Dancing ‘Round New York With Genesis by Barry Taylor – ‘Good Times’, December 19, 1973
Written by meek on December 19, 1973
The stark white face lights up real horror show-like as headlights of passing autos focus on the wide bald streak mowed back to the center of his skull before they dart off into the wilds of Queens, eager to leave the nutty bustling city behind for a couple of days of peaceful suburban relaxation courtesy of the Pilgrims and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
It is just the early minutes of dusk as Peter Gabriel pulls a black nylon stocking over his head. For a moment, he is securely hidden amongst the shadows of the Queensborough Bridge, which looms directly above, cutting into the raw grey November sky.
Kids toting magic markers and spray paint cans whistle at him as they pass, but those huddling together down the block at the bus stop think better of it. After all, there’ s a comet in our skies, “there’s no telling, y’know.” Gabriel picks up a rock and a stick and proceeds to demonstrate his wrath upon some unassuming weathered garbage cans under the street lamp. When he disappears for a second, the curious onlookers are drawn closer to inspect the damage.
Across the street, two white gloved hands caress one of the girders supporting the bridge, and he eases his body up over the wall in a single bound. A bus stops short, opens its doors to investigate, and continues up First Avenue when its suspicions are confirmed.
The following night he appears again, this time not prowling around desolate streets while posing for a “Peter Gabriel of Genesis in New York” spread that will adorn the London Sunday Times, but on the stage of the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden.
Now green dayglo circles are around his eyes shimmying in the ultra-violet lights as he stands tall in silhouette, two diaphanous black wings behind his head adding to the curious unearthly vision.
Keyboardman Tony Banks drenches the Forum in violent mellotronisms which breathe life into the solemn imposing figure of Gabriel. His head slowly turns with the mechanical grace of a beaming lighthouse, while the band pumps out bubbling syncopations and a full range of dynamics that reek of telepathic interplay.
The lights reveal that the stage, backdrops,instruments, everything is in white. Amplifiers are neatly hidden, and the PA system has been completely removed from the stage area — a bit of Ed Sullivan theatrical sensibility.
Steve Hackett is sitting hunched over his Les Paul, feet dancing over the array of pedals and switches before him. Mike Rutherford, a tall, gangly figure also in white is playing a Rickenbacker mutation — half bass, half guitar — while Phil Collins is flailing his drum kit and percussive devices in perfect complement to him. Behind them, color slides of a pair of maniacal eyes peer out at the audience from the specially designed screen.* * * * *
Why all the elaborate visuals?
“I always try to do a little something because it’s very difficult to get the lyrics across,” Peter Gabriel answers. It helps when the audience is familiar with the albums, but you can’t always expect them to be, so the visuals are my department. We used to go through a lot of arguments because the other members of the group were never really into it, but I was going to do what I wanted to do from the start. I have to admit that the other guys are happier about it now than they were back then.
“It’s very important to get the lyrics across because we think that our main strength is in the writing of the material. Tony, Mike and myself have been writing together for six years. We used to only make demo tapes of our songs, so Rita Pavone’s brother recorded one, and that was about it. We recorded one album of them for Decca called From Genesis to Revelation.
“Before that, I was in a band that played Otis Redding and James Brown songs, all the popular stuff. I was the drummer in the group, and we had a real imaginative name, the Spoken Word, or something like that. We weren’t mods, but we used to impress them and they liked us because we would try new things.
“As the demos began to expand a bit, it became clear that there were other things we could do. Decca thought that we were becoming a progressive band, and it was pop that was selling, so they didn’t want us any longer and we signed with Charisma.”
After the song, the lights dim until Gabriel reappears in a different costume. “You are looking at the embodiment of the British Empire,” he says. “A strange spectacle…with feathers.” Dancing Out With the Moonlit Knight” begins with a delicate tapestry of sound woven by Hackett, Rutherford and Banks, the three of them playing guitars.
