Music by Genesis
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Spontaneity is the heart of live music. The live environment gives musicians the chance to surprise their audiences by re-working their recorded material or by paying tribute to those who inspired them by covering songs written by others. The Musical Box work contrary to this principle
The Musical Box is a French-Canadian group that purchased the rights to reproduce the live performances of the progressive rock group Genesis in the period when Peter Gabriel was the frontman. As a result the group strive to avoid surprises and instead set out to develop authentic copies of the live performances of Genesis. It is clearly aimed at hardcore fans of Genesis who have taken the trouble to study amateur audience-filmed footage of the group as, when they were led by Gabriel, professional videoing of gigs was a rarity. Even those with a passing interest in the group will, however, find it interesting to finally have a context for all of the photographs that have appeared over the years of Gabriel wearing a range of bizarre costumes including bat’s wings and gigantic petals around his head.
The concept is closer to a theatrical event – like reviving a classic play- rather than a rock concert. To complain that the staging does not live up to contemporary standards is to miss the point: the idea is to re-create the original props. The Black Show, the current tour, celebrates the period when Genesis was promoting their Selling England by the Pound album. As the title suggests dark curtains are employed to create a ‘black box’ effect on stage and a pair of circular screens are used for the occasional projected image. There is a loose story arc with the concert opening and closing with science fiction style songs – Watcher in the Skies and the epic Supper’s Ready.
One cannot really object that the music is played expertly but without passion as the group are playing ‘in character’ as members of the original band rather than as themselves. Progressive rock had aspirations beyond the three-minute popular song and there was a tendency to take it very seriously. This approach is reflected in the interpretation by The Musical Box- it is hard to recall another performance where the guitarist (often the dramatic centrepiece) remains seated throughout as if having to concentrate on his playing. One half-wonders if Gabriel’s constant changing of costumes was just to give himself something to do during the extensive instrumental solos.
Denis Gagné throws himself into the role of lead singer adopting Gabriel’s rather clipped and mannered speaking voice and even going so far as to shave part of his head in the style once favoured by the singer. The faithful reproduction of Gabriel’s absurdist song introductions does suggest that the group may not, after all, have taken themselves that seriously. The sudden transformation of the lead singer into a swivel-hipped Elvis lookalike during the closing number may even be a hint that basic rock and roll might triumph over the pretensions of progressive rock. The Musical Box differ from their inspirers in one respect- being willing to play an encore that previews their next production featuring songs from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.
The demanding approach taken by The Musical Box makes them far more than just a crowd-pleasing tribute band even if the lack of passion in the music makes it hard to retain interest throughout.
Reviewed on 10th October 2017 | Image: Contributed