The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Peter Gabriel stared at himself in his dressing room mirror and methodicallybegan to wipe off the layers of dusky make-up that only a few hours beforehad transformed him into a young Puerto Rican New Yorker named Rael. Inthe course of Genesis' startling two hour performance, Peter had furthermutated from a leather jacketed street punk to the hideously deformed Slipperman,finally becoming an eerie silhouette of Death Himself. But now, as he washedthe last of the tan paint from his distinctively British features, Gabrielbegan to look once again very much like the private school student he waswhen Genesis was first formed—not at all like the all-powerful Watcherof the Skies whose bat-wings seemed smoky gray from hell-fire.
Dressed more like an unstylish fan than a rock star on the ascendant,Peter wrapped a plain wool muffler around his neck and stepped out thestage door into the chilly New Jersey night air. There a strange sightgreeted him. Outside a corral of previously prepared police barricadeswere dozens of believers in the magic that is Genesis. At their first glimpseof Gabriel, the throng began to cry "Peter! Peter!" and strained towardtheir favorite fantasy-monger. As he hurried into the waiting limousine,the habitually reserved musical sorcerer began to smile broadly; the longblack auto-coach pulled away from the crowd, and still the hands beat uponits roof and eager faces peered curiously in the windows for a look atwhat their hero was really like. Peter settled back, began to peel a refreshingorange, and sighed. Despite his well-hidden anxiety, Genesis' newest andmost ambitious stage presentation had worked.
Blue denim delinquent: American rock audiences at first had beeninclined to heckle Peter's subtly atmospheric monologues, chattering duringthe quieter mood-building instrumental passages. After three carefullyplanned tours, however, even the most skeptical concert-goers were entrancedby Genesis' dramatic representation of "The Musical Box" and Peter's breathtakingflight through the air at the climax of "Supper's Ready." Now The LambLies Down Or' Broadway (on Atco) had replaced those old favorites, andeven Peter's image had changed drastically. He had cropped his long locksand combed them over his bald streak. His sleek black jumpsuit had givenway to sneakers and bluejeans. Though the band had given their all to providea totally entertaining reenactment of some of their most imaginative songsever, the insistent question remained. Aside from the success of theirfirst few concerts with The Lamb, could Genesis convince the world's largestrock audience to take an extended trip into an unfamiliar fantasy world?
Back in his Manhattan hotel room, Peter admitted to Circus Magazinethat Genesis had had their doubts about presenting the entirety of theirrecent double album as the basis for the most important tour of their career."We were quite worried about introducing the whole of The Lamb to audiencesall at once. This new show is very experimental for us," Gabriel acknowledged,biting into a banana. "In the past we've tried to introduce new materialin twenty-five minute segments, phasing it in with the better known songsgradually. It's also been difficult achieving a balance between the musicalperformance and the triple-screen slide presentation that helps the listenerto visualize Real's story more easily. The slides are a much stronger elementthan ever before, and to a certain extent, they're an additional risk.They shift attention away from my performance somewhat, although now thatI've worked with them onstage, I think they do provide an interest-pointwhen the going gets a little heavier Iyrically."
Vividly fantastic visuals: The almost eighty-minute long Lamb showwith its 3000 slides arranged by artist Geoffrey Shaw is an important steptowards one of Gabriel's most cherished goals for Genesis. Last year hetold an interviewer, "I like to keep visuals in mind at the same time asIyrics and music. In the near future, I expect to see groups and artistswork more closely together. I think the time is nearly ripe for the firstvisual artist to become a pop star. There will be situations in which theband itself becomes much less important, and there will be less of an egothing. If one can build the visual image stronger, one can make the fantasysituation more real and involve an audience more deeply."
But slide shows and the eventual film Peter hopes to make are expensivefor a group not yet financially endowed by superstardom, so for their earliertheatrical offerings, Gabriel was forced to rely on his considerable assetsas a story-teller and pantomimist. His now famous humorous monologues,of which the Lamb innersleeve story might be viewed as an extension, developedfor purely functional reasons. "I didn't feel very at home on the stageto begin with," the mysterious multi-talent has allowed. "Audiences shockedus by not being very interested in the music at first. I started to wiggleabout trying to personify the Iyrics, and then we started to use the monologueswhen we brought twelve-string guitars into the act. There were long embarrassedsilences while the guitars were tuned. The monologues gave me another outletby which to express the fantasy."
And all of Genesis' succeeding stage shows have been literally fantastic.When Genesis first came to America to perform such bizarre Victorian epicsfrom Nursery Cryme as "The Return of the Giant Hogweed," Peter appearedin pure white satin with the pancake make-up of a mime. Although he lookedlike a mischievous young 19th century lad, the prominent streak of baldnessdown the center of his skull suggested he'd found a book of black magicin a dusty attic.
Foxy head trip: Then came the Foxtrot spectacle, during which Peterprattled even stranger prefaces dressed in a woman's ball gown topped bya fox's head. When he sang "Get 'Em Out By Friday," he changed personalitiesas easily as he doffed one hat and put on another. Come their Selling EnglandBy The Pound tour, Genesis had firmly established themselves as the mostimportant new self-admittedly theatrical group since the Who. Peter's impersonationsof a lawnmower and the senile degenerate of "The Musical Box" were frighteningand unforgettable. It was in this show that Genesis' use of slides, combinedwith their very sophisticated lighting, began to take them into areas noband had ever really fully explored. The slides, of course, paralleledthe concept of Selling England but it was the sense of animation they conveyedthat was strikingly unique.
