Genesis: The Movie Box

Following the four ‘musical boxes’ of the Genesis reissue campaign, The Movie Box (released in late 2009) contains five official concert videos on DVD. To be more precise, it comes with four concerts (Three Sides Live, The Mama Tour, Live at Wembley Stadium, and The Way We Walk) and a bonus disc, plus one empty jewel case for the fan to store their already-purchased When in Rome video (just as the box of live albums didn’t include the contemporaneous Live Over Europe set). These films, beginning with 1981’s Three Sides Live, all feature the lineup of Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Daryl Stuermer, and Chester Thompson. Earlier Genesis concert films are available as DVD bonuses in preceding reissues, so it’s not like they were trying to write Peter Gabriel or Steve Hackett out of the group’s live story. Besides, watching Peter traipse through “Supper’s Ready” at Shepperton admittedly appeals to less of the general public than watching Phil dancing to “That’s All”. Or maybe not...

My goal here is to comment on the movies themselves, all of which I’d seen in years past and now have had a steady chance to re-evaluate. I don’t have much commentary on technical aspects like film restoration and surround mixes, but as per my disclaimer with the Genesis remix boxsets, one can find such matters covered by diligent reviewers elsewhere, though I can generally state that the stereo sound improves upon previous editions and the video is fine. So grab some popcorn, sip a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, and dim the lights.

Three Sides Live

Initially coinciding with the live album of the same name, this concert movie dates from the 1981 tour. I first saw it during my formative Genesis period and it’s been my favorite ever since. In fact, getting it on DVD was the main reason I bought the Movie Box in the first place. It’s a typical concert flick of the time in that the performance is chopped up and often interrupted for behind the scenes footage, like roadies and techs doing their thing, the band munching in the dressing room, group interviews, and so on (stifle your groan at the beginning of “In the Cage” when you see someone’s caged pet on the tour bus). But I don’t mind the tangential bits, as it seems 3SL’s goal was to ‘explain’ Genesis at this point in time, through both the strength of their live playing and their new creative methods circa Abacab. On the former count, the renditions of “Behind the Lines”, “Duchess”, “Abacab”, “Dodo/Lurker”, the “In the Cage” medley, and “Afterglow” form the real pillars of the show, sheltering the lesser likes of “No Reply At All”, “Misunderstanding”, and “Man On the Corner”. “Me and Sarah Jane” is okay, while a rocking “Turn It On Again” has yet to turn into an awful cover-song snippet showcase. “Who Dunnit” comes across rather silly on stage, but I stand by the fact that the studio version is far cooler than most of its detractors can grasp.

3SL omits most of the older songs that appeared on the Abacab tour. By centering on the Duke/Abacab material, it has a feel all its own and puts a positive and fresh face on the music of this era. And while the camera work isn’t always perfect, it captures the band’s energy and pioneering lighting effects. The rest of the film may be dated a little bit but the interview segments have merit and it’s fun overall, at least for me.

(The DVD also contains some audio-only surround tracks - “Behind the Lines”, “Duchess”, “Me and Sarah Jane”, “Man On the Corner”, “One for the Vine”, “Fountain of Salmacis”, “Follow You Follow Me” - that fill in the 5.1 gaps of the audio reissue of the 3SL album, which was stereo only.)

The Mama Tour

Filmed in Birmingham, 1984. Although the setlists of this tour covered a lot of ground, this movie compresses what those audiences witnessed into a shorter program, somewhat filtered through Genesis’ new pop awareness. On that note, you can see Phil assimilating his emerging solo persona into his role with Genesis - the stage banter, the mugging for backstage cameras, the hamming it up in “That’s All” and “Illegal Alien”, and ultimately the pandering cover-song medley that invades “Turn It On Again”. To be fair, he was already acting the everyman joker on prior tours, though with 1980s Genesis, it’s admittedly difficult not to associate this behavior with his solo identity. But apart from a few tacky moments, this is a strong show, as the band is absolutely tight and there’s enough substance to counter the minor pap.

“Abacab” continues to kick funky ass thanks to Daryl Stuermer’s basslines in the instrumental section, and “Home By the Sea” establishes itself as a stage heavyweight. “In the Cage” leads into the “Cinema Show” keyboard solo, no surprise there, but a big surprise comes in the medley’s sudden shift to “In That Quiet Earth” from Wind and Wuthering. Seeing this for the first time, one might expect a proper segue into “Afterglow”, but the band veers back into the “Slipperman” theme first. You can see Phil still at the top of his drumming game during this sequence, and the later drum duet with Chester Thompson is pretty sharp, too. Perhaps my favorite moment is the segue from “Keep It Dark” into “It’s Gonna Get Better”, a couple of tracks that I like in their studio versions but love in this live setting. The moment where Tony, backlit by stage lights, initiates the beautiful keyboard intro to “Gonna Get Better” is simply transcendent.

