September 24, 2K19
You rarely hear a crowd roar for a musician mentioning that they're going to have to take a seat. They cheer for hit songs, for canned stage banter, for the simple mention of their name, but sitting is rarely a thing that's even mentioned on stage unless it's in that cheeky manner that says "Oh, I'm going to play a bit of piano now." But before a note rang out of his two-hour set, the crowd cheered Phil Collins like a conquering hero when he mentioned he was going to spend the show sitting in a nondescript chair center stage.
You can't really blame them. More than any other show this year, Phil Collins taking a Houston stage seems just short of a miracle. It's easy to be pessimistic about artists retiring from the touring life, because we all assume they'll be back if the money is right, but when Collins' health issues started to catch up with him and he announced he wouldn't be touring anymore it seemed pretty definitive.
But he's back, and that opening elation of the crowd Tuesday night felt more like the sigh of relief when you find out a loved one is OK and not the cheer a crowd makes because the show is about to start and that's what is expected of them.
Although he's had to change how he performs thanks in part to age and health, he's such a good showman that he's found a way to make singing in a chair as enthralling as rehearsed dance moves and endless walking back and forth across the stage. Mediocre acts can fake their way through a show with enough tech bells and whistles, but if all you have to offer are mediocre songs you're in for a long night. While this show had video screens, slick graphics, and a confetti explosion, it was the music that was front and center, and although his high end has lost a step or two, Collins holds up his end of the performance well.
When you have a body of work like his, you're in pretty good shape no matter how you choose to present the songs. Built around his own impressive collection of solo material, with a few dips into the work of Genesis and other collaborative efforts, there was a repeated sequence of a song starting, the crowd slowly realizing what song it was, and then exploding into an ovation. "Another Day in Paradise" and "Take Me Home" provided the big singalong moments of the evening.
But the best stuff is when Collins plays the role he's best suited for: the beaming father. This is a man so giving that he has his 18-year-old son out on the road with him, playing some of the biggest sounding percussion of all time, including the greatest drum break of all time. He always seems to be having a good time on stage but watching him watch Nicholas Collins wow the crowd pretty much justifies this entire endeavor.
Phil Collins is still alive and kicking, and giving audiences a show that feels both familiar in its execution yet something completely out of left field at the same time. In theory, it should be the least cool thing imaginable; on paper, you could easily describe it as "aging former rock icon sits and sings a few songs." But the entire thing just works. Phil Collins is a lot of things: a giving father, an amazing songwriter, the best honorary Texan, but he's also a hell of a performer, no matter how his body is treating him.
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Personal Bias: As someone who loves M83, Chvrches, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Panic Division, Pale Waves and so on, I have to love the architect of so much of what made the '80s sound like the '80s and one of the inspirations for many of the bands I love today.
The Crowd: A collection of millenial hipsters, yuppies excited to see their favorite artist and classic rock nerds who probably think "The Knife" is the best Genesis song (they're right).
Overheard in the Crowd: "Did we accidentally wander into a Peter Gabriel show?" The music played over the PA leading into the beginning of the show was more "world music"-y than some might have expected.
Random Notebook Dump: One of my favorite tropes in hard rock/heavy metal/prog rock are guys who puff up their chest and talk about how easy it is to write a pop hit and how they could do it at the drop of a hat. They never do it, of course, even though if they did it would be the validation of their theory. But Phil Collins went from the drummer of a band that wrote 11 minute long songs with titles like "The Battle of Epping Forest" and flipped that into becoming on of the biggest pop stars in the world. Your favorite show off guitarist couldn't get half as far.