Genesis ain't no ordinary rock'n'roll band, nor do they want to be. With a total of six albums to their credit, the quintet is still trying to crack the North American market without cracking themselves. Mixing business with pleasure, we present Genesis.
The house lights begin to dim and an eerie hush falls over the crowd. The stage resembles a set from THX 1138, bathed completely in glaring polarwhite, including the four figures with their respective musical implements, blending into the glacierlike backdrop, becoming part of the scene of an impending apocalypse. Suddenly the vacuous silence erupts with a giant mellotron flourish that is perhaps beckoning to the gods. The incessantly urgent dirge charges and recoils with titanic power until it is joined by a task force of bass, drums and guitar, becoming louder and more vibrant, relentlessly building up the theme to a mind-numbing peak, twentieth century machinery producing a twenty-first century environment. From the back of the stage, a figure slowly but steadily walks trancelike towards the lip of the stage, where he stands motionless. Whilst sanity disappears altogether the music is further energized. The figure is dressed in a long flowing robe, a pair of bat-like wings adorn his mutant face in which two eyes glow white and seemingly gaze through the endless myriad of galaxies to the guardian of the stars, to whom the figure addresses:
"Watcher of the Skies, watcher of all,
His is a world alone, no world is his own,
He whom life can no longer surprise,
Raising his eyes beholds a planet unknown."
(Tiflis tunes, Inc. ASCAP)
The audience is completely oblivious of where they are as they watch in mute awe at the scene, their total possessive faculties sharply focussed on the figure who is now waving and dancing dementedly to the automaton nightmare that has been unleashed by the white-suited controllers. The tide is then soothingly abated and sanity is mercifully restored. There is an agonizingly long five seconds of thin air until the audience regains their sense of being enough to applaud loudly in sincere appreciation of the opening number of the concert, "Watcher.of the Skies".
Genesis are not what one would call your typical rock band; in fact, ~one would even talk at cailing them a rock band at all. Genesis are a complete entity to themselves, making music with such excellence that the term "brilliant" cannot possibly render them justice. If comparisons have to be made concerning Genesis' music, and there are a few dithering idiots abounding on this sphere who insist on such folly, one could say that they sound like Yes or King Crimson. But in no way are they in the habit of borrowing from these people's musical stockpiles, such as the Yes offshoot, Flash: an obvious example. For instance, the similarities between Genesis and say, Yes, are in instrumentation only; their musical goals are distinctly different. Michael Rutherford, an incredibly lanky young man who wields the bass guitar in Genesis, thought along much the same lines. "Well, there is a difference between us sounding like and copying, and I think perhaps we do sound like them. People are always comparing us to the Moody Blues or King Crimson, and we're not unlike them, you'know.
We're just nearer to them than we are to Slade, right?"
Lead guitarist Steve Hackett, looking quite different this time around what with his slipped beard and acquisition of contact lenses in place of his traditional black frames, got up grudgingly from his reclined position in the hotel room to offer his explanation of the public's fallacy in denouncing them as being derivative, especially of those bands. "Now all those bands we've been talking about are all bands that most of us admire; for instance, King Crimson is, well, a stupendous band, and Robert Fripp is an amazing guitarist and has a great flair for composition. Yes are good, and so are Flash. . . I respect Pete Banks a lot." (Steve played on Pete's first solo album, along with Genesis drummer Phil Collins and Jan Akkerman, from Focus.)
Although Genesis have become quite popular in their native England in the last year, their following in North America is still minimal, albeit extremely vocal. Were they planning to use certain strategy over here to bolster their supporters' ranks? Mr. Rutherford offered us a reply.
"Well, we don't really have a master plan, you know, like Plan "A" for conquering the states. We've been playing in England for about four years now, and we've found that it takes people a long time to get into the band. . . we're not the easiest band to get into. In England, the people have steadily gotten into us from a cult sort of following with a small group of strong supporters. It's a slow process that takes time, and a lot of gigs."
