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Thursday, January 8, 2009 07:39 PM
(Last updated on Friday, January 9, 2009 09:19 AM)
On the Stage - The Musical Box, Trick of the Tail show
 by Fëanor

This past Saturday, I went to see The Musical Box at the Keswick in Glenside with my brother and his wife. (And it wasn't for the first time; you can read my review of their Lamb Lies Down on Broadway show here.)

The Musical Box is not a vintage Genesis cover band, it's a vintage Genesis recreation band. Even some of the people going to see them don't understand this distinction; I heard other audience members around us at the theater wondering what the band would play beforehand, wondering if they would take requests, and then commenting on the band's song selection afterwards. They were unaware that no "song selection" had taken place, and that requests were out of the question. What The Musical Box would play was already set in stone as soon as they selected the tour. That's because The Musical Box chooses a tour from Genesis' history and then recreates that tour in painstaking detail, playing not only an authentic set list, but also repeating authentic between-song banter, wearing authentic costumes and hairstyles, and using all authentic visuals and special effects (which in this case included various slides, videos, and laser and smoke effects). At no time do they ever break the illusion and admit that they are any band other than Genesis, or that they are anyone other than the members of Genesis. It's kind of eerie, but also kind of awesome, especially for fans of Genesis who never got to see the actual band during its heyday.

This whole band recreation thing seems to be becoming more popular; when we saw The Musical Box at the Keswick, there were posters all over the place for other such bands, recreating the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen and so on and so forth. My brother and I had ample time to peruse these posters while waiting in line for the bathroom. There are two things I don't like about the Keswick as a venue: it's way the hell out in the middle of nowhere, and the men's room is way too small for the size of the place. The latter problem was probably exacerbated by the type of crowd that The Musical Box tends to draw. The line for the men's room went across the entire upstairs, but there was no line at all for the ladies' room. This is of course the opposite of the natural order of things, and my brother pointed out that it probably wasn't because we had accidentally traveled to Bizarro World (which was my first assumption, naturally), but that there were a lot more men at the show than women. As I understand it, this is accurate to the makeup of a vintage Genesis audience, which I'm sure pleased the members of The Musical Box.

I've seen The Musical Box do a number of different Genesis tours, all of them from the era when Peter Gabriel was the lead singer of the band. But this time they'd chosen to do the first tour Genesis went out on after Pete left the band and Phil Collins became the lead singer. This was the tour for the album A Trick of the Tail, which is one of my favorite Genesis albums. Phil Collins doesn't like to drum and sing at the same time, so when they went on tour, they'd bring a tour drummer with them - on this tour it was the prog rock keystone performer Bill Bruford, a dude who played for pretty much every prog rock band of the '70s at one time or another. Although Bill did the drumming most of the time, occasionally Phil would wander back and jump on his own kit, playing alone, or doing a duet with Bill. This left The Musical Box with a bit of a dilemma. Their singer, the same guy who played Pete in the earlier tours, changed up his vocal style a bit so he sounded more like Phil than Pete (and even put on a wig and a fake beard so he looked like him), but he doesn't know how to play the drums. To solve this problem, they split the role of Phil between the singer and a drummer, who wore the same wig, beard, and costume. During the show, when singing Phil needed to become drumming Phil, he'd slip behind something on his way to the drum kit, and the drumming Phil would come out the other side. They'd switch back the same way. They did it so smoothly, I didn't even know what was going on until my brother pointed it out to me after the first number. They're really dedicated to preserving the illusion!

Thankfully, they're also really dedicated to the music. Any random Genesis set is going to be loaded with tons of really long, really complex songs, and the Trick of the Tail show is no exception. But The Musical Box was nearly flawless, nailing every song. "Cinema Show," "Firth of Fifth," "Supper's Ready," and "Los Endos" were particularly fantastic. Their Tony even played the piano intro to "Firth of Fifth," which is a piece of music so difficult that the real Tony usually skipped it during this tour. The drum duet on "Los Endos" was another amazing feat of virtuosity. Really the only time they fell flat was during "Entangled," which is a delicate song with vocals pitched a bit out of the lead singer's range. He was clearly struggling to hit the notes and it was a little tough to listen to. But other than that, they were just thrilling, and they garnered multiple, and well-deserved, standing ovations. It helped a great deal that the sound at the Keswick is so excellent. It's very rare that you go to a show and everything is mixed just right, such that you can hear every instrument and even pick out all the lyrics. But the Keswick was able to deliver this.

Another interesting element of the performance was the special effects. I enjoyed the old school combination of smoke machines and laser. It's simple, but cool. Although I imagine "Steve Hackett" wasn't all that pleased with the smoke machines, as he was sitting right next to one and got a good faceful of the stuff every time it was on.

This show was a wonderful experience, and I'll definitely keep an eye on The Musical Box to see which tour they plan on doing next.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention something. There's a song called "Carpet Crawlers" from the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway that they played during this show. The album is a very strange coming-of-age concept album about a young man having an odyssey through a weird alien world and ultimately finding himself there. While the band is playing "Carpet Crawlers" on this tour, a video is projected on a screen behind them depicting what the song describes: a bunch of people in weird costumes (well, okay, the song doesn't mention weird costumes; they added that for the video) crawling along a hallway toward a spiral staircase that leads up into light. I thought it would be great if some dedicated fans started the tradition of crawling down the aisle from the back of the theater toward the stage during this song, hopefully wearing weird costumes while they did so. Sure, they'd probably end up getting covered in beer, bits of food, and other even more unsavory things, and they'd probably be kicked and tripped over. But it'd still be awesome.
Tagged (?): Genesis (Not), Music (Not), On the Stage (Not), The Musical Box (Not)
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