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Turn Me On Again

By Bryan Levine

Watching an aging group of five world-class musicians was supposed to be ironic and laughable, but seeing Phil Collins and the willing remainder of Genesis perform on October 9th at the HP Pavilion in San Jose was more surreal and genuinely entertaining than anyone in the audience under the age of 35 could have ever imagined. As if watching a parent lip-sync to "Invisible Touch"wasn't enough, thinking about Genesis, now in their sixties, trying to "rock out" seemed pathetic and sad. In reality, three hours of nothing but Genesis genius destroyed almost every negative presumption I had about their age or ability.

The stage presence of the band, albeit limited mostly to Phil Collins and Chester Thompson, was explosive enough to captivate even the most ageist music fan. With songs ranging from early progressive rock jams like "Carpet Crawlers" to their later, more accessible hits, "I Can't Dance" and "Hold on my Heart," Genesis perfectly performed a classic for every one of their fans without a fault or a moment of boring repertoire.

The HP Pavilion was awkwardly filled with drunken Budweiser-filled moms and dads, their now adult children, Silicon Valley hippies gone rich and a sprinkling of twenty-something hipsters. The occasional puff of marijuana smoke came from the younger crowd while whole families danced and sang along to every hit Genesis belted out, arms waiving drunkenly in the air. Shirts adorned with remembrances of past Genesis tours repressed the swollen bellies of middle-class tech nerds. How was it that all of these diverse people could bridge the generational and socioeconomic gaps that separated them, all for the love of a band that reached its peak in the eighties? Is Genesis some sort of right of passage from parent to child? Did the advent of the Internet and free access to music invoke the interest of a whole new generation of Gen-heads?

The sheer magnitude of their stage setup was mesmerizing; lava-lamp lights, psychedelic animations, and full-blown digital video montages blurred behind the band, changing with every chord progression. During a vintage video montage, Phil Collins re-enacted his famous tambourine dance, using his knees, head, elbows and feet to rhythmically batter a tambourine while a video of him performing the same act almost 30 years ago played behind him. The displays had an odd eighties aesthetic but somehow seemed current. The videos and animations were all simple line animations, some of which seemed as if they belonged on a computer screen saver. It was as if Genesis were saying "This is what we like. This is what we do and what we have always done. Like it don't; we could care less."

The band became livelier as the show progressed, interacting more and more with each other and the crowd. Phil Collins, ever the showman, kept the audience laughing in between songs, inciting various incarnations of the wave, and jokes about hair loss and weight gain were told in good fun as Phil and company constantly reminded the crowd of how old they actually were.

One of the most notable moments of the show was when Phil Collins and touring drummer Chester Thompson performed a mind-blowing drum-off against one another on center stage in between the two drummers' kits. Beginning on a drum throne, both drummers battered the leather chair while crossing each other's sticks (think Kid and Play, but with drumsticks) before slowly turning outward to include the cymbals on their outskirts of their drum kits. They eventually migrated fully into their own thrones and continued to belt out what was an unreal display of drum prowess in a tribal pounding of fast-paced, head-banging drumming. The stadium went wild with astonishment and admiration. Fireworks exploded. Applause ensued.

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