The Genesis family tree goes back to the late sixties and commences with their adoption by the "Gone To The Moon" man Jonathan King, culminating in their first album release, "From Genesis To Revelation", circa 1969. A year later came the bands second release "Trespass", a much more fullyrealized long player than the first one. "On 'Genesis To Revelation'," Michael continues, "instrumentally we played grand piano a lot, no mellotrons and no organ except for one we used on a couple of tracks, along with accoustic guitars. . . By the time we got to the next album (Trespass) we went through much the change, a jump ahead that we haven't had since then."
So "Trespass" had set the stage for a new musical path for Genesis, directing them away from the material on that (relatively speaking) poppish first album to the long involved narratives that would be accompanied by the tightest, most complex structures mere mortals could devise.
Before each number, lead singer Peter Gabriel usually recites a little story which serves to prepare us for the composition to follow. For the most part these anecdotes are humorous in nature, belying the fact that the songs themselves are largely sordid affairs. The band's knack of writing their special compositions fully blossomed with their third and fourth studio recordings, "Nursery Cryme" and "Foxtrot".
Peter Gabriel steps up to the microphone and relates the story of "The Musical Box", the track that inspired "Nursery Cryme's" jacket painting. The story concerns itself with a young lady, Cynthia de BlaiseWilliam, who deftly removes the head of her young friend with a croquet mallet. Soon after, we find our precocious little Cindy in the nursery of the beheaded, Henry HamiltonSmythe, and her eyes then fell upon his treasured musical box. She quickly opened it and guess who popped out? Well, as soon as he appeared, he began to age rather quickly, while his mind remained at it's previous level of intelligence. It is here where Gabriel staggers out hunched-over, sporting a mask portraying the aging child. The stark effect is felt right through the hall and everyone seems to -be holding their breath. A lifetime's desires have been condensed intoa few minutes and the old man's gaze falls upon our shocked Cynthia. The music temporarily subsides and Gabriel plays the part of the aged Henry, directing his plea to the girl:
."She's a lady, she's got time,
Brush back your hair, and let me get to-know your face,
She's a lady, she is mine,
Brush back your hair, and let me get to know your flesh.
. . .
I've been waiting here for so long,
And all this time has passed me by
It doesn't seem to matter now,
You stand there with your fixed expression,
Casting doubt on all I have to say,
Why don't you touch me, touch me
Why don't you touch me, touch me, touch me
Now, now, now, now, now! (etc.)"
Gabriel writhes like an epileptic leper, tortuous agony unleashed by the fervorish colour with which he recites the old man's crazed "touch me's" and the authoritative "now's", whilst keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist Hackett solo wildly around the rhythms of Rutherford and Phil Collins. The noises of Henry's advances are overheard by the nurse and as she bursts into the room, Cynthia throws the box at Henry and both are destroyed; the song is over.
By this time the crowd is in complete hysterics, raving both over the beautifully constructed music end the effective use of creative visuals. The power of "The Musical Box" when seen live is an experience that lends creedence to the fact that many people (including myself) consider Genesis to be the best live band today. And while Gabriel may change h is costumes as often as David Bowie, his bizarre attire lends more credit to the storylines, adding yet another dimension to the total audio/visual experience, while Bowie's on-stage shenanigans and accoutrements are purely cosmetic.
But for all his exhuberance and outright extrovertness when performing, the mysterious man with the shaved forehead is surprisingly quiet outside the concert hall. One might expect him to materialize in the room from nothingness, but there he is, walking through the door like any other human being lawnmower, althou~h he is iust as striking an individual off-stage as on. His presence seems to permeate throughout the room, but he's content to sit down and listen to the various conversations) with a strange but pleasant lack of super-star rolepiaying. Peter's open to all questions, but speaks with reserve and his answers are barely whispered, and are all but inaudible to the tape recorder.
