ON THE ROAD TO GENESIS

Vinyl Connection’s love of live albums is well known. They’ve been written about frequently (the series on triple live albums, for example) but not recently (Back Live goes way back). Not through waning interest nor fears of retribution from the unconverted but simply because there just so much music to enjoy and so little time.

For a while I’ve been wanting to write about a live album that was truly influential for me in that it turned around my feelings – converted me, if you will – to an artist I’d been lukewarm about: Genesis. In those days of ELP pomp and Yes grandeur, Genesis seemed rather too polite, too upper-middle class and too clever by half with those tricky time shifts, key changes and references to mythology. Now I’d be the first to admit that my attention was focussed elsewhere; at the time I was seriously digging Atomic Rooster so finesse and musical filigree was perhaps not my primary guiding principle. But it seemed to me that Genesis were playing for themselves. Five young blokes sitting around in a comfortable front parlour somewhere in the Home Counties creating and arranging, then adjourning to the studio where they assembled the pieces into intricate compositions of great invention but only moderate heat.

‘I wonder if a diminished 7th might work nicely there, Steve?’

‘Certainly Tony. Just after the modulation to F# minor, you mean?’

It seemed that their music was composed by focussing inwards (Gabriel’s lyrics too, for that matter) then shared between the players within group. Something like this:

IMG_5495

Pure fantasy, of course. But stay with me.

Following three albums of increasingly sophisticated progressive music, Genesis released a single album documenting their live shows touring the latest record. Captured on tape in Leicester and Manchester in February 1973, and bustled out five months later, it was the first official document of the band in concert and was, frankly, a Genesis revelation. Vital and punchy, the band burst out of the parlour and filled the room. A big room.

Genesis - Live 1973

Peter Gabriel presenting his geometry paper on contiguous triangles. He received an A+.

To borrow (meaning ‘steal’) from that closet lover of live albums, the Right Honourable 1537, Genesis Live ‘captures a bunch of confident young bucks in full flow before an admiring crowd, (and) the results are startlingly different. The music pounds and flows.’ Just so, Joe. (That the band in question was Marillion is an irony all prog fans will appreciate.)

Live has five pieces, summarising the Genesis back catalogue succinctly. The opening two numbers are from the recent Foxtrot, the next two from its predecessor Nursery Cryme with “The Knife” from 1970’s Trespass providing a finale.

Why does it work so well? Part of the answer is certainly encapsulated in Joe’s neat description, probably because in the concert setting, the band needs to communicate not just with each other, but with the audience. They must focus energy outwards. Now given most of the musicians remained seated in performance, we’re not talking on-stage gyrations and star-jumps here. But Peter Gabriel’s charismatic (and enigmatic) presence, augmented by costumes and props, certainly provided a theatrical visual focus. The performance, the music, reaches out… and connects.

IMG_5497

From the rich opening mellotron chord of “The Knife” where the audience roars welcoming approval, the energy flow between players and listeners (then and now, concert hall or lounge room) is juiced with immediacy and that special ‘without a net’ feel that all great live albums have. Whereas the measured development in the studio version is brooding, here the tension builds palpably to herald Gabriel’s entrance. I’d have to admit that Pete actually sounds a little restrained at first, but the guitar/bass crunch carries the momentum grandly.

“Get ‘em out by Friday” rollicks along, swinging between the quieter, narrative sections and the prancing power of the instrumental parts. Tony Banks battery of keyboards hold it all together as Gabriel sings of unscrupulous property development and human misery in a variety of character voices.

Possibly my favourite song about an indestructible homicidal plant, “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” has British flavoured martial overtones and a lovely electric piano interlude (Tony Banks) followed by a tearing Hackett guitar solo. The song may be a little naff, but those solos are the biz and the climax is powerful and exciting.

Genesis Live label

Genesis – Live was released somewhat later in the US

Side two really ratchets up the creepiness and malevolence. In the macabre tale of “The Musical Box”, things start gently, genteelly even. It is not so different from the studio version, except when the change-up happens at the four minute mark and Hackett cuts loose, underpinned by the robust sophistication of Collins drumming, you can feel the excitement building. “The clock, tick tock”. The climax is simply more convincing in this live version, an orchestral gallop to the finish line conducted by deranged Old King Cole, all flying limbs and mad eyes. Ta DAA!

Dating from the days when the Genesis guitar chair was occupied by Anthony Phillips, “The Knife” in the studio has much light and shade, with quiet passages featuring Gabriel’s flute, prominent pacing bass and a fine solo by Mr Phillips. In concert this tale of manipulative – probably terminal – leadership is still structured, but the discipline of the playing only just contains the beast.

Some of you are going to die—

Martyrs of course to the freedom that I shall provide

Everyone contributes to the electric current that runs through this piece. Hackett confidently yet respectfully claims the guitar parts, Phil Collins is a subtle powerhouse (Jeez, he was a good drummer), Gabriel struts and rants. The final martial section – I had not previously noticed how often those military rhythms invade Genesis songs – is forceful ensemble playing writ large.

Genesis Live back cover

Having extolled the virtues of Genesis Live, a final word about something I noticed about during the writing of this piece. Switching between the studio and ‘in concert’ versions of these songs I did enjoy the live outings; very much. But I was also reminded of the strengths of the writing in the three studio albums. They are full of invention, detail, and variety and are all worth getting to know, even – or perhaps especially– for Marillion fans.

Wonderful Pete Frame family tree included with Japanese CD re-issue of 'Live'

Wonderful Pete Frame family tree included with Japanese CD re-issue of ‘Live’

42 comments

  1. Good review,great album ….ah great were the days before Mr Collins wrecked the dream.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it was a case of diminishing returns, wasn’t it? As first Gabriel, then Hackett departed. Though not a fan of his solo albums, I have high regard for Phil as a drummer, both in Genesis and with Brand X.

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      1. I too have high regard for Phil Collins drumming ability although for me Genesis wasn’t the same band without Gabriel ,I do love some of the stuff off Trick Of the Tail and Wind @ Wuthering but non of these compare with Nursery Crimes or Selling England by the Pound,and as for Genesis in the 80’s,don’t even get me started.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think there are many who would agree with you Keith. I wrote about Wind and Wuthering a little while ago. Fine album.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. The direction of the band, musically, came more from Tony Banks than anyone else. A lot of blame is laid at Phil Collins’ feet for the “ruining” of Genesis but the fact is that he was 1/3 of the band and NONE of the output post-Gabriel was released without ALL the band’s consent.

      I do think that people tend to conflate their dislike for Collins’ solo work with the evolution of Genesis’s sound. The primary way that Collins’ solo work effected Genesis was that he felt more confident as a musician and that his ideas might have some validity now that they had been acclaimed outside of the band.

      Again, make no mistake. Genesis was Tony Banks’ band and if you want to lay blame at someone’s feet for music you don’t like, it’s his that should accept the largest proportion.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, John. Not sure that we can attribute ‘blame’ to anyone, of course (other than the perhaps ‘Time’ for the inevitable waning of creativity that afflicts all long-running bands trying to straddle the twin peaks of creative life and commercial success). Still, few would argue over the keyboard work and compositional powers of Tony Banks being anything less than central to Genesis.

        Amazing how much discussion this post has generated. I reckon that is marvellous!

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        1. Cheers Bruce. Point well made! I agree with you entirely, which was what I was (laboriously!) trying to say. I think Phil gets unfairly blamed for this “decline” in Genesis’ music which I don’t believe he is totally responsible for. It took all 3 of them to write ‘Invisible Touch’ 😉

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Which was, to be fair, a fine pop album. Just underwhelming for those of us who ate up their progressive craftsmanship.
          And you point is entirely valid. Remember all the bullshit around blaming Yoko for the Beatles break-up. Guess we feel our musical passions strongly!

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  2. Great review of one of my favorite albums.

    Genesis were always a pop band masquerading as prog, they all loved melody too much it seems. The trouble was when the pop took over. All of them have released sappy pop numbers since they left the band except Hackett who soldiers on it seems sometimes not too convincingly.