“We did a lot of acoustic concerts back in 1969 with three guitars and a piano,” Gabriel continues. It was considered a very trendy thing to do. We played a lot of pubs, but our music was so quiet that if 40 people were ordering drinks and talking, they’d drown us out.”
“I Know What I Like,” from Selling England By The Pound, is a bit of a departure for the group. For one thing, it’s a shorter piece, with a refrain that almost invites you to sing along.
“I think they intend to release that one as a single. Singles are not something that we are going to strive for, though. We feel a close affinity with the audience if they come to see a whole chunk of music from an album as opposed to a three minute hook line.”
How well did “Watcher of the Skies” (the previous single) do?
“It didn’t do anything. The next thing that will probably be released here is the live album which was originally recorded as just a publicity aid. It has already been released in England against our wishes though it did pretty well. It looks like they’re going to release it here because of political reasons having to do with our old record company.”
“Firth of Fifth” flows in next and gives the band a chance to display some of the awesome pyrotechnics which they are capable of, with all four musicians playing in counterpoint to each other while Gabriel cracks a tambourine with theatrical flair on the off beats
Just how much of Genesis’ musical presentation has been planned note for note?
“About 90 per cent of it is arranged, and it takes months to do it. We spent the entire summer on the last album because all five of us have equal say when we hold our auditions where everyone plays what they have written. Then we see what would work out best. There are people who play better than us; we’re not musicians like the Mahavishnu Orchestra or anything, so a large part of our show is predetermined.”
“The Musical Box” is probably the group’s most popular number. It is introduced with a bizarre tale about croquet and a head in a music box. Two guitars and the organ create the ethereal beginning, and the crowd roars its approval as the lyrics are intoned, with Gabriel gesticulating the message as only someone with an acute awareness for the theatrical dimensions of a rock performance can.
A frightening climax is provided as Gabriel emerges on stage toward the end of the piece and gives a devastatingly realistic portrayal of an old man. His voice cracks and strains as he sings, “Time has passed me by/ It doesn’t seem to matter now.” A bright light illuminates the face of a pitiful creature and highlights his wrinkles as he reaches out to the audience with a dying breath and asks, “Why don’t you touch me?”
Gabriel suddenly pulls the black stocking over his face, and once again becomes the outlaw as the band begins the military introduction to “The Battle of Epping Forest”, a true story about two rival gangs fighting over protection rights in England. Again, it is another masterwork of sustained invention as he makes sudden transitions from the part of a young tough to a priest while, on the screen, images sublimate the mood and the band provides the usual exemplary back up.
The climax of the evening is reached during the twenty-five minute classic of Genesis’ recorded history, “Supper’s Ready”. over the past year, it has matured to the point where it approaches the zenith of rock theatricality. The costumes employed are each chosen to illustrate a point or theme of the song, and that’s where Genesis reduces the others associated with the school of camp or glam-rock to lesserlings. There are three changes involved in all, including one in which Gabriel goes from black robe and phosphorescent head gear to a white satin outfit with the synchronized searing flash of a mag nesium flare. And, of course, there’s the popular flower head dress which provides a truly surrealistic picture.
Did you ever have the desire to appear on stage in just your ordinary street clothes, instead of the elaborate costumes, and take it from there?
“We did one gig without any visuals because the truck was lost. The music came out better, so we were pretty successful. The we tried to repeat it, and it didn’t work at all. The costumes are also good to have because when something goes wrong with the equipment, it takes your attention away from the music.”
After ten solid minutes of applause and lighting matches, the group returns to perform “The Knife”, a song off one of their very early albums Trespass.
How does the group feel when they see people dancing in the aisles to the music, especially to “The Knife”?
“I like to see that,” Gabriel beams. “‘The Knife’ is the Genesis dance number.”
But doesn’t that mean that the audience has neglected an important aspect of the group, the lyrics?
“Well, some of our music is better to take in when you’re relaxed, but some of the songs call for you to get up and not be restricted by the seats. Anyway, most of the people who dance to our music are on an exhibitionist trip.”
The next day, a short, but not inconspicuous stroll down Fifth Avenue from the office of Atlantