Fifty years in the music business and Phil Collins is adamant that he’s not dead yet. His current Australian tour – named after his memoir that is also marking over 20 years between drinks – may be designed for people to lower their expectations. The English multi-instrumentalist seems older than his 67 years but while his body may be weak, his pipes are generally good. At his Sydney show he exuded a causal charisma that most of us could only dream of.
The near two-hour show started with a montage of photographs of a very young, long-haired Collins. It was a stark contrast to the man who hobbled up on stage with a cane. Collins implored us to sit up and take a look at him now in “Against All Odds.” The ravages of time meant he is debilitated by a paralysed foot, nerve damage and a bad back. Collins cannot play the drums anymore but he has handed the sticks over to his 17-year-old son, Nic Collins, who was as good and as intuitive a player as his Papa.
The earlier part of the show was marked by some big ballads. “Another Day In Paradise” was powerful and it saw Collins’s vocals sound as full-bodied and captivating as ever. He may be confined to a chair and some fans were hoping he’d do a Lazarus, but that was impossible. It is pretty incredible however, that he could command you to sit up and take note from his chair. You don’t have the career longevity he has had without possessing that special something and in many respects – he still has it.
Collins had an impressive 14-piece band who kept the energy in the room dialled up to 11. A lot of these musicians have been playing with the genial Englishman for a long time. They included a four-piece brass section who hit some stratospherically high notes and four soulful backing singers. On electric guitar Daryl Stuermer – who has played in Genesis – delivered delightful licks. Ronnie Caryl meanwhile, was on acoustic and has been with Collins so long he qualifies for gold. There were luminescent keys by Brad Cole, and bass from Leland Sklar who could’ve played Gandalf, if required.
Some Genesis songs got an airing, including “Throwing It All Away” and “Follow You Follow Me.” Some old videos from the group’s younger days played, including snippets from the “I Can’t Dance” video, even though this cut wasn’t played here. While Collins and company played a substantial set, they could’ve played on for much longer. Solo songs like “Don’t Lose My Number” and “One More Night” as well as a slew of Genesis hits like “No Son Of Mine” failed to get a look-in.
A nice but unnecessary Stephen Bishop cover was included in “Separate Lives.” This gentle track made the punchy drum solos that followed it all the more powerful. Nic and percussionist, Richie “The Octopus” Garcia started out with something not unlike Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick.” Then Phil picked up a cajón and performed his own blows. He can still pound away and create great rhythms, even if he won’t be donning sticks anytime soon.
“In The Air Tonight” was an undisputed highlight; it was every bit as haunting and intense as the original. Collins even stood up for this one, which made it even more surreal. Anyone who says they didn’t get chills up and down their spine is a downright liar. The arena also saw its largest number of people air-drumming once the big break of thunderous drums kicked in. Too bad they weren’t all wearing gorilla suits.
A lot of the fans obviously owned No Jacket Required. This record featured quite prominently in the set. There is no denying that the big bombastic numbers from Collins’s discography were the crowd-pleasers and these often had people up dancing. I’ll go out on a limb and say that it is impossible to hear songs like: “Invisible Touch,” “Who Said I Would,” “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “Easy Lover” and not have the biggest, dopiest grin on your face – well, unless you’re singing along to every lyric. People pick on Collins because they think it’s middle-of-the-road, daggy Dad rock. But I defy you not to be consumed by the carefree sounds and toe-tapping goodness of this infectious pop. And besides, you should bring your father along to something like this because I’m sure he’d love to join in.
There was a single song encore with “Take Me Home” but this had actually been eclipsed by its predecessor, “Sussudio.” The latter was all joy and party-popping goodness with a large side order of rainbow confetti canons. If it wasn’t amazing enough the first time around consider this: as we were leaving a DJ was pumping this classic track out near the exits and people were still dancing. Old Phil may have always said that “I can’t dance” but he certainly knows how to get other people moving.
Phil Collins’s show had proved that this old man is still in possession of golden vocals. He also has great ear-worm-like melodies that combine to create some infectious pop tunes. This two-hour affair was a nostalgic romp from Genesis to his solo hits, with a tight group of magnetic professionals at the helm. It was goofy and funny, but in all seriousness this was jaunty fun from a cheeky old mate who had entertained us all for one more night.
Phil Collins’s Sydney set list:
1. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
2. Another Day in Paradise
3. I Missed Again
4. Hang In Long Enough
5. Throwing It All Away
6. Follow You Follow Me
7. Can’t Turn Back the Years
8. Inside Out
9. Who Said I Would
10. Separate Lives
11. Drum Duet
12. Drum Trio
13. Something Happened on the Way to Heaven
14. You Know What I Mean
15. In The Air Tonight
16. You Can’t Hurry Love
17. Dance Into the Light
18. Invisible Touch
19. Easy Lover
21. Take Me Home
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Phil Collins plays Australian and New Zealand dates until 6 February. For more information and tickets please visit HERE
The reviewer attended the Sydney show on 21 January.