After seeing Montreal’s The Musical Box perform three different recreations of classic Genesis concerts (at over two dozen separate events), I am still overwhelmed by the sheer weirdness of it all. How can you spend so much time in a role without starting to lose the line between where the individual begins and the role ends?
There can be no doubt that the music is other-worldly. Without any doubt, these are musicians of the highest calibre, but there is always something more there, something on which I can not put my finger. The music is too good to be just the reading of someone else’s staff notation. Let us forget about the costumes and wigs for just a minute and look only to the music.
I have, for example heard the incomparable Neal Morse play the opening chords of ‘Watcher of The Skies’ and noted that, despite the utter lack of improvisation contained in that musical passage, his version was not as dramatic. And this is an artist (Morse) whose prog credentials are above and beyond any reproach. He is a modern master.
But when you hear David Myers (who?) play the same passage, there is a calm immediacy that transfers all of the power and majesty of the original directly to the listener. Is it that he is not Neal Morse? Is it that Myers has all of the authentic and original equipment? Is that David Myers is wearing a wig?
Of course, none of this matters when Sebastian, who, in his attempt to recall the prominent and unique role played by Michael Rutherford in this quintet, and wears no costume whatsoever, leans into the fuzz bass and the Moog Taurus pedals and I feel my internal organs being rearranged. At that point, I don’t give a flying fuck who is playing the music.
But, as it was in 1998 when I first experienced the monster in The Musical Box, the experience remains bizarre. Greg Bendian has taken over the drums and is absolutely giddy to be living out his boyhood fantasy of being Bill Bruford. Bendian is highly accomplished and has firmly established credentials with his ‘Mahavishnu Project’ which, as one would surmise, re-creates the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra. That is/was Bendian’s project – he had control (probably did more work) and gets a lot of the credit for tremendous success, notoriety and several albums. Not only does TMB NOT have albums, but Bendian has to give up a few choice drum parts because, in the original performance, Bruford did not play those parts – Phil did.
So Bendian has to give up featured drum parts in ‘Cinema Show’ and ‘Robbery Assault & Battery’ where Phil wanted to be showcased. But the ‘singer’ Phil can’t play drums as well as the real Phil. Which means that, during the evening’s performance, the role of Phil Collins is played by two men – Denis Gagne on vocal and percussion and Marc LaFlamme on drum kit. Marc does an amazing job and a large portion of the audience doesn’t even know he is the person playing.
So, after all this time, the performance of these talented musicians continues to fascinate, delight and confuse me. But with players this talented and a score this well-executed, all you need is a program of some of the finest music ever composed. Fortunately, Genesis has taken care of that for us.
(The camera phone doesn’t do great, but here’s what I got, picture-wise)