Stepping cautiously on to the stage with the aid of a walking stick, Phil Collins hobbled his way to a chair to thunderous applause from an all-but full house.
As hit after hit from the unassuming UK singer, songwriter, actor and multi-instrumentalist’s 50-year career was performed, that applause became rapturous.
It has been more than 20 years since Collins’ last Australian performance and while his body might be letting him down, his voice, sense of humour and stage presence has not.
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At 67, Collins looks a lot older than many of his contemporaries still on the touring circuit. Frail, even. But perched on his chair with microphone in hand, belting out his classics, he proves he has lost none of the spark that has endeared him to fans since his Genesis days. Vocally, he is strong, his distinctive tenor unwavering.
This is a man who has sold more than 280 million records in a career spanning almost 50 years as both a solo artist and a member of Genesis, and who has seven Grammy Awards and an Oscar to his name. One of those “music legends”, as people like to call them. He certainly re-defined New Wave pop when, as an extremely talented drummer, he accidentally introduced the “gated reverb” drumming and recording technique championed in his song In The Air Tonight.
“Good evening Sydney, how are you? Thank you all for coming because we realise that you had a choice on this Monday night in Sydney and you chose us,” he said.
“I’m going to be sitting down but don’t be alarmed, we’re going to have some fun. I’ve had back surgery but it’s my foot that’s f – – ked.”
That said, he launched into the emotional Against All Odds. Collins is a master when it comes to love songs. Somehow he sidesteps sappy and taps straight into the rawest of nerves, provoking a reaction from the listener.
Another Day in Paradise followed and again, the intensity of Collins’ vocals forces the listener to take heed of the lyrics; to actually hear and feel the emotional story being told.
His band then stepped up a gear, playing a starring role in I Missed Again, from 1981’s Face Value, and Hang in Long Enough from ….But Seriously (1989). There were three guitarists, four back-up singers, the four-piece Vine Street Horns and two drummers, including his talented 17-year-old son Nicholas.
“So, um, for the historians in the audience, a couple of hundred years or more ago I was in a band called Genesis. We’re all still friends which is great, because most bands end up hating one another,” Collins said.
“The chances of you hearing the Genesis song you want to hear, though, is pretty slim but this is one we rehearsed so here it is.”
Throwing It All Away followed, then Follow You, Follow Me, Can’t Turn Back The Years, Inside Out and Everyday.
I must admit, some of the slower and more unfamiliar songs left me a little cold – but that’s just me. It’s easy listening becoming a little too easy listening. I much preferred the up-tempo songs when the horns were shouting and the band got crazy and the crowd were on their feet dancing and hollering.
Most of the band members Collins has known – and played with – for decades. And it showed. There was a definite bond; a sense of intimacy and friendship that can only be forged over time. He saved the most important shout-out until last – his son Nicholas.
“It gives me great pride to introduce 17-year-old Nicholas Collins on drums. The advantage of having Nicholas in the band is that he brings the average age of the band down, quite significantly.”
When it came time for his son’s drum solo, Collins sat on a chair facing him, bopping along, later joining in on a percussion jam session. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, either. Nicholas was outstanding on the skins. I will watch his career with interest.
The popular I’m Sorry followed, then Collins sat at the piano with his son, who accompanied him on You Know What I Mean. It was a touching moment, especially when Nicholas leaned in to give his seated father a hug at the song’s conclusion before returning to his drum set.
The atmospheric and electrifying In The Air Tonight was magnificent. Collins, poignantly, stood to sing this classic. His thousand-yard stare penetrated those in the far-flung seats facing the stage and his haunting vocals were sung with an intensity that had many fans standing and swaying on their feet, eyes closed, mesmerised.
And just like that, the song was over and Collins sat back on his chair. The audience snapped back to reality and started dancing to the always-fun Can’t Hurry Love and Dance Into The Light.
Invisible Touch was another highlight. Interestingly, Collins altered the lyrics in the line “She don’t like losing, to her it’s still a game .. Though she’ll mess up your life, you’ll want her just the same...” by replacing “mess up” your life with a certain word starting with “f”. Three multimillion-dollar divorce payouts will do that to you, I guess.
Easy Lover was a hit, with Collins hamming it up with his back-up singers, and then we were treated to arguably the best earworm of all time, Sussudio. A rainbow of streamers fell from the ceiling and a garish, ’80s neon light show transformed the venue into a dance floor. It was simply wonderful and I’ll bet most of the audience are still singing it today.
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Take Me Home was the encore. A group hug, a bow to the audience and then Collins hobbled to the side of the stage, raising his arm as a farewell. His band respectfully followed.
Collins didn’t perform Don’t Lose My Number (a personal favourite) but then again, he didn’t get to One More Night, I Wish it Would Rain Down, A Groovy Kind of Love, One More Night and so on either. Too many hits, too little time. But no one left disappointed. Quite the contrary. This was a night to remember – and it evoked many a childhood memory from this fan.