Concert Review – Phil Collins gives fans One More Night at the United Center

Coming out of retirement has been one of the longest-running clichés in show business history. Many rock performers have even turned it into a running gag with “farewell” tours that clearly capitalize on the goodwill of fans (The Eagles’ Final Farewell 1 and Ozzy Osbourne’s No More Tours II both immediately come to mind). For Phil Collins, one of only three musicians in history to sell 100+ million albums both as part of a group and as a solo artist (the other two being Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson), the motivations clearly ran deeper than money or the glamour of fame. Once a hyperkinetic, eager-to-please performer on stage, Collins has physically been reduced to a frail 67 year old, walking with the assistance of a cane due to back surgery and nerve damage. As Collins himself joked at the start of Monday night’s concert at the United Center (his first since the triumphant Genesis reunion tour of 2007), “Getting old sucks”. It was this kind of self-deprecating charm that went a long way towards bridging the gap between what he once was and what he is today.

Taking the stage alone to a solitary spotlight and greeting the sold-out audience, Collins immediately addressed his physical condition and let everyone know that he would be seated for most of the night. For many who weren’t aware of his ailments, it served as the first surprise of the night, but it also helped establish a unique intimacy and emotional connection that served, rather than hindered, the underlying pathos of most of his best songs. Also, the way Collins chose to bookend the evening was artful and heartrending. Opening with 1984’s “Against All Odds,” the lyrics immediately took on a new poignancy – against all odds, Collins managed to stage this late-career comeback and when he reached the vocal hook “Take a look at me now,” it was a brave statement (much like his recent solo catalogue reissues, which featured updated portraits of his aged visage on the covers in place of the originals).

 

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Both Sides, then and now

 

From there, the stage curtain lifted to reveal Collins’ stellar band for this cheekily-named Not Dead Yet tour (comprised of many longtime collaborators including guitarist Daryl Stuermer, the legendary Leland Sklar on bass, and childhood friend Ronnie Caryl on second guitar) and they immediately segued into the elegant shimmer of “Another Day in Paradise,” with tasteful nylon guitar licks courtesy of Stuermer. The song, like almost all of Collins’ best material, is rich in both mood and tasteful arrangement. And for most of the evening, Collins was in strong voice. Like most touring singers in his age group, there’s been some loss of his uppermost range, but he compensated by dropping the keys of many songs (something he also did during the 2007 Genesis tour) and taking full advantage of four soulful backup vocalists. Otherwise his distinctive, nasally tone still placed an unmistakable stamp on hit-after-vintage-hit (he sounded his absolute best on slower ballads like “Separate Lives” and deep-cut gem “You Know What I Mean”). His natural charisma also served him well throughout the night.

Along with early throwbacks to his very first solo album (1981’s classic Face Value), such as “I Missed Again,” he also slotted in a few Genesis hits like “Throwing it All Away” and “Follow You, Follow Me”. Played back-to-back, the latter two song choices seemed intentionally sequenced as musically, thematically and emotionally, both mirror each other perfectly and have always had a similar heart-tugging effect. Other, more up-tempo album tracks like “Who Said I Would” and “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” showcased the tour’s stellar horn section (a solo-Collins staple).  The musicianship throughout the entire show was first class and more than made up for Collins’ physical limitations.

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Which brings us to the wild card of the evening. In what could have been a blatant case of pure nepotism, Collins chose his own son Nicholas (or more commonly, Nic) to play his signature drum parts for this tour. His first show was at the age of fourteen as his father slowly re-entered public life back in 2015. It sounded suspect at the time, but in what turned out to be the night’s second biggest surprise, the now 17 year-old Nic Collins stole the show at the United Center. Inheriting his father’s talent on both drums and piano (as well as his onstage energy), Nic proved to be a dynamo all night. He had his father’s unique drum sound and fills down pat and he shone especially bright during the “Drum Trio” portion of the show, where he laid down thunderous rolls with percussionist Richie Garcia. Both drummers eventually joined Collins Sr. at the front of the stage and continued the rhythmic assault on Cajon boxes. It was great to see Phil Collins display his still-expert sense of timing and showmanship. Definitely one of the major highlights of the evening.

After a poignant version of the aforementioned “You Know What I Mean” (with just father and son on stage), the show reached perhaps its emotional climax with the one song everyone bought a ticket for: the still goose bump-inducing “In the Air Tonight”. Having already established Nic Collins as a major player on this tour, his take on the classic drum break in the song (so classic it undoubtedly made his father’s solo career) was necessarily faithful and powerful. It was also the one song Phil Collins bothered to stand for all evening, which perversely added even more drama and theatricality to the performance. The song’s potency remains undiminished.

From that point forward, the show turned into a high-energy, greatest-hits parade with Collins’ classic cover of The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Genesis’ “Invisible Touch,” his 1984 Philip Bailey duet “Easy Lover,” and the ubiquitous “Sussudio” all garnering the strongest audience responses of the night. By the time he symbolically closed the show with the elegiac “Take Me Home,” Phil Collins had turned a once-sad retirement into a bittersweet victory lap laden with subtle contemplations of aging and loss. It was a brave move, perhaps the boldest of Collins’ legendary career. For all of the syrupy sentimentality and silky-smooth aural sheen of his mid-late solo work, there is real grit to his survival and genuine devotion to his art. Phil Collins is Not Dead Yet and thankfully so.

 

Setlist:

  1. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
  2. Another Day in Paradise
  3. I Missed Again
  4. Hang in Long Enough
  5. Throwing It All Away
  6. Follow You Follow Me
  7. Can’t Turn Back the Years
  8. Who Said I Would
  9. Separate Lives
  10. You’ll Be in My Heart
  11. Drum Trio
  12. Something Happened on the Way to Heaven
  13. You Know What I Mean
  14. In the Air Tonight
  15. You Can’t Hurry Love
  16. Dance Into the Light
  17. Invisible Touch
  18. Easy Lover
  19. Sussudio

Encore:

  1. Take Me Home

 

Songs I wish he’d played (but didn’t):

  1. I Don’t Care Anymore
  2. Long Long Way to Go
  3. Man on the Corner
  4. That’s Just the Way It Is
  5. I Wish It Would Rain Down
  6. Tonight Tonight Tonight