Tuesday 4 February 2020

When you're asleep they may show you aerial views of the ground

Friday saw Peter Hamilton and I driving to the fine city of Swansea, where in the equally fine surroundings of Brangwyn Hall we attended a concert by the French-Canadian band The Musical Box .

The Musical Box are a Genesis tribute band, or more accurately THE Genesis tribute band, in that they are the only one endorsed by the band members themselves. Their show isn't just about meticulous, note-for-note reproductions of Genesis songs, but also incorporates equipment and stage effects from the original band, and the members of The Musical Box also go some way to looking like their counterparts, with costumes, hairstyles, even hairpieces.

I'd tended to be sniffy about this sort of thing, but having seen The Musical Box twice, as well as The Australian Pink Floyd (and, last year, a very fine Tom Petty covers group), I'm now entirely converted to the merits of the tribute act. What harm is there, in seeing music being played live, by people who are deeply enthusiastic about that music, when there is little or no chance of the original artists performing it? I doubt that anyone forms a tribute act out of anything but affection for the source material, and now that many of the original performers are either dead or retired, what other option is there for hearing such material in a live context? Orchestras didn't stop playing Beethoven in 1827, so why shouldn't the avid Genesis fan get a chance to hear their favorites performed on stage, with authentic instrumentation?

And I'll bow to no man in my liking of Genesis. Sod the well-trodden narrative of rock dinosaurs being swept aside by punk. Genesis were never as overblown as some of their contemporaries, and none of them were older than about 26 when punk happened. The Damned are fantastic - but it's possible to see the merits of both The Damned and Genesis without the time-streams collapsing.  How can I say that, though, when The Damned wrote short, spiky songs and Genesis waffled on for whole sides of albums with just one song? They didn't, for a start. Genesis's long songs, like Supper's Ready (which still didn't fill a whole side), are really six or seven concise little hook-laden pop songs stitched together. It was The Damned who filled a whole side with Curtain Call, not Genesis! 

Anyway, enough - the point is that nobody would be paying to see a bunch of guys from Quebec do covers of fifty year old rock songs if there wasn't some merit in those songs to be begin with. And there is - wonderfully so. For this concert, The Musical Box dug deep into the Genesis songbook, playing two songs (Visions of Angels and Stagnation) from their first "proper" album, 1970's Trespass, which was recorded and released before Phil Collins joined. The second half of the concert was a thorough trawl through this Peter Gabriel era, with the added bonus of an entire rendition of Supper's Ready by way of encore. The singer in the band, Denis Gagné, sounds very, very like Peter Gabriel, looks a bit like him if you squint, and moves like him as well. He also plays flute!

For the first half, it was a trip through the first three albums of the post-Gabriel period, when Phil Collins took over as singer. As Genesis fans know, though, Gabriel and Collins had not dissimilar singing styles (and Collins' voice had always been in the mix anyway). Gagne easily adapts to Collins' approach, although perhaps not so entirely convincingly as with the Gabriel material. It's fantastic, nonetheless, to hear live renditions of fan favorites such as Eleventh Earl of Mar, Dance on a Volcano and so on - as well as my personal Genesis "deep cut", Entangled, which in forty years I have never heard on the radio, but is as wonderfully atmospheric a piece of music as any I know.

The Musical Box will be back in the UK next year to perform all of Genesis's 1974 album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Peter and I hope to catch them again.


  1. Nice post; I'm glad the Musical Box is keeping the spirit of Genesis alive.

    I agree - there's no need to pit prog and punk against each other; they're equally meritorious genres. Genesis and The Damned are both brilliant.

    "Entangled" is such an amazing tune. I can never decide which album of theirs is my favorite, but "A Trick of the Tail" is definitely a contender.

    Also, for some reason, I've always connected XTC's "Knights in Shining Karma" with "Entangled". I'm not sure why, but whenever I hear one, I have a craving for the other.

