Back In NYC: Genesis Bring Their Reunion (And Farewell?) To MSG

Timothy Hiatt / Getty Images

Back In NYC: Genesis Bring Their Reunion (And Farewell?) To MSG

Timothy Hiatt / Getty Images

It finally happened. After teasing it for a while, Genesis actually announced they’d get back together for another tour. That was meant to take place last year, so the long-awaited reunion got put back on the shelf for a little while longer. Then, earlier this year, it really, actually kicked off in England, before the group brought the show Stateside last month. For a long time this didn’t seem like any sort of plausible reality. The group had last hit the road together way back in 2007, and Phil Collins had spent a good chunk of the ‘10s retired from touring as he grappled with various ailments. But now here we are, in the waning days of 2021, and a lot of us have our first opportunity to see Genesis in the flesh. Depending who you ask, it also seems to be like it may be the last.

Last night, Genesis’ The Last Domino? tour hit New York City for the first of two shows at Madison Square Garden. Like Collins’ post-retirement Not Dead Yet tour, the current Genesis run comes with changes and caveats. For years now, Collins has openly discussed that he can’t play drums anymore. Instead, his son Nic fills in onstage. Genesis also have two backup singers, seemingly to bolster Collins. Aside from additions to accommodate Collins’ health issues, you otherwise have the core trio of Collins, Mike Rutherford, and Tony Banks back onstage together. But the band members can’t seem to agree on how definitive “The Last Domino?” is. In recent interviews, Collins has said the question mark was Banks’ idea, and that he can’t envision touring again after this North American leg.

As such, there’s an atmosphere of finality to the show, and accordingly the band has put together a setlist that, mostly, should satisfy people along the spectrum of Genesis fandom. Genesis have always been a particularly strange story within the context of rock history. Here you have a band who were a beloved and influential prog group in their earlier iteration, and you still have fans who worship those earlier albums, the Peter Gabriel years. But after Gabriel’s departure, Genesis somehow became a major force in the pop mainstream, with Collins’ arc in particular an unlikely one — the drummer in a prog band to a massively successful ‘80s singles artist. If you’re saying goodbye, there’s a lot of different listeners to please within that context. The Last Domino? set does a good job of attempting it.

Ahead of the tour kickoff overseas, Genesis promised the new setlist would go back to the Gabriel years. That’s true, it does, but it still leans most into the trio years. (This feels appropriate and you could even argue the band could’ve just focused on the post-Gabriel albums as more of a full-fledged finale for that iteration of Genesis, rather than looking back to the long-gone Gabriel years.) They’ve brought back a bunch of material that hasn’t been played in decades: “Fading Lights, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” a snippet of “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight,” “That’s All.” They brought back “Duchess” for the first time since 1981; in Chicago, they played “Misunderstanding,” which somehow hadn’t been performed since 1984.

They strike a balance between fan favorites, deep-ish cuts, and most of the big hits. In the former camp, “Home By The Sea,” “Duchess,” and “Domino” were all mesmerizing epics, the band expertly moving between different passages and dramatic shifts. And of course, many of the hits landed powerfully too. After an instrumental intro of “Behind The Lines / Duke’s End,” the band properly open the show with, fittingly, “Turn It On Again.” From there they launch right into the foreboding simmer of “Mama” and then the unfortunately-timely-all-over-again “Land Of Confusion.” The latter got an intro from Collins, who didn’t get explicitly political but still drew a line from the song’s Reagan/Thatcher-era origins to a similarly fraught stretch of recent years. The backing videos accompanying the song alluded to its famous ‘80s music video, but also somewhat perplexingly showed cartoon rolls of toilet paper raining on Piccadilly Circus.

Throughout last night’s show at Madison Square Garden, the band sounded muscular and pristine, expertly making their way between all the shifting elements of the more complex songs and then locking in for the more direct pop hits. Rutherford — at times sporting his double-necked 12-string guitar and bass hybrid — and Banks and longtime tour guitarist Daryl Stuermer were all dialed-in, offering immaculate performances. Collins’ son got a noticeably effusive reaction from the crowd, and there was something poignant in watching him take over for his father, carrying on the legacy. In “Second Home By The Sea,” Collins retreated to the shadows at the back of the stage to let the band have the spotlight. When the cameras focused on Nic Collins, you could see Phil faintly in the background, warmly watching his son play.

As we have proceeded into the ‘10s and beyond, there’s always something bittersweet about seeing the old guard age and approach the end of the story. In the last several years, it seems we’re starting to lose legends at a more consistent rate, and often times there’s the feeling you should see someone play while you still have the chance. Unfortunately, that bittersweet quality was prominent at the Genesis show. Collins has been open about his health struggles for many years now, and you can see it in him onstage: While he was still able to stand for some of the Not Dead Yet performances, he now walks with a cane and spends the entire show seated. You can’t help but notice its effect on his voice, too. When the band kicked into “Turn It On Again,” Collins had to still get in the zone, sounding reedier and weaker than we’re used to hearing him. By the next song, “Mama,” he already sounded better than you might expect given the context, and he managed to maintain that for much of the show — even if, by the end of the main set, a song like “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” found the whole band starting to lose a bit of steam.

Beyond the sense that Collins must obviously be struggling to tour right now and probably won’t be able to much more, the band didn’t go overboard on any kind of reflecting-on-the-years curtain call. Instead, Collins was happy to mark the fact this was happening at all: “You’re here, we’re here, we’ve got it all going here,” he said early on. Other elements of The Last Domino?, from the hits to the through-the-years montage that played behind “Throwing It All Away,” could be taken as a final victory lap or the kind of legacy acknowledgment that would accompany any elder-years reunion tour from a 50-plus year old rock institution.

Like what you would hope for most shows of this kind, though, any feelings of wistfulness were countered by the excitement of being able to see this band, perhaps for the only time. In the surge of “Invisible Touch” closing the main set, or the cathartic conclusion of “Domino,” or even in the gentle reimagining of an acoustic “Follow You Follow Me,” you could get swept away and not dwell on mortality hanging in the air. In its best moments, the Genesis reunion show was instead about the joy of a temporary resurrection.

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