One wonders if this really is the man responsible for such songs as the sex and rape oriented composition, "The Fountain of Salmacis" or "The Return of the Giant Hogweed"? (The latter number is about the transference of a hogweed from a Russian marsh by a Victorian explorer to the Royal Gardens at Kew, and its subsequent planting by fashionable country gentlemen at their respective gardens. The hogweed flourished, spread its seeds, and went on the rampage.)
I asked Peter about his and the band's thoughts about the nonsuccess of their early career and their first disc. "Well, in the beginning it was basically a bunch of us who were up and coming songwriters and we wanted to get something done on a demo record. . . so we decided to play together, you know, aspirations of pop success, Top 40, but this didn't work out. Then we met Jonathan (King) and did the album. I think the problem with that one was that our ideas had out-paced his tastes. The result is that "A Place to call my Own", which is about a minute of length on that album was originally a twelve minute number that was very much like what we are doing now, even though it was mostly all acoustic and piana"
While we were talking about his fascination for fairy-tale type stories and his writing style, he was constantly adamant in his insistence that the public be made aware that the songs Genesis perform are in nine out of ten cases co-written by everyone in the band, as he wanted to make sure that people steered away from the idea that he was an lan Anderson-type figure who dominated every concern that the band has. As it turned out, ~ "Foxtrot's" sci-fi excursion "Watcher of the Skies" was composed by Tony and Michael, and it is not a Gabriel fantasy, although it certainly stands that no one but Peter could act the son~ out on sta~e.
The group was now mid-way through their second tour of North America, and they were the headliners at most of the venues on the tour this time around, a fact that pleased them, even though full houses were anything but a common occurence. Still they knew that everyone had come expressly to see them, and this had a pleasant effect on the band. Someone inquired as to why they had not returned to the stage for an encore at the gig that evening, when it was plainly obvious that the audience went appropriately berserk at the end and should have been awe rded one for being as receptive as they had been. (Genesis had concluded the concert with Foxtrot's seven movement tour-deforce "Supper's Ready", an extravanganza closely akin in execution to Procol Harum's "In Held 'Twas in 1~.)
Was there something that had particularly irked them that night? "No, the audience I thought were great. I mean it's a fairly long show and we can't really top the last number that we do; it encompasses everything both visually and musically that Genesis represents. We like to think that we're doing the encores during the show." "It's because," continued Michael, "we feei that 'Supper's Ready' is one of our best pieces and it climaxes the end of the set. I don't know. . . it's like a peak and we just feel that it's right to end there. We have nothing really that we can follow "Supper's Ready" with musically and that's why we don't do an encore."
Last summer saw the release of the "Genesis Live" album, which unfortunately will never be released over here, although it should be obtainable at any good import shop if you are intent on possessing fifty minutes of some of the most explosive music ever captured on record. I asked Steve Hackett about 'Supper's Ready', which is conspicuous in its absence on the disc. "Well, it was simply that we didn't want to have two albums in a row with the same side on it, as the album hPfnrP that ( Foxtrot) had the original version of the number and the live track was pretty much like the other one." (as it stands the selections were well-chosen and the album includes "The Knife", one ol Trespass' better compositions). I was very keen on the idea for the live album", he continued, "and I'm glad it came out as good as it did. We've found that a lot of people are being introduced to the band through this album, so it's been good for us in that respect."
A room service menu was being passed around the room, and the various members of the Genesis entourage were checking off what exotic delicacies from the Holiday Inn kitchen they fancied. When the list was passed our way, Mr. Hackett, assuming it to be something else, promptly signed his autograph on it. I was curious as to how these lads were further affected by the rigours of touring, especially as it applies on this side of the Atlantic. "Unfortunately a lot of times it becomes very machine-like, but most of all it's the whole hotel thing that gets you down. For instance, I've been to Paris three times now, and I've seen the same street, the same hotel, and the same gig, and that's all I've ever seen." (delivered in a dead-panned mock satire of Des O'Connor).