I hadn’t seen this video in a long time, and while some people say the DVD restoration isn’t all it could have been, it sure seems better to me than that old VHS. Yes, it’s a dark film, but well shot and assembled. The footage must have come from different nights, as you sometimes see a close-up on a particular musician, as if the camera was planted right at their feet, then it cuts to a wider shot and there’s no camera in front of whomever you were just looking at. But these anomalies are only for curious souls to notice; the overall effect is seamless. Meanwhile, gear fiends get some good looks at the classic synthesizers Tony had in use at the time, like the Prophet, Emulator, and Quadra.

An interesting bonus feature is Phil Collins’ home-movie of the sessions for 1983’s Genesis album. Allowing for the cheap video quality and the fact that the whole band is never seen playing at once (because one of them holds the camera), there are some insightful moments amidst the mundane studio work. For one, there’s a prime example of the group generating a song by having Phil improvise vocal melodies over Mike and Tony jamming, which in this case would become “Home By the Sea”. One also sees overdubs being laid down for various songs and some of the efforts that created the dramatic atmosphere of “Mama”. It’s not a fully explicated documentary, more a selection of moments that reveal the group’s method of writing and recording in their own studio. (And their methods of drinking wine and reading the newspaper...) Hugh Padgham was a big part of the process and gets a lot of screen time, too.

Live at Wembley Stadium

July 1987, the apex of commercial success, multiple dates in one stadium, Phil as Superstar, etc. My least favorite Genesis movie, considering:

The band’s mid-80s fashions and exaggerated buffoonery on the part of the frontman.

The needlessly zippy editing.

Maybe due to all those cuts, many shots in the early portions of the film are out of sync with the audio, an inexcusable offense.

The concert starts before the sun has fully set, so the lighting and video effects of such tunes as “Mama” and “Domino” are lost.

Forget about seeing the “In the Cage” medley, but the twist-and-shout medley that rapes “Turn It On Again” appears once more.

On the positive side, Genesis never delivers less than a professional show, and they knock “Abacab” (faster than usual) and “Los Endos” right out of the stadium. “Land of Confusion”, “The Brazilian” and “Home By The Sea” all come off strongly. So it’s not without some musical payoff, but the film overall doesn’t date well. The bonus tour documentary Visible Touch is the same one that appeared on the Invisible Touch reissue.

The Way We Walk

Earls Court, 1992. Not bad, but while detailed and well-edited (apart from nauseating cuts in the drum duet), it’s also oddly remote. I got the exact same feeling watching Pink Floyd’s Pulse concert filmed at the same venue. No matter how close the cameras get, a dark space exists between the band and audience, and ultimately the band and home viewer. The stage set isn’t an integral part of the film, more like an undefined structure that just happens to loom around the group, though I’m sure it had more impact in person. Regardless, this was the last Genesis go-round for a while, and as always, they play well. Cramming their progressive past into an “Old Medley” allows them to mine selections from Invisible Touch and We Can’t Dance most of all. Not great news for older fans, to be sure, yet “Driving the Last Spike” and “Fading Lights” turn out to be emotional highlights of the concert, the latter especially as Banks, Collins, and Rutherford handle it as the core trio without Thompson or Stuermer. “Home By the Sea” and “Domino” (particularly the second half) are in their most compelling shape yet, and the “Old Medley” is well done, despite the way it marginalizes the group’s history.

“Turn It On Again” loses the oldies sequence at the end, thank goodness, and Phil has a more reserved stage presence than he did in the preceding decade, apart from his clowning in “Jesus He Knows Me” and “I Can’t Dance”. (I think “I Can’t Dance” is a fun little tune, but that stupid dance/walk that they insist on doing in live performances really irks me.) By the way, the ‘80s fashions are gone; Tony’s dapper in his jacket, but Mike’s scarf is a little too uppity - “Ah, I seem to be in a rock band, old boy. Pass me my Fender Stratocaster.”

Anyway, this is a quality concert movie, albeit with a detached character, and the group doesn’t exude much fire in their playing. (Which isn’t to say they’ve lost any precision, far from it.) They recite their set instead of ripping it out with passion from beginning to end, and surely the material figures into that. Looking back to Three Sides Live, the musicians have to be very alert to nail something like “Dodo/Lurker”, while “Invisible Touch” or “Hold On My Heart” don’t emanate the same sense of being on the edge. I’ll admit that I like the groovy vamp they get into at the end of “Invisible Touch”, though.

