The Musical Box – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
19th April 2013 (with Neil Jellis)
Having seen them perform The Trick of the Tail twice before, and having seen the actual Genesis Wind and Wuthering tour in 1977, I was impressed with The Musical Box’s recreation of Genesis performances down to the facial hair, stage clothes and between-song banter. The second show I saw included an unscheduled break when guitarist François Gagnon couldn’t get his effects to work and it was hard to tell if this was a genuine malfunction or part of the act. I missed out on the 1974-75 Lamb tour, so the chance to see the entire performance using the original triptych back projections and painstakingly recreated costumes was an opportunity too good to miss.
I’m not particularly fond of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire as a venue. Its restrictive, uncomfortable seating and steep ticket prices are bad, but there’s also an unwelcome acoustic phenomenon that amplifies the chatter of the audience. This was very noticeable during the pre-show documentary, a 15 minute film about the development of the album and the ensuing tour put together by artistic director Serge Morissette, whose forensic research and knowledge of production details enabled The Musical Box to construct their meticulous recreation. I’d really like to see this film again in the comfort of my own home.
Fortunately, what followed was a brilliant concert. It’s obvious that Morissette had done his homework, because a comparison of footage from the original show and what we were seeing live revealed that the stage set was meticulously duplicated, from the positioning of the risers to the stone tunnel that allowed Denis Gagné to enter as a Slipperman and the word-perfect Gabriel story song introductions, compiled from bootleg recordings of the original shows. The execution of the music was stunning. From the opening toccata-like piano of the title track to the last bars of the more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll of It, this was a remarkably accurate sonic rendition of the album. The instrumentation was spot-on; the effects and nuances were all there, including examples of Enossification.
The only criticism I have of the show was the vocal mix. It’s easy to imagine the difficulties of getting clear vocals from the Slipperman suit, but at times it was necessary to have a full knowledge of the lyrics. There were also times when Gagné seemed to try too hard to sound like Peter Gabriel, making him momentarily stray off-key, but this didn’t diminish my enjoyment.
I found it interesting to see the instrumental tracks in context as interludes allowing Gagné to change outfits. The stretched out performance of The Waiting Room by Cloutier, Gagnon, Laflamme and Lamothe was pretty impressive, though my favourite instrumental section was Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist, which I’ve always thought was very Yes-like. It’s a pretty gruelling gig for the musicians – 80 minutes of complex music without a break but the band handled it with consummate professionalism and followed it by two crowd-pleasing encores: The Musical Box, introduced with the familiar story of Henry Hamilton-Smythe and Cynthia Jane De Blaise-Williams, featuring Gagné in an old man mask; and Watcher of the Skies which this time featured Gagné in a bat-wing headdress.
The show was entertaining from start to finish, brilliantly performed and realised. Before discovering The Musical Box, I could never have imagined seeing a Slipperman, warts, inflatable testicles and all, emerging from the rosewater pool of The Lamia. Genesis will never perform The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway again, so go and see The Musical Box do it for them.