For a tour that has filled arenas and stadiums here and abroad — charging some fairly pricey tickets along the way — to be so under the media radar in comparison to other reunions this year only reinforces the peculiar nature of the career of progressive rock pioneers-turned-pop hitmakers Genesis. By the end of the first of two concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, concluding a monthlong North American trek, even those in attendance must have been scratching their heads, rain-soaked as they all were, at the split personality the band still exhibits.
Unabashedly retrospective (the group hasn’t toured or recorded an album together in more than 15 years), the setlist aimed to encapsulate as much of their 1970s-’90s studio efforts as possible in a two-and-a-half-hour show … but to inevitably mixed results. Lite-rock confections such as “Invisible Touch” and “Throwing It All Away” sharing time and space with the meatier musical progressions and sophistication of “The Cinema Show” and “Firth of Fifth” (the latter, admittedly, from their Peter Gabriel-fronted days) meant pleasing only some of the people some of the time.
It didn’t help that Phil Collins, outfitted in a drab warm-up suit, appeared to start the show with the plodding energy level of a soundcheck and struggled a bit to hit the high notes of yesteryear with any vocal strength. He still looks happiest behind the drums, but a winning sense of humor and a bit of Gabriel’s theatrical flair came to the fore as Collins warmed up — which was quite literally a problem for everyone as the proceedings wore on.
Light rain began intermittently half a dozen songs in, prompting the stage crew to bring out sneeze guards, as it were, at one point and a patio umbrella at another to cover Tony Banks’ many synthesizers in the midst of his playing. The Bowl was the first venue on the tour where the band wasn’t covered by a roof on the stage, and Collins made a joke about how the elements have conspired against them over the years when performing outside (“Oh, Genesis is having an outdoor gig?! Whoosh!!”). But it wasn’t until near set’s end that the downpour began in earnest, eventually shorting out the keyboards and forcing an anticlimactic halt, despite some Bowl fireworks, and a quick apology from Collins that would scrap a skedded two-song encore.
Prior to that, the sound mix was crystal clear, the players (including longtime touring-but-never-recording members Daryl Stuermer on guitar and bass and Chester Thompson on drums and percussion) were all truly musicians’ musicians and a novel visual presentation offered band photos, album iconography, Vari-Lites — pinpoint automated colored spotlights that Genesis was the first to employ nearly 30 years ago and are now an industry standard — and live video.
But the repertoire, and corresponding audience response, would ultimately prove jarring, if not downright puzzling: Fans largely chatted through the top 20 ballad “Hold On My Heart,” from the band’s later millions-selling period, yet became electrified when Mike Rutherford donned the prog-specific double-neck 12-string/bass guitar for the “In the Cage” medley that only diehards could appreciate.
It appeared, at least in this instance, that the concertgoers and the record buyers were not one and the same, but that would be one of the few revelations on the night about the enigma that remains Genesis.