Phil Collins makes his way onto the stage in front of 40,000 paying customers with the aid of a walking cane. It’s no sight gag. Collins lowers himself into a chair, takes a hand mic and deadpans, “I had a back operation a few years ago. [And] my foot’s fucked.”
The fact that the singer was confined to a chair for the majority of the night didn’t mean a thing. As a vocalist, Collins digs deep.
Welcome to the start of the Australian leg of Collins’ Not Dead Yet tour, which kicked off last Saturday at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The band enter and Collins launches into a powerful take on the now fitting, “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).” The next song, “Another Day in Paradise” is an early signpost that offers a glimpse of what’s to come. The band and singers take the lyrical bruising of the chorus somewhere special. Already it’s a notable moment, and we are only two songs in.
The show is less about nostalgia and more about celebrating the fact that we are here, that Collins is here and this stadium is about to be lit up by one of the great pop catalogs of the late 20th century. The big screens remind us all of the singer’s history and, to a point, our shared history. There’s pictures of skinny Phil, hirsute Phil and global superstar Phil dominating the backdrop pre-show. But by the time he’s careening through “I Missed Again,” “Hang in Long Enough” and “Can’t Turn Back the Years” it becomes more about right here, right now.
Early on there’s a minor missed note, but by mid-show Collins has built up an unstoppable head of steam. There’s not a lot of banter, but he reminds us that he joined Genesis “about 400 years ago.” He offers to play a cut or two and understands we’ll be unhappy if it’s not the one we wanted. That’s the pact.
“Throwing it All Away,” with Genesis alumnus Daryl Stuermer on guitar, is a highlight, as is “Follow You Follow Me.” Somehow that nagging refrain leads to one of the more emotional points of the evening—Collins and co, plus 40,000 other voices, singing in unison is undeniably moving.
Kudos to Collins for not scrimping on players: Alongside his four backing singers are a four-piece horn section who appear through the night to sass up riffs so deeply embedded in our collective psyche. The legendary Leland Sklar is on bass, and the rhythm section is rounded out by percussionist Richie Garcia (replacing Luis Conte) and Collins’ son Nicholas on drums.
So how good is the 17-year-old Nicholas in front of a stadium? He’s incredible. The old man’s signature sound and fills are executed perfectly, while the young man brings his own grunt and swagger. Naturally, there’s an epic drum solo, and it concludes with Collins, both senior and junior, and Garcia, beating boxes center-stage.
After almost 90 minutes seated, Collins gets out the chair and stands in front of the mic stand. It’s a powerful thing as the opening strains of “In the Air Tonight” seep out into the audience. But when Nicholas has the spotlight for that drum fill that is so deeply resonant with every child of the ’80s, it’s a moment of seismic proportions.
The show only gathers momentum as the old pro litters the final furlong with bulletproof choruses and a slew of hits. The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” is brilliant; “Easy Lover” and “Invisible Touch” are simply uplifting. After the cannons, streamers and confetti, Collins closes the show with a beautifully rendered “Take Me Home.”
Something special happened that night. Against all odds, Phil Collins made it back to Australia to play those songs that were an unavoidable soundtrack to our lives 30-odd years ago. Somehow, the nostalgia, those trademark key changes, the killer horn lines, the humor and the songs themselves led to something that was bigger than Collins and bigger than us.
Contributed by: Sean Sennett