Genesis has never been less than superb musically for all the lackof ostentation the musicians displayed. No one could deny that guitaristSteve Hackett, keyboardist Tony Banks, drummer/vocalist Phil Collins, andmulti-instrumentalist Mike Rutherford were superior musical craftsmen.Yet with Selling England and its slide show, Genesis had achieved an aimclose to Steve Hackett's heart. "I think eventually there will be moreanonymity amongst musicians in a group, without so many people trying sodesperately to find star images." Tony Banks set his sights even more specifically:"The most important thing to us is the songs, then the playing, and onlythen the presentation. We're not as concerned with flaunting musicianship;Yes and ELP are more dependent on solos. I'm not a soloist as such. I thinkof myself more as an accompanist who colors the sound."
Crutched-up music?: Shortly before launching the challenging Lambtour, Gabriel was aware that with such an awesome visual exposition asGenesis was now prepared to project, they might have even more troublebeing taken seriously as musicians. "There are people who believe thatthe costumes, props, and slides we use are crutches to hold up crippledmusic," Peter told an English interviewer objectively. 'But if the visualimages are conceived at the time of writing, and you don't use those visuals,then you're not allowing the audience to listen to the song in the fullstrength of which it was created. And that's what we're after, to givethe listener as much in a song as we get from it. Visuals are only rubbishunless they are integrated with the continuity of the music," he emphasizedwithout ambiguity.
Never has a rock theatrical presentation hypnotized an audience onso many sensory levels as The Lamb Lies Down On Broad way. Where groupsfrom the Who to ELP impress their fans visually with walls of amplifiedthunder-machinery, Genesis' set is virtually bare of electric equipment.Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford's amps are so well hidden that theirmusic often appears to emanate from the air itself. No mountains of synthesizertechnology surround Tony Banks. Aside from the panoramic three-part slidescreen and an odd little rock formation at the center of the stage, themost striking "prop" is Phil Collins' beautifully complete and well-ordereddrum kit. It is almost a sculpture in itself, but, of course, its functionis strictly musical.
Into the twilight zone: So there is nothing onstage to get in theway of the songs themselves, which are among the most moving Genesis hasyet composed. For the first time, they link the band's phantasmagoric visionsto today's urban street scene. While Genesis play through their most extendedbuiltin jam ever on "Fly On A Windscreen," Shaw's slides super-realisticallysmash a greatly magnified and grotesque insect against a stolid fiftiesFord. The plot, the music, and the visuals become even more disturbinglysurreal once Rael is sucked body and soul into Genesis' harrowing halfworld.As the band plays "The Hairless Heart" Shaw's slides show a snowy whitefeathered heart nestled in crimson satin drapery. A rubber-gloved handbegins to shave the heart with cruel precision; the combined impact ofthe music and the visuals makes for one of the show's strongest emotior~almoments.
Peter's innersleeve story reads: "That night Rael pictured the removalof his hairy heart and to the accompaniment of very romantic music he watchedit being shaved smooth by an anonymous stainless steel razor. The palpitatingcherry-red organ was returned to its rightful place and began to beat fasteras it led our hero, counting out time, through his first romantic encounter."That "romantic encounter" is described graphically in the song, "CountingOut Time," which Peter explained to Circus is a "light-hearted look atthe insertion of male organs into female organs."
Wild in the streets: Although the slides, the Iyrics, or the storywould seem bewildering by themselves, together they have great imaginativecoherency. "The album seems clearer in my head than a lot of what we'vedone before," Peter insists. "We look upon it as being comprised of muchshorter units than before. I would like best to see The Lamb as a film,because that would clarify the imagery further than a performance or therecord. A film is the easiest medium by which to build another reality."Yet Peter hopes audiences will be able to identify with Rael,as portrayedby Gabriel himself, following the story through his eyes, ears, and feelings."The point of Rael being earthy and aggressive," according to I Gabriel,"is that he provides an accessible response to these fantasy situations.Rael seemed a good starting I point because he's surrounded by all, thisspeed and aggression which New York has more of than any other city." Belongingto no real community save that of the streets, Rael is more susceptibleto the changes Peter's plot puts him through.
Musically, Steve Hackett is pleased with the added room for improvisationi that The Lamb has given the instrumentalists. "With this new stage show,we've left a lot of things looser than I we ever have before. We're takinga chance that our spontaneous improvisations will create something we haven'ti had much of as yet. I think we're playing The Lamb even better live nowthan we did on record." Steve also takes issue with those critics who havefelt that The Lamb is beyond the limit of tolerable obscurity. "There are,of t course, some quite obscure parts," he concedes, "but I think thatespecially as regards New York City and America there are more direct statementsthan we've ever been willing to make before about a subject in the presentI time. Previously, we'd preferred to 9' work with the past or the future."
"At any rate," as Mike Rutherford; is fond of saying, audiences seemfar, more satisfied with The Lamb than Genesis could have anticipated."I'm t glad we took the risk; I think it's paid off," Peter was able tosay after the first performances had garnered nothing but rave reviews."Audiences have a way of voicing their confusion and complaints crudelyduring a concert, but I like the feeling of being close to a rowdy audience.I'd rather have an active audience than a stoned and passive one, evenif that includes some hostility."
Genesis now seems poised on the t brink of financial as well as artistictriumph. The hard core of their loyal fans is growing with each tour andt every concert. Peter Gabriel feels fortunate that the band has neverhad to compromise for success. "Looking at; the Who and Yes, it seems theyweren't able to play easily entire works like Tommy or Topographic Oceans,"Peter pointed out, relaxing a little now as he gazed out his hotel roomwindow at the twinkling skyline over New York's Central Park. 'So far we'vebeen very, lucky; our audiences initially tolerated The Lamb and now areactually positive toward it. Tonight was one of the first gigs ever inAmerica when I felt we'd really gotten across."