The Musical Box presents “Selling England by the Pound with Special Lamb Set Encore,” 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, Michigan, March 2, 2018.
Back in 1977, the Broadway musical revue Beatlemania‘s tagline was “not The Beatles; an incredible simulation.” Little did anyone know that, 41 years later, Montreal’s The Musical Box would carve out a career applying that maxim to Genesis’ Peter Gabriel-fronted concerts of the early Seventies.
If the retro stage set (authentic down to the drum kit and keyboards) didn’t clue in uninformed patrons, the opening “Watcher of the Skies” left no doubt how hardcore The Musical Box is recreating the early Genesis experience. Clad in angelic white, “Tony Banks” (keyboardist Guillaume Rivard), “Phil Collins,” (drummer/vocalist Marc Laflamme), “Mike Rutherford” (bassist/guitarist Sébastien Lamothe) and “Steve Hackett” (guitarist François Gagnon) built the harsh, Mellotronic tension of the opening riff to a shattering climax — only for “Peter Gabriel” (Denis Gagné) to grab the spotlight with his black jumpsuit, cape of many colors, bat-winged headgear, shaved head, luminescent eye-shadow — oh, and his committed, slightly crazed vocal narrative of an abandoned Earth seen through extraterrestrial eyes. Right away, the bar was set high: this would be a night of prog-rock epics, meticulously performed by an ensemble that’s toured worldwide far longer than the original band, replicating the musical and theatrical quirks of legendary tours with painstaking precision.
A lot of the evening’s burden falls on Gagné’s shoulders: not only is he tasked with Gabriel’s singing and flute playing, but also with juggling surreal pantomime gestures, alternatively macabre and suggestive stories (covering the re-tuning of up to three 12-string guitars between songs), and a bewildering array of percussion instruments, props and bizarre costumes. Comparing what he does onstage to vintage Genesis films, you realize how completely he’s assimilated the role; his eerie, alien stage presence is spot on and riveting. In the presence of such a performance, the widespread belief at the time that Genesis couldn’t survive Gabriel’s departure makes a lot more sense.
But the musical content of this show reinforces the hindsight history affords; Genesis’ combined skill was the essential foundation for Gabriel’s impact in his lead role. The band had consistently focused on songwriting and composition instead of virtuoso improvisation; well-developed intros and interludes worked to set up, riff on and expand lyrical narratives rooted in mythology, nightmarish fantasy, and Selling England by the Pound’s skewed view of Britannia’s life and times. Focusing on the “new album,” the 1973 setlist emphasizes the power of the music and the solidity of the band’s ensemble work, with the occasional solo showcase (the opening piano solo for “Firth of Fifth,” the acoustic guitar interlude “Horizons”) highlighting the astonishing quality of Genesis’ material and The Musical Box’s delivery.
It all culminated in a suitably grand, intense performance of “Supper’s Ready,” with Gagné singing his heart out to proclaim the New Jerusalem as the band brought the Apocalypse home. What to do for an encore? The Musical Box returned for an informal, spirited medley from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, with Gagné in sweats and a toque rather than garbed as Rael. The whirlwind of highlights from sides 1 & 2 served as a tasty hors d’oeuvre for the upcoming Genesis Extravaganza show, which aims to hit high points from Trespass through Wind and Wuthering in a single night. A different kind of show from The Musical Box, but based on what I experienced, one to look forward to!
- Watcher of the Skies
- Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
- Cinema Show
- I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
- Firth of Fifth
- The Musical Box
- The Battle of Epping Forest
- Supper’s Ready
- Fly on a Windshield (instrumental)
- Broadway Melody of 1984
- In the Cage
- Hairless Heart
- Counting Out Time
Be sure to check out the venue’s photo gallery from the start of the show:
— Rick Krueger