(Side note: the original DVD issue of this concert came on two discs with options for a commentary track and multiple camera angles. Neither option appears here, but the audio is improved.)

When In Rome 2007

The presentation and technological brilliance of When In Rome sets it apart from the preceding titles, especially as this was the first one intended for DVD. The show is divided across two discs, accompanied by cool menus, extras, and a feature length documentary on a third disc. Whether it’s the actual “best” Genesis concert movie or not is open to opinion; Three Sides Live is still my favorite, but When In Rome carries a certain weight and since I haven’t really covered this tour elsewhere, I’m going to spend a few more words on it.

In 2007, Banks, Collins, Rutherford, Stuermer, and Thompson got together for the first time since 1993, a reunion slightly overshadowed in significance by that of The Police, but Genesis’ career-spanning program and massive stage spared no expense and drew large flocks. (I’m not usually a fan of big rock shows; as spectacular production increases, musical quality often diminishes or becomes more automated. Genesis somehow tends to avoid that.) What I admire most about this film is the way it captures the hugeness of an outdoor show in Rome for hundreds of thousands yet makes the connection between band and audience seem so intimate as well. Long and medium shots establish the size of the event, and one is also brought close enough to the performers to makes them seem to be playing in your backyard, something that can’t be said about the Wembley movie, for example. It was quite an accomplishment to shoot a gig of this scope and have the visuals tell the concert’s progression in such a satisfactory manner, and the end result deserves much praise.

While the performance lacks some intensity the group had in its prime, specifically due to Phil’s thinner voice and some changes in key and tempo, the majority of songs come across well, no small thanks to Stuermer and Thompson. Phil does some good drumming, too, and Tony and Mike are reliable with their parts, the former cruising through a few classic keyboard solos along the way. The huge video screen behind the band enhances the music and distracts from any lesser moments. It’s for the selection of material, though, that I really give this reunion credit. Without a new album to feature, Genesis celebrate their catalog sans any agenda, surrounding expected hits with weightier stuff - or is it the other way around?

Duke’s Intro, Turn It On Again

The group earns a pat on the back for melding themes from “Behind the Lines” and “Duke’s End” into an instrumental overture, and “Duke’s End” thus becomes a logical setup for “Turn It On Again”. The latter unfortunately is in semi-lame shape, having been dropped a couple of tones, but this was certainly overshadowed in person by the flashing lights and Phil taking the microphone.

No Son of Mine, Land of Confusion

A couple of decently rendered popular favorites, both lower again in key.

In the Cage (medley), Afterglow

Revived for the first time in twenty years, “In the Cage” is another victim of lowered pitch but works well otherwise, and it’s also the first real showcase of the gigantic video screen behind the group. The impressive visuals continue through the “Cinema Show” keyboard solo, which leaps suddenly into a portion of “Duke’s Travels” – another connoisseur’s choice – and then the medley settles into “Afterglow”, all lovely chords and colors.

Hold On My Heart

I’m not embarrassed to say that this is a good song for what it intends to be, but it’s not great live, as it brings everything to a standstill. Plus, why play it after “Afterglow”, a much more dynamic ballad?

Home By the Sea

Another audio-visual feast. The “Second Home” instrumental part is performed as well as it’s ever been, and there’s a wonderful shot of Tony as he swells the chords during the transition, looking to Phil at the drumset for cues. Many other wonderful shots follow, both of the stage and players.

Follow You Follow Me

Phil plays the drums and sings at the same time, which makes sense because the main groove of this song is so personalized. Behind the group, characters from the album covers stroll across the video screen.

Firth of Fifth, I Know What I Like

“Firth of Fifth” starts at the synth theme in the middle that leads into Daryl Stuermer’s take on Steve Hackett’s classic guitar solo. I would have preferred the whole piece, but you take what you can get. “I Know What I Like” is done as it is on Seconds Out, including the tambourine dance. It’s amazing to hear the crowd sing along without any prompting to the “Stagnation” theme; Phil just turns the microphone around and they all belt it out.

Mama, Ripples

“Mama” isn’t as strong musically as the version seen in the Mama Tour video but it retains that heavy atmosphere, accentuated well by the stage effects. “Ripples” made me a bit teary-eyed the first time I watched it, just for the fact that the group revisited this classic song in full with complete care. It’s also another standout as far as cinematography goes.

Throwing It All Away, Domino

I like the studio track of “Throwing It All Away” but it gets over-inflated live with a call and response bit. “Domino” probably earned a climactic place in the set for its vigorous second half and the major video display behind it, and it is a good stage piece, but its prominent status in a big reunion show seems kind of arbitrary.

