Phil Collins poignantly passes the baton from father to son as Genesis play the O2

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Phil Collins and Genesis - David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns
Phil Collins and Genesis - David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns

If this thrice-delayed run of shows at London’s O2 is Genesis’s last – their tour is called The Last Domino?, and there are no more concerts scheduled after this – then the first one was a powerful reminder of the band’s musical range and legacy, but not a thrilling gig in itself.

Over their 55-year history, Genesis have run the musical gamut, from art rock beginnings with Peter Gabriel as lead singer, to more expansive progressive rock, to stadium-filling chart-friendly pop with Phil Collins taking over as drummer-singer. Guitarist Mike Rutherford put it best when he once described Genesis’s trajectory as “cult, to big cult, to mass appeal”. All stages were in evidence at this show.

But with Collins physically frail and chair-bound throughout, his voice strong in the mid-range but lacking that distinctive crystalline snappiness on the high notes, and his son Nic taking over drumming duties, the show tilted towards pathos over spectacle. At times, it felt more like an aide-mémoire to the band’s genius than a visceral experience in itself.

The audience, which included comedian Al Murray and former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, didn’t care: the band got a standing ovation before the lights went up. Performing under a canopy of cleverly shifting dominos-cum-light rigs, they opened with tempo-shifting instrumental Behind The Lines from 1980’s Duke.

Genesis’s influence on modern music was evident throughout. The crepuscular minimalism of Mama, a song that’s almost 40 years old, brought to mind the creeping dread of Mezzanine-era Massive Attack. The singalong parts in the even older I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) have been aped by everyone from Blur to Coldplay. And the shimmering, ghostly guitar on closing number The Carpet Crawlers finds modern echoes in Radiohead’s music. Genesis may have never been cool, but they’ve always been mightily significant.

Phil Collins and Genesis - David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns
Phil Collins and Genesis - David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns

And yet despite me, and I imagine everyone else, wishing otherwise, this clearly wasn’t a band in its prime. Collins, Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks are all 71; and, while Rutherford and Banks could pass for 10 years younger, Collins sadly can’t. The Londoner’s boundless energy of old – an energy that saw him, in 1985, play at Live Aid’s Wembley Stadium leg before jumping onto Concorde to play three more sets at the Philadelphia leg – has been quelled by the ravages of time.

Sitting centre-stage in a black tracksuit top, he remained chirpy and defiant but marooned. There was a beautifully poignant moment when he slowly walked to sit by the drum riser while Nic played the fiendish drum pattern in Second Home by the Sea. Collins looked on, a proud dad watching his son nail the beats that he originated decades ago but is now unable to play himself. A baton has been passed. Collins Jnr was in many ways the star of this show.

“This is the last stop,” Collins said at one point. “After that, you’re going to have to make your own music.” This was a gig that was more memorable than great. It felt less Genesis, more Revelation: not a beginning, but an end. As Collins repeated the closing lines to The Carpet Crawlers – “We’ve got to get in to get out” – it really did feel like the last domino was being played.

Until March 26. Tickets: genesis-music.com

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