  2. Saw The Musical Box play the Lamb in its entirety a few years ago. Thoroughly recommend it.

  3. I also saw them perform the Lamb a few years ago. Splendid show! Very glad they are playing "Entangled." It's such a lovely song. The bridge with the mellotron choirs is absolutely haunting/mesmerizing. Steve Hackett did a nice cover with Jakko Jakszyk (lately of King Crimson) singing on his Genesis Revisited II double album. He really keeps the flame of the old music alive more than anyone. I'm not crazy about Nad Sylvan's voice, though.

    My own favorite deep cut is "Mad Man Moon" from the same album - for no reason I can determine it is hardly ever discussed. It's such a charming mini-epic, with classic Banksian lyrics. That wistful pastoral sound Genesis did so well is at maximum force on that tune. (If you like that sound, Big Big Train bring it into the modern age quite well!)

    I adore the Damned as well. They aren't any kind of stereotypical punk band. There's "Curtain Call" for sure, and they played so many different genres of music over the years. As capable as Genesis at writing and performing a great pop tune. Nearly as capable at turning rock into higher art, when they wanted to try.

  4. I like Mad Man Moon as well... in fact I'm a sucker for that whole album, except Ripples, which has never quite clicked with me.

    Fans of Entangled may enjoy this metal-influenced cover. Not to everyone's taste, but I rather like it:


    1. Rather enjoyed it. Never heard this song before. I'll check the original.

  5. My favorite author Alastair Reynolds loves my favorite Rock Group. I can still remember seeing "Watcher of the Skies" in a darkened auditorium in Kansas City back in the early seventies. It was magic.

  6. I saw an L.A.-based Genesis cover band, Gabble Ratchet, in a club a few years back, and that music played so well in a smaller setting. It really allowed you to focus on the lyrics and musicianship of those amazing songs.

    Looking forward to reading "Bone Silence!"

  7. A few years back we were on a family holiday in Barcelona when I noticed an advert on a lamp post for the Musical Box. I vaguely remembered they were a good Genesis tribute band. I wondered where the venue was—and whether they had tickets left. So we got home, and I discussed it with my wife. When we combined our record collections after getting married, we had very little overlap in in our music. But she had the one Genesis album I didn’t have. So she was up for the concert too. The performance was late in the evening, so in a complete role reversal the parents announced that they were going out and didn’t know when they were coming back, leaving their teenage daughters to fend for themselves. We launched ourselves across Barcelona armed with Google Maps and no knowledge of Spanish whatsoever. We made the concert, and as has been said, they were great. I never made a real Genesis concert (despite having a ticket earmarked me for once—another story), so it was a great substitute.

  8. D'oh! I live in Swansea and missed this entirely!

    Further to your realisation that tribute bands can be proper musical fulfilment of a band's legacy, I'd like to tell you about a Hendrix tribute act I used to see in a pub when I lived in Frankfurt-am-Main in the old West Germany in the mid '80s.

    Jimi Hendrix was my guru when I was a teenage '60s flower child! He died, and I never got a chance to see him playing live. Twenty years later, I was roaming the pubs of a pedestrian-only zone in the city, selling handmade copies of a collection of poems I had written. I was in and out of the seemingly hundreds of pubs in this old city styled cobbled streets and cacophony of musical styles and mobs of roaming tourists mixing with locals drinking and eating in every building. As I plunged into the heaving crowd inside yet another pub, the guitar and pulse of the sound of Jimi surged with me, and three guys in a corner set the eagle flying with the exact sound and feel of Jimi's jamming songs. What a discovery!

    Every night, I'd be in there for a hiatus from flogging my poems! That little band was called Gypsys, Suns & Rainbows. They were nice and humble guys, too, appropriately enough, given Jimi's character. I like to think we would all have been friends!

  9. Good memories, Syd.

    Seeing as there's a Welsh connection, I was listening to an interview on the Johnny Walker show with one of the guys from either Man or Badfinger - more likely Man - and Johnny asked the guy if he'd ever seen Hendrix playing live. "No," came the answer. "But he saw me!" Which I thought was rather splendid.

    1. Haha! Yes indeed... good old Man, whose albums had titles like "Be Good To Yourself At Least Twice A Day"... a proper Swansea band! I'm glad to know that Jimi had the pleasure! I hope he'd taken the appropriate few tokes beforehand!