[29 November 2011]
Tribute bands are almost always terrible, right? Yet there seems to be one at every turn, clogging our bars and shithole dives and family cook-outs like some sort of unstoppable musical virus, aimed straight at our guts and eardrums. (Seriously, how many versions of “Yesterday” do we need to hear before these people are convinced that they’ll never be The Beatles?)
But every once in an extraordinarily rare blue moon, a tribute act comes along that somehow manages to transcend mere second-hand mimicry and—dare I say—approach something that resembles art. One such outfit is The Musical Box, a Montreal-based Genesis tribute band that faithfully, painstakingly pays homage to the various eras of one of progressive rock’s (and music’s) most under-appreciated outfits.
On this current tour, the band tackles Genesis’ 1975 masterpiece, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, in its entirety. Granted access to the original tour’s visual slides and master tapes by former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel—who wrote The Lamb‘s complex, fantasy-driven narrative—the quintet remains faithful to stage presence and physical appearances of the 1975 line-up (dig that authentically gnarly cut-off Genesis T-shirt worn by drummer Gregg Bendian) and recreates—to startling effect—what it must have been like to witness this spectacle when it originally happened.
When the actual Genesis toured The Lamb, playing the often difficult album from front-to-back before its official release—for audiences who hadn’t even heard the music before—the response was decidedly mixed, and fans were left baffled by Gabriel’s increasingly grotesque costumes (like the infamous Slipperman), which often left the singer’s vocals buried in sweaty latex. While not exactly a disaster, the tour had its share of technical problems (often due to synching of the music with the 1,000+ slides that accompanied), and by the end of their jaunt, nearly broke and mostly defeated, Gabriel quietly decided to leave the group, launching a now-legendary solo career.
Genesis gradually grew more and more radio-friendly, disbanding after 1997’s disgraceful last gasp, Calling All Stations. But as punk’s hot-headed edge smoothed over, as pop culture at large gradually grew more prog-friendly (The band was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years back), ‘70s nostalgia has proven cool again, and as a result, it’s no longer embarrassing to be a prog-rock nerd. For younger generations born years, if not decades, after The Lamb‘s release, The Musical Box offer perhaps the only real opportunity to see this regrettably forgotten music played live, in all its epic glory. (This is especially true since talks of the actual Genesis quintet reuniting for a Lamb tour fell through back in 2005).
At the Brown Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, The Musical Box nailed every single nuance of the authentic Genesis experience. Vocalist Denis Gagné, portraying Peter Gabriel, was in particularly fine form, not only soaring to every wondrously cracked high note but also earning his paycheck by treating the stage like a playground, donning every single original costume and often singing from behind odd physical contortions. Toward the show’s conclusion, Gagné (portraying the story’s protagonist, Rael) seemed to appear on-stage in two locations simultaneously (also a throwback to the original Lamb show), as the band’s glorious light show flickered and flamed in hypnotic precision.
The mostly sold-out theater’s crowd was reverent and ominously quiet throughout, clinging to every surging bass stroke (played by Sébastien Lamothe, portraying Mike Rutherford) and electric guitar work-out (conjured by Francois Gagnon, portraying Steve Hackett) like a wilting thread toward a lost musical empire. But for all of The Lamb‘s epic highlights—including stellar versions of classics like “Back in NYC”, “Counting Out Time”, and even the spooky instrumental “The Waiting Room”—the biggest response came during the encore, which featured a positively jaw-dropping rendition of early Genesis classic “The Musical Box”. (Makes some sort of sense). Gagné, now donning Gabriel’s classic old-man mask, humping and air-fondling during the track’s hilarious climax, had clearly (along with the rest of his bandmates) Trespass-ed “tribute” stature altogether. For that night, in those thrilling moments, Genesis was alive and well.