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    1. Or a prog band masquerading as pop?!
      Hackett’s solo albums usually have both riveting highlights and, um, patchy bits. But he continues to play and tour. Good luck to him, eh?

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  3. I have always maintained that Hackett leaving Genesis had a more profound effect on Genesis than Gabriel’s did. But I have always found Hackett’s solo material more interesting than Gabriel’s! So what do I know!

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    1. Peter Gabriel went of in a different direction, didn’t he. I enjoy his solo work very much – but do not think of him when I’m in the mood for prog. I often think that the trick of meeting a beloved artist’s work on its own terms is something I’ll continue to struggle towards until death to us part.

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      1. I too enjoy Gabriel’s albums. It’s just he takes forever to do one and you always feel he spends months and months on every single note to get it perfect. Hackett has been so productive over the last few years and he always does things that are interesting. His latest album Wolflight is the best he has produced in years.

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  4. Indeed more power to Hackett who seems to be a unifying force for vintage prog. I would love to see him live. Voyage of the Acolyte was a recent find for me in a crate somewhere, I have not listened to it in 20 plus years, maybe this is the week.
    I have to admit a fondness for Duke and Abacab., after that things get harder to like in the Genesis camp for me.
    The only tribute band I have ever seen was the Musical Box when they toured the Foxtrot show that Live was taken from including the cheesy comments. They had the whole thing down, costumes, original instruments, sitting down it was a riveting show.

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    1. Voyage of the Acolyte is terrific – quasi-Selling England Genesis but with a unique touch. And good on you for outing yourself re some of the later material. I will too: I really like Duke a lot – a surprisingly successful meld of progressive tendencies and savvy pop.
      Good to hear that the tribute band delivered. Never seen one myself, but from your description I’d be tempted.
      Thanks a lot for your input.

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      1. We have a brilliant one over here called Carpet Crawlers, wonderfully good – take it from a cynic.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. For a moment I thought you were describing yourself after a big night in Leeds, but then I realised it was a reference to a ‘Lamb’ era Genesis tribute band. Slightly disappointed, actually.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh! This sounds pretty good. I’ve said this a few times already, but I’m not familiar with any Genesis stuff other than the big 80s / 90s things like Invisible Touch and I Can’t Dance. Understandably I wasn’t very taken by them, but I’m really pretty interested in the older stuff and i haven’t yet picked anything up. Anyway, this live album sounds pretty good. Even if I didn’t like it, I’m sure it would rank as the best album cover in my collection.

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    1. I reckon ‘Live’ is a pretty good entry point – well it was for me 150 years ago! And spot on about the cover – it’s a ripper, isn’t it? Don’t you just yearn to be there staring into Gabriel’s mask!

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      1. Yeah, it’s pretty special. Reckon I’d be wondering what the hell was going on if I’d been in the audience and those chaps strode on stage. Especially after hearing I Can’t Dance (obvious use of a time machine in that example).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Deesylad · ·

          and of course the cover features Gabriels costume doing a performance of Suppers Ready which didnt make it to the album. Cool

          Liked by 1 person

        2. There’s actually a “bootleg” recording of the original test pressing of this album, out there on the interwebs. It features the tracks as released on Genesis: Live but also Supper’s Ready. It was originally (as I understand it) planned to be released as part of the album but got cut for space. It’s DEFINITELY worth seeking that “boot” out.

          More info: http://www.genesismuseum.com/vinyl/livetp.htm

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Genesis were the first band I saw in concert as a naive 15 year old. It was the Trick of the Tail tour at the Glasgow Apollo. The best venue I have ever experienced. Now, sadly long gone. Anyway, I always found Steve Hackett to be such a unifying force in Genesis. As a solo artist he kept the “proggy” Genesis flag flying when the band itself went “pop”. He has also kept the legacy of the band relevant with his Genesis Revisited projects. Now he has been given the Steven Wilson seal of approval with his upcoming remixes of his early solo albums. No wonder Tony Banks looked pissed on that recent TV documentary!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, see what you mean with Steve H. I picked up a 2 CD live album of his a while back that included thoughtful arrangements of Genesis material and a selection of his own stuff. Loved it.

