I’ll preface this review of last night’s Phil Collins concert by saying that, contrary to popular opinion, I have been (and remain) a huge fan of the singer/drummer/producer for decades. I’m probably one of the few who enjoys Phil’s reign as the leader of the more pop-oriented version of his former band Genesis as I do the more prog rock, Peter Gabriel-led incarnation of that group.
So, while this will by no means be a scathing account of the recent tour stop by the guy who seemed to invade airwaves, television signals and all media as a whole in the 1980s, I’ll do my best to be as honest and unbiased as possible.
Collins, now 68, is admittedly not in the best health. The normally spry, energetic, quirky and playful frontman and powerhouse drummer is now relegated to a chair during his concert performances. Back surgeries and nerve damage have made it difficult for the singer to walk. His marathon, workout concerts of years past are sadly long gone.
But, for his aptly titled current tour, dubbed the “Still Not Dead Yet” tour, Phil’s humor is still very much alive and well.
The sold-out Amalie Arena was packed, mostly with a Caucasian, over-50 aged crowd. But based on the roar that rang out and filled the venue as photos of Collins’ many career phases flashed on a massive curtain at the front of the stage, it was clear that this was an audience which longed for the British singer’s return to a concert stage.
Without an opener to warm up the crowd, Collins made his way to the front of the stage that was still draped by the large curtain doubling as a projection screen. Holding tightly to a cane that made his labored trek to the center of the stage easier, Phil looked comfortable and relaxed in his black track jacket, trousers and high tops.
“Don’t peak too early,” Collins jokingly warned in response to the earth-shattering roar that came from the audience of 16,000 patrons. “We’re gonna be here for a while.”
Those words ramped up the already anxious crowd and drew more fanfare. Taking a jab at the state of our political woes here in the U.S., Collins gracefully thanked everyone in attendance for making it to the show.
“You have a choice,” he said. “You could have stayed home and watched CNN and seen Trump make a fool of himself or you could come see us.”
That was met with more wild cheers and hearty applause.
Opening a show with a ballad while greeting an already riled up crowd is a risky move, but it didn’t hinder Phil one bit. “Against All Odds,” the power ballad from 1984 that served as the title song for a film of the same name was first on the setlist.
It’s true, Collins’ croon, which once ranged from soulful to emotive, has been reduced to more of a thin wail. The higher notes he used to hit with ease are no longer part of the repertoire, but Collins made no attempt to cover up those flaws; he sang in his more current range and style and still took the song to a place of wonderment.
Audience members — including many who stood from note one, swayed, sang along and embraced their significant others — didn’t seem to mind that Phil’s voice is no longer as strong as it once was and that belting doesn’t come as effortlessly to him as it used to. This was the guy whose music served as the soundtrack for the lives of many of these concertgoers, and they made it pretty obvious that they were wisely going to absorb every moment of this performance.
Boasting an enormously talented and versatile band that included a percussionist, a keyboardist, four backup singers and a small horn section helped to enrich the sound and the vibe of the two-hour program. For added value, longtime Genesis touring guitarist Daryl Stuermer added plenty of his slick axe work to the mix while veteran session bassist Leland Sklar rounded out the sound with his booming basslines.
The real star of the band though was Phil’s 18-year old son, Nicholas, who did a hell of a job behind the drum kit. Playing in the style and spirit that served as his dad’s trademark for decades, the teenaged phenom won the crowd over early and often with his ability to keep time while pounding the hell out of his drums all night long.
Sailing through an array of his solo work, Collins’ set ran the gamut from obvious hits to some lesser-known album tracks with ease. Although his facial expressions hinted at possible pain he might have been experiencing, he didn’t let his ailments hold him back.
Digging back into the Genesis catalog, Phil cheekily asked the crowd if they’d mind a few numbers from his former group while reminding them that, because that band’s catalog is so deep, it would be hard to narrow his selections.
Up first was the gorgeous and melodic “Throwing it All Away” from the group’s multi-platinum 1986 Invisible Touch album. It came as no surprise as the song was a huge, international hit and was a staple on pop radio when released.
The second visit to the Genesis songbook was more of a surprise and served as a bona fide jaw-dropper for the diehards in the arena (yes, I’ll list myself as a member of that class). “Follow You, Follow Me,” a minor hit here in the States from the band’s underappreciated 1978 …And Then There Were Three… album might have very well been the absolute highlight of the evening. The tender love song found Collins pouring every ounce of himself into the delivery and wound up being one of his most impressive vocal performances of the night.
Tied for that dubious honor was a version of “You Know What I Mean,” a song from Collins’ debut solo album Face Value, that featured his multi-talented son taking on piano duties while his dad sat beside him and sang along to the sparse piano-only backing. Following some comedic shtick where Phil joked about it being the only song his son seemed to really like from his many solo releases, the number rang with a bittersweet feel as it almost symbolized Phil Collins handing over the musical torch to his musically adept son.
The more familiar, monster hits followed in grand fashion and were banged out with aplomb as the audience hysterics increased. For what’s arguably his most familiar song, the eerie “In The Air Tonight,” Phil rose from his chair and stood for the duration of the number which added more intrigue to the moody tune. As a spotlight shone from the ground up and gave his face an ominous glow, Collins slithered through the chilling lines of the song which added to its spooky tone.
A set-closing, rousing version of “Sussudio,” the silly yet infectiously fun single from the 1985 monster hit album No Jacket Required featured confetti explosions from the stage that seemed to reach every corner of the hockey arena and got everyone up and dancing. Not bad for a song that so many nonbelievers find to be innocuous and grating. Joined vocally by all four backing singers, the song took on a feeling of jubilation and serves as a solid nod to the many years Phil Collins has dedicated to his music and his craft.
A hypnotic, extended version of “Take Me Home,” from the same hit album, made up the whole of the encore and, by sheer coincidence, served as the absolute best and most enriching vocal performance Collins turned in for the night.
While it was a bit difficult at times to witness the formerly jubilant performer subjected to a chair all night, it was just as inspiring to watch this musical veteran still out there, singing, joking, interacting with bandmates and doing what he’s always done best: entertaining.
As his tour humorously suggests, Phil Collins is definitely not dead. Despite his struggles and his setbacks, he more than proved that for the duration of this fine show.
Against All Odds
Another Day in Paradise
Hang in Long Enough
Don't Lose My Number
Throwing It All Away
Follow You Follow Me
I Missed Again
Who Said I Would
Something Happened on the Way to Heaven
You Know What I Mean
In the Air Tonight
You Can't Hurry Love
Dance Into the Light
Take Me Home