A recent trend for many English bands touring here is the time set aside for participating in the growing number of rock-dominated television shows, faithfully watched by a large majority of the record-buying public. Was there any chance of an appearance by Genesis on the tube, either on this tour or in the works for a later date? "No," replied Steve flatly, "we're not really into that; however, what we have done is made an hour-long promotional film of a live gigwhich was recorded under studiolike conditions with an invited audience. We made it so it would be adaptable to television or if they only wanted to show a portion of it or whatever. As far as television proper goes, we've stayed away from it because of the poor sound reproduction and the fact that you have to play in a somewhat cold atmosphere; that's why we did the film. It's our music, our mix, our visuals, and we had control over what we were doing."
The primary functions on this tour were numerous and included the adoption of a new new amalgamation of visuals, including lights, slides, and back projections. One of the itinerary's top priorities was the introduction of the bulk of the material from their latest offering "Selling England by the Pound." (Which should be out as you read this). From what I heard at the concert, this promises to be their most complete work to date, even more so than "Foxtrot", an album that rates unusually high in listener satisfaction questionnaires. There seemed to exist a natural cohesiveness throughout the performance of the records music. Was the album intended to be a crack by Genesis at the rock-opera sweepstakes?
"No, not at all", replied Steve.
"There's no real evident underlying: theme although it is a kind of an English patriotic type thing, with a lean to the nostalgic side of England, and it's coldness. It deals with people's life-styles or whatever the differences there exist between nations. Sadly, as we lose more of our tradition and are all moved in closer to one another, the more we are losing out. We're not advocating people to say "Stop all this. . ." 'cause it really can't be done. It's not made out to be heavy but "Selling England by the Pound" is fairly heavy business. Since the album is very Englishorientated a lot of people over here won't be able to fully understand what it's all about, especially as far as the places mentioned goes." I mentioned to Steve that that was what Ray Davies was continually interjecting into his works with the Kinks, and I was surprised when his eyes lit up with fondness with the mention of that band. "Yeah, well there you are; I'm sure that there are quite a few people here who on the mention of say, "Waterloo Sunset", cannot really conjure up an impression of that song the way someone familiar with Waterloo could. It's a very romantic song about a very unromantic place. It's a downer type of song, something the Kinks do extremely well. It's not your typical "San Francisco" lighthearted rubbish."
I decided to ask Peter if the band had changed their battle plan when they entered the studios to record "Selling England by the Pound".
"I don't really know; we did try to get a 'liver' sound, as we all have natural tendencies to over-arrange things. We tried to eliminate that, as well as at the same time attempting to improve the instrumental portions, which were always cut short on our other records. We realize when we are recording that these songs have to be presented live, although we do over-do it sometimes. We would like to view the studio and the stage as totally different entities, but the relationship between the two has to exist. I mean there are things you can do in the studio with a minimum of effort that you cannot possibly hope to reproduce on stage. I think it's much more healthy to work the arrangement the way we do, than to try and preserve ~it exactly as it was recorded in the studio. That just causes a great deal of unneeded tension within a band, and we won't have to deal with these kind of problems if we remain bright enough about it." His voice trailed off and it was obvious that Peter was developing a mild case of the midmorning mumbles, accentuated by his usual quietness; it was obvious that the band were quite played out. Peter sat silently on the floor as if entranced in a wasted stupor and it seemed pointless to continue the talk. As I rose to leave Peter assured me that he'd answer further questions to the best of his ability, and to me this concerned attitude and co-operation is indeed rather refreshing and show Genesis as being worthy of any accolades that anyone cares to award them with; a nd as long as they continue playing music with the flair and excellence they have already shown us, you'll be hearing a lot more about them in the very near future.
Step right in and join Genesis' musical feast, your supper's waiting for you.
"There is an angel standing in the sun,
And he's crying with a loud voice,
'This is the supper of the mighty one'
Lord of Lords, Kings of Kings,
Has returned to lead his children home,
To take them to the new Jerusalem."
(Tiflis Tunes, ASCAP)