      Thanks for the head’s up on the ubiquitous Steven Wilson attacking the Genesis back catalogue. Not sure how many times I want to fork out for the same albums, but…

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      1. Just to clarify. Steven Wilson has remixed Steve Hackett’s early solo albums. He has produced new stereo and surround mixes for Please Don’t Touch and Spectral Mornings. Voyage of the Accolyte and Defector are upmixes from the existing stereo masters as the multitracks for those are missing. These are all part of a 14 disc box set of Hackett’s Charisma albums to be released in October. I think the Genesis album are done! For better or worse,

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for the clarification, Barrie. Now I like Steve Hackett very much. But a 14 disc set? Yikes!

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  7. By the way, forgot to mention this is a wonderful web site. All the postings are fascinating and enlightening! Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much indeed. And thanks for joining in the dialogue. Love hearing new voices.

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  8. Can’t believe you did a cover version of my Grendel comments … And tried to put me as a live LP fan too! The cheek of it!

    Enjoyed your review of an LP I don’t have, although first LP aside, I really like Genesis up to Lamb. I got into them because everyone said Marillion copied them …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Theft is the sincerest form of flattery.
      As for your claim of not liking live albums, man, the data just doesn’t back you up. You’re nicked, sunshine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Anyway why the hell am I reading a new Vinyl Connection piece on a Monday?! That’s not right.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah, just the kind of devil-may-care chap I am, I guess. Always sticking it to the Man. Either that, or I wrote it and wanted to share.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Great writing, what is interesting though is that your (past) thoughts on Genesis about how they seem to play for themselves are my exact present thoughts on Yes (even wrote about this a bit ago). But with Genesis I’ve always been able to relate for some reason.

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    1. Personal responses are a mysterious thing, aren’t they? That they can change and morph over time is fascinating too. Thanks for dropping by.

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  10. Somehow I missed this post the first time around, so thanks for pointing me back to it. I worked my way back through the Genesis catalog starting with Abacab in 1981, so within a year I had purchased…and spent quality time with…everything in their catalog with the exception of their debut, which I wouldn’t hear until many years later. Although I was a solo Gabriel fan at the time as well, and a massive prog-rock fan (before I even knew that was a subgenre), it took some time for the early albums to make an impact on me. Only “Lamb” really hit me, yet here I am all these years later and it’s my least favorite of the Gabriel era. This live album is an excellent introduction to that lineup for the Genesis newbie, combining the subtle, nuanced songwriting with a more aggressive (for them) rock & roll attack. My only complaint, if I may have one, is that it leaves us wanting more, although the power might have been diluted had it been a double album. Of course that wasn’t the case for the glorious Seconds Out, yet your enjoyment of that 2-LP live set depends on your enjoyment of the early Phil Collins era. That remains my favorite Genesis live album, with “Genesis Live” a very close second.

    Oh, fantastic write-up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. With you on both those live albums, Rich. An hour is a good length for a live album, I reckon. That would, of course, be three sides… which Genesis did as well!

      I was auditioning turntables a week ago and span ‘Dance on a volcano’ from Seconds Out. Sounded great!

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  11. Not sure if this image will appear or just a link, but I think you’ll enjoy seeing it as it relates to this post:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, the photo inclusion worked: it’s brilliant. Love that Steve Hackett is sitting down. But where’s Mike’s double-necked guitar? 😉

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  12. CB was devouring everything by this band back then. Seen the cover and wanted to be at that concert. Great album and a taste for what these guys did live. Bruce, I have an album ‘Presenting Genesis’, it has three cuts off this album plus 3 studio cuts. The cover has Gabriel dressed like a flower. Like I said I was scooping up everything by these guys. Good piece. You always give it your personal take. CB likes that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right on. I wanted to be there too. That triangular headpiece!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wanted to go for the Gabriel reverse Mohawk but opted for the Keith Emerson kinda mullet.

        Liked by 1 person

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