Concert review: Collins can’t dance, but Genesis walks the walk at Bell Centre

Phil Collins has been on the farewell tour circuit for nearly two decades and has teased retirement, but this time around, it felt different.

Monday at the Bell Centre, UK progressive rock giants Genesis didn’t deliver a performance in line with everyone’s cherished memories of their heyday, but given recalibrated expectations, it was a heartfelt and occasionally heart-wrenching return 14 years after the trio’s last appearance in town. Genesis plays again at the Bell Centre on Tuesday.

Much had been made prior to the coyly punctuated Last Domino? tour of former drummer and frontman Phil Collins’s diminished physical and vocal range, and sure enough, seeing the eternally youthful star walk on stage with a cane and spend the night sitting in a swivel chair is a reminder that even rock stars age.

The 70-year-old Collins has been on the farewell tour circuit for nearly two decades and has teased retirement in the past, but this time around, it felt different. He’s no longer able to drum and needed two backing vocalists to hit the higher and longer notes, which undoubtedly shocked some in audience, but over the course of the night, his vocal range grew a little stronger. He also knew when to direct his microphone toward the audience.

After a slight delay to ensure everyone reached their seats, the trio — Collins, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks — assumed their positions with longtime touring guitarist Daryl Stuermer. New to the fold was drummer Nicholas Collins, son of Phil, replacing Chester Thompson. The rookie drummer got a booming sound treatment befitting a Collins. Despite the 14-year gap, the current setlist isn’t that different from 2007’s Turn It On Again: The Tour: the indelible hits from We Can’t Dance, Invisible Touch and Genesis, nods to the Peter Gabriel era, medleys to cram in their multitude of crowd pleasers and a few winding numbers, dubbed “The Longs.”

The band opened with bookending Duke instrumentals Behind the Lines and Duke’s End. Then it was another from Duke, Turn it On Again, which brought the vocalist in. Mama’s demonic laughs were perfect for an old ham like Collins.

“Bon soir tout le monde,” Collins said afterward, before switching: “I’ll speak in English tonight, I think.”

Genesis in concert at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Monday. Nov. 22, 2021.

Land of Confusion felt timely despite its ’80s origins, although the bouncing toilet paper rolls and beach balls around Collins’s head on the big screen — the camera focused on the singer never stopped moving to compensate for its stationary subject — brought unnecessary levity. Collins presented one of two “Genesis party tricks,” encouraging the crowd to awaken the ghosts for Home By the Sea. Collins walked off stage for the instrumental second half while stage lights rained down on the remaining bandmates.

He returned for an unexpected emotional highlight of the night, Fading Lights segueing into a Cinema Show instrumental and Afterglow, the closer from 1976’s Wind and Wuthering. Collins longingly air drummed only one time on Monday, while his son pounded away on Cinema Show, before pushing through some early shaky vocals to deliver Afterglow’s poignant lines with necessary heft: “In a world I used to know before/I miss you more.” If fans are sad to never see Collins play drums again, imagine how he feels, especially while his fellow septuagenarian pals plug away beside him.
The band reconfigured their setup on stage for stripped-down renditions of That’s All, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Follow You, Follow Me. On a night where the setlist was predictable, Genesis threw a slight curveball with the inclusion of Duchess in its entirety, a tale about a battling performer on the decline.

No Son of Mine brought the group back into familiar confines, followed by a classic pairing of Selling England by the Pound’s Firth of Fifth (as an instrumental) and singalong favourite I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe). The outro to Stagnation from 1970’s Trespass, the oldest song of the bunch, was thrown in for good measure.

Genesis closed the pre-encore with a quartet from 1987’s Invisible Touch: Domino; Throwing It All Away; Tonight, Tonight, Tonight; Invisible Touch. The rhythmically charged Domino remains an impressive technical display for Rutherford and Banks, who seemed unchanged from the last decade-plus, and Collins even sang it without assistance as his confidence steadily grew over the preceding two hours.

The night ended with the band returning for I Can’t Dance and a full version of Carpet Crawlers (with a Dancing With the Moonlit Knight intro) before a final curtain call.

It was hard to come away from The Last Domino? thinking the interrogation point is anything but hedging their bets. Barring improved health from Collins, or just an insatiable desire to keep touring, there was a degree of finality to the night. And if that’s the case, it was better to have seen Genesis in their current imperfect state, including wrinkles, than no swan song at all.

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