In January 1977 John Scott paid £2.80 to see Genesis.  Tonight, nearly forty one years later, he’s paid £35 to see some Canadians pretend to be Genesis.  

Pretend, however, is too slight a word for what The Musical Box do; their gigs are something of an historical re-enactment, recreating as exactly as possible the experience of an actual Genesis performance.  Lead singer, Denis Gagné, has perfected Peter Gabriel’s on-stage persona(s) although it would have been good to see a little of his own personality coming through; it often felt like every move he made was carefully scripted.  Fortunately for the other members of the Musical Box, the other members of Genesis had virtually no personalities on stage whatsoever.  If Phil Collins was sitting behind his kit in 1974 scheming up plans of slap-headed singer/songwriter superstardom then he kept it well hidden.  And even now, Steve Hackett’s between-song banter at his own gigs suggests that he would be more comfortable self-administering a razor blade enema than chatting to his audience.

For this tour The Musical Box have recreated The Black Show – the 1974 American tour in support of the Selling England By The Pound album.  It’s a good choice as this period of time saw the band at the height of their Gabriel-led individuality and inventiveness.  Opening with the majestic mellotron swell of Watcher Of The Skies from Guillaume Rivard (Tony Banks), we are instantly transported back to Prog-rock’s glory days.  Gagné commands the stage in cloak and batwing headdress, his eyes shining out from under ultra violet light.  Sébastien Lamothe (Mike Rutherford) switches between muscular, agile bass lines and guitar chords on his double-necked Rickenbacker, adding extra oomph with bass pedals.  François Gagnon (Steve Hackett) captures Hackett’s signature guitar tones and Marc Laflamme (Phil Collins) makes light work of impersonating one of rock’s most versatile drummers.

The band are following the original 1974 set list exactly so we now get a clutch of songs from the then brand-new Selling England By The Pound album.  As well as recreating Gabriel’s voice and movements, Gagné also performs Gabriel’s surreal, whimsical between-song monologues.  When, during one of these,  an audience member shouts for Supper’s Ready, I am sorely tempted to burst the illusory bubble by calling for Invisible Touch but I suspect that might not have gone down too well. Dancing With The Moonlit Knight is followed by Cinema Show, whose central section is surprisingly played without any involvement from “Hackett”.  I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) is as bouncingly playful as ever and Firth Of Fifth includes the tricky piano opening section which the real Tony Banks often struggled with and eventually cut from live performances.  By now, it is clear that the audience is totally immersed in the show but for me, it still feels like something is missing.  Perhaps it’s us -the audience – who are to blame rather than the band.  After all, a typical 1974 Genesis audience would have comprised largely of hairy lads in their late teens and twenties,  not baldy blokes in their fifties and sixties. Music and choreography are relatively easy to replicate; youthful abandon, less easily so.

The song that gives the band its name – The Musical Box – is up next, followed by Horizons, a brief solo spot for Gagnon.  Staying true to the original set list, the band then play The Battle Of Epping Forest; a song I really don’t care for much.  It seems I’m not alone in that as a few people make a break for the bar or the loo at this point, probably in anticipation of what’s coming next.  Supper’s Ready, a 23 minute tour de force fusing Gabriel’s idiosyncratic whimsy with Greek mythology and The Book Of Revelations is the ultimate expression of Gabriel-era Genesis.  These days it is easily dismissible, by anyone wishing to do so, as a piece of Proggy nonsense but its power to thrill, and amuse, is undiminished.

Genesis tended not to do encores; nothing else in their repertoire could top Supper’s Ready but The Musical Box return to the stage with four songs from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, The album that would follow Selling England… and be Gabriel’s last with the band.  Although still very much Prog, The Lamb… saw the band adopting a tougher, leaner sound and The Musical Box don’t disappoint in that respect either; Broadway Melody Of 1974,In The Cage, Hairless Heart and Counting Out Time bring the show to a triumphant close, and the audience to its feet.

As a long-time fan of the Gabriel/Hackett Genesis, this was a show that I felt I just had to see and I’m really glad I did.  It may not match the best £2.80 I ever spent, but what would?

John Scott

 

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