2 Stars Movies Music

The genesis of Genesis in the documentary Together and Apart

This feature-length BBC documentary on the band Genesis comes with more asterisks than a typical rockumentary. First is the lack of occasion — there being no significant milestone in 2014, unless the band’s 47th-ish anniversary means something to somebody. Only further confusing things, the doc was released in different regions as Together and Apart or Sum of the Parts, accompanied by the hits compilation R-Kive, a trifecta of inexplicably terrible names.

Unlike previous reunion projects in 1983 (a one-off live performance), 1998-99 (a Behind the Music documentary and re-recordings of “The Carpet Crawlers” and “It”), and 2007-08 (individual interviews for a complete catalogue reissue), the only new material on offer here is a new on-camera simultaneous interview with core members Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, and Mike Rutherford.

Genesis 1974
The classic Genesis quintet lineup circa 1974: Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett, and Phil Collins

The other main selling point is a smattering of rare or apparently unseen live footage, including at least one new to me: a tantalizing glimpse of the very young band live at The Atomic Sunrise Festival, at the groovy London venue The Roundhouse in 1970, where they shared a bill with David Bowie. Much of the rest the live footage will probably be familiar to any fan with access to YouTube. Looking back at all this vintage footage now, how much do you think Collins wishes he could have told his younger self to sit up straight while playing, considering his later back and nerve damage?

The only footage released so far from The Atomic Sunrise Festival, at London’s Roundhouse in 1970, featuring Genesis, David Bowie, and others

Compared to many of their infamously dysfunctional peers, Genesis has a relatively boring back story, with no salacious deaths, lawsuits, or arrests to whip up an exciting narrative. Well, with the exception of — trigger warning — self-aggrandizing original manager (and convicted sex offender) Jonathan King, granted a minute or two here to inflate his role in the band’s first recordings.

The story of a few driven young men who form a band, work hard, succeed, then retire, isn’t in and of itself very thrilling. This documentary plays up the drama by emphasizing the comings and goings of members as more earth-shattering than even they themselves seem to think. That said, the new group interview does reveal some lingering bad vibes and resentment. Banks speaks with warmth towards original guitarist Anthony Phillips, but still reacts with real negativity to the topic of Gabriel and Hackett attempting to assert themselves within Genesis in the mid-70s. In Banks’ defense, it must have been difficult to accept his school friend Gabriel simultaneously seizing the creative reins while also retreating into family life around the time of the ambitious The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway album and tour.

But Banks’ attitude towards Hackett seems out of proportion to the situation. Long story short, it seems Hackett had been presenting a number of compositions that the band vetoed, so he used much of it on a solo album. Shortly thereafter, when the other members didn’t have enough material to shape into a new Genesis album, they were pissed that he didn’t have anything. From the outside perspective of a fan, it sounds to me like Hackett was wronged. Especially so, as he is the one currently carrying the torch for classic Genesis material while still creating original new music on his own.

Banks also snipes at Collins’ ubiquity in the mid-80s, but in this case he does seem to be joking (to paraphrase, he laughingly says something like “he was our friend and we wanted him to succeed, but not too much”). Gabriel seems the most diplomatic and positive, and the most relaxed and jocular during the group interview. Perhaps for him this is all ancient history after his rich and varied solo career, whereas Genesis was more of a lifelong investment for the others.

Genesis 2014
Genesis reconvened in 2014 for the documentary Together and Apart (aka Sum of the Parts): Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, and Peter Gabriel

As a longtime fan, I have certain strongly held opinions that don’t seem to completely align with fan consensus or the bands’ own self-estimation. Genesis is long-misunderstood and due for a reevaluation, but I’m not sure this was the right documentary at the right time. It pushes Hackett to the edges (sometimes literally cropping him out of frame), and leaves other significant members like Ray Wilson totally unmentioned.

I also think it does a disservice by not placing the band in context; some influences are mentioned (particularly Gabriel’s love of Otis Redding and Collins’ appreciation of Grandmaster Flash), but it would have helped illustrate Genesis’ significance by showing how they fused the nascent progressive rock movement (I suspect King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and The Moody Blues loomed large in their minds when working on the Trespass album) with a real pop sensibility. Their aptitude for concise hit singles in the 80s is treated as an unexpected metamorphosis, when to my ears it’s the natural culmination of everything they were building towards since their earliest 1967 pop songs.

