Sea,” lingered much too long with not enough instrumental busywork to make it worth its weight, or wait. Luckily, Rutherford pulled out the old-school double-neck guitar-bass, ramped up a ringing Rickenbacker tone and found drama in a soulful “Fading Lights” and its fractal, immediate follow-up “The Cinema Show.” That last two-tune segue was the night’s best and most theatrical moment, an elevation of incrementally ascending chords and spacious, rivetingly complex melody that sticks to your ribs with character-driven vocals. That’s Genesis’ whole schtick in a nutshell, which they executed handsomely in a city that has always loved them dearly.