Conversations with 2 Stools, Los Endos

Phil and Chester begin their drum duet riffing on a couple of miked stools then move to the kits for a tribal workout that eventually cues the monolithic splendor of “Los Endos”, awesome as always.

Tonight Tonight Tonight, Invisible Touch, I Can’t Dance

“Tonight” is so radically transposed that I don’t know why they bothered with it, especially as it’s the same truncated version that segues into “Invisible Touch” as on the 1992-3 tour. These two form the finale to the proper set, with “Touch” ending on a cool coda (its saving grace) and a bunch of fireworks wowing the crowd. “I Can’t Dance” is the first encore, and like “Throwing It All Away”, this innocent number becomes an elongated caricature on stage. It’s also the only real place in the show where Phil hams it up. Age and/or wisdom keep him from acting much of a goofball anywhere else.

Carpet Crawlers

In a weird twist of Genesis space-time, one gets to hear “I Can’t Dance” and “Carpet Crawlers” back to back. This adjunction should’ve been red-flagged, and I’m not sure that “Carpet Crawlers”, beautiful as it is, ends the show with an appropriate bang. I would have put it earlier in the set, but that’s just my second-guessing. If one prefers a touching finale, this is hard to beat.

Every song is accompanied by an extra featurette (accessible from the main menu or within the movie itself) that peeks into rehearsal and/or production matters. These tidbits are all insightful and amusing, although perhaps only musicians will chuckle at the band trying to figure out how to modulate from G to G. The real behind the scenes treasure chest is the Come Rain Or Shine documentary on disc 3, which is at least as entertaining as the concert itself. Beginning with initial rehearsals and stage design, it captures most of the major steps involved in getting the sizable production from conception to reality. Subplots include a couple of assistants shopping for stools for the drum duet (an idea prompted by Phil and Chester warming up on a leather stool in a hotel room), the video programmer and ‘button pusher’ trying to get the tricky effects of “Domino” right, and the ongoing travails of the band trying to settle on what to play and how to play it. (Most of the individual featurettes mentioned above are song-specific outtakes from this film.) Such stuff might sound dull on paper, but it’s all woven into a good-humored narrative with the countdown to the first gig ever looming. The band members are major characters, of course (Tony the reserved authority, Phil the grounded star under pressure to regain his Genesis skills), and so are manager Tony Smith, who makes some perceptive observations about his employers, and a few heroes of the production staff. Most of all, the friendly bond within the group is made clear, even if Phil is the only one straightforward enough to mention it. Anyway, setlist, bar stools, flame pots, and video timings all settled, they hit their first show without an apparent hitch.

The last part of Come Rain Or Shine deals with the rain that plagued several of the following dates, and again, this might not sound very dramatic, but after the preceding uncertainties of even getting the show off the ground, the documentary turns this element into its masterstroke. Following warnings about precipitation and lightning, there’s a glorious cut to “Afterglow” in Katowice, the baseball-capped musicians (and their hardworking crew) ultimately triumphant against the weather. After a quick breather backstage, they return for the “Carpet Crawlers” encore and a poignant montage of audience members singing along. The film has two further aces up its sleeve – a shot of Tony and Phil going onstage at the Rome show (one reason I might recommend watching Come Rain Or Shine before the concert) and a last montage of warm-hearted clips before the final credits. Also, the soundtrack selections throughout dive deep into the catalog (“Moonlit Knight”, “Hairless Heart”, “Squonk”, “In That Quiet Earth”, “Dodo”, etc.) and are well deployed. What a wonderful film, worth the price of the whole When In Rome set.

Bonus Disc

Salvaged from what might have been oblivion is VH1’s 1999 Behind the Music episode about Genesis, now updated through the 2007 reunion. Many corners are cut in trying to cram the band’s entire history into less than an hour, and a few errant insinuations result (Phil did not drum on Trespass, Steve did not leave during And Then There Were Three, etc), but what can you expect from VH1, except to be thankful they covered this not-so-sordid group at all. Peter gets in a good line about early life at Charterhouse school, which I remembered from the original broadcast viewing and referenced in my review of Nursery Cryme, and the rest of it is pretty enjoyable on a basic level, but there are no new stories here.

Overall verdict: They did a fine job with this set, and it’s high time the first two movies made it to DVD. A recommendation depends on how much one likes Top 40 era Genesis, bearing in mind that these live shows still included hefty doses of their progressive back catalog. If you already like any two of these movies, I say go for it, and you might be pleasantly suprised with one or two of the others. (It is an expensive box, but I was lucky enough to find it at half-price when it came out.)

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