4 Stars Music

The Musical Box recreates Genesis’ Black Show at Highline Ballroom, New York

The Musical Box is a Canadian group that stages elaborate recreations of entire concerts given by the English progressive rock band Genesis in the early 1970s. They perform closely-observed note-for-note cover versions of the original songs, in the original set list order, with full recreations of the set design, props, costumes, vintage instruments, and even the mannerisms of the original Genesis. So while it is technically true that they are essentially a cover band, how many of those tour the world several times over and land gigs at significant venues like The Highline Ballroom? It speaks to both the integrity of the original Genesis music and to The Musical Box’s own skills that they are not a mere tribute band gigging through bars and frat houses.

At the Highline Ballroom, The Musical Box performed Genesis’ famed “Black Show,” originally in support of the 1973 album Selling England By the Pound, and widely bootlegged as the “Rainbow Show”. Genesis’ typical “White Show” was more elaborately staged, but due to venue requirements and the troubles of shipping their gear internationally, they would sometimes play the stripped-down Black Show, so known for its low stage lighting and simple black backdrop. The Musical Box’s performance had amazing sound fidelity, and was one of the best-sounding live concerts I’ve ever heard. No doubt the actual Genesis (many of whom have seen The Musical Box live and have even sat in with them on occasion) wish they had such modern audio technology at their disposal in the early 1970s.

The Musical Box

The members of The Musical Box are as much actors as they are crack musicians. Fittingly, Peter Gabriel himself was mostly acting onstage; the famously shy young man masked his discomfort with an outlandish stage persona full of costumes, masks, and mime. Denis Gagné is older than the stringbean-thin Gabriel at the time, but does an extraordinary job of capturing his vocals and stage presence, right down to the hilariously filthy stories Gabriel would tell between songs to entertain the audience as the rest of the band retuned their instruments.

The only performer not in ’70s bell-bottom costume was Gregg Bendian as “Phil Collins.” He was, however, paradoxically one of the most authentic performers, recreating Collins’ unmistakably muscular and enthusiastic drumming. After becoming famous as a television actor and cheesy pop superstar in the ’80s, and Disney balladeer in the ’90s, it’s easy to forget that Collins is first and foremost one of rock’s best drummers.

The Musical Box

The rest of Genesis was very serious and reserved, and relied on Gabriel to engage the audience as they played. François Gagnon enlivens the bearded, serious Steve Hackett’s guitar embellishments (not one of Genesis’ core songwriters, Hackett was however a brilliant guitarist and one of the inventors of the two-handed tapping technique). Sébastien Lamothe straps on a genuine double-necked Rickenbocker to play Mike Rutherford, with the dedication to verisimilitude to grow a full beard and flowing locks. David Myers plays Tony Banks, the stoic and unsmiling anchor on stage right, but sadly relies on modern synthesizers (nothing compares to the raw sound of an actual Mellotron).

And finally, a cheap shot: the audience was far from the usual sort seen at New York City venues. A noticeably older set, with a very strong dork flavor (with shirts tucked in over pot bellies), but there was a surprising number of women (not traditionally an audience for progressive rock).

The Musical Box

A few notes on the songs:

  • Cinema Show – it’s difficult to fully appreciate the very long (approx. 5 minutes!) instrumental power trio sequence featuring Collins, Banks, Rutherford until you witness it live. Wow! Genesis was a lot “heavier” than I ever realized from simply listening to the albums.
  • Firth of Fifth – Hackett’s hair-raising melody line must be one of the best guitar moments in rock, ever, and no doubt Lamothe relishes playing it live.
  • The Musical Box – the coda sequence (during which Gabriel famously wore a grotesque “old man” mask) drove the crowd bananas. Clearly the band is aware of the song’s power, for they took their name from it.
  • The Battle of Epping Forest is the rare classic Genesis song that I haven’t already memorized over the years. Gabriel affected lots of character voices in the original, and thus this is perhaps the one point when Gagné’s impersonation fails him.
  • Supper’s Ready – had The Musical Box not already provided a premature climax to the show, the closing “Apocalypse” sequence to Supper’s Ready would have been it.
  • The Knife (encore) – why aren’t Genesis credited more often for recording one of the earliest hard rock songs? The Knife is so dark, loud, and aggressive, it could possibly even be called metal.
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