Lots of things happened in 1974. ABBA won Eurovision, Richard Nixon resigned, Muhammed Ali won the Rumble in the Jungle and progressive rock pioneers Genesis toured North America with what has been dubbed ‘The Black Show’. As a big fan of Genesis’s early work I was excited to hear that The Musical Box were going to recreate this show locally. Far more than a traditional tribute act, this French Canadian ensemble are the musical equivalent of an historical reenactment society.
Not only does the setlist match those Black Show performances, so does the staging, the lighting, the costumes, Peter Gabriel’s masks and even the poetic monologues the lead singer uses to introduce songs. This isn’t a group who turn their hand to being The Police one night and Oasis the next (I know of one such band) they actually become the living embodiment of Genesis in 1974 in every way. It’s no surprise that Gabriel has seen them play and both Hackett and Collins have guested with them live.
As the name suggests, the Black Show staging is relatively sombre and outside of the lead singer’s constant costume changes and theatrical antics, the band barely moves and doesn’t crack a smile. I was in the front row, sitting directly in line with the Steve Hackett proxy and at first the band’s seeming lack of interest was a little unsettling. But once we got to the second song, it all started to make sense. This was a totally immersive experience, coupled with some superlative musicianship and they were very much in character. As they worked their way through seminal Genesis tracks like Watcher of the Skies, The Cinema Show and Firth of Fifth and casual crowd-pleaser I know what I like (In your wardrobe) their tight playing and expert command of these songs was abundantly evident.
Denis Gagne makes an excellent stand in for Peter Gabriel, his vocals are effortless and his movements mix the sensual with the comical, threatening and playful in equal measure. It was hard to take your eyes off him, something which I’d imagine was very true about the original performances too.
The show culminates with arguably the ultimate prog record, Supper’s Ready from the Foxtrot album, 23 minutes of multiple time signatures and changes in instrumentation and tone. It would be a challenge for any group to play this song but they made it look easy, possibly due to the fact they have probably played it more times live than the original band ever did. It was sublime and spine tingling, just as I had hoped.
For all intents and purposes we were back in 1974 for a few hours, and if one woman behind me didn’t keep shouting out “Ripples” (a 1976 track with Collins on vocals) that illusion wouldn’t have been shattered until the very last note.
After The Black Show was complete, unlike the band they were imitating, they treated us to an encore which changed the mood totally. They were smiling, chatty and relaxed, the façade of the specifics of that performance dropped instantly. They belted through four tracks from The Lamb Lies down on Broadway, with an abundance of bravado and rock swagger that was pitched perfectly.
This wasn’t just a gig and it transcended being purely a geeky exercise to create a musical time capsule. This was music, performance art and theatre combined, just like the original shows. And as someone who was born while the original tour was taking place, this is the closest I’ll ever get to actually being there. Rumour has it that The Musical Box will be back next year to perform The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I’ll be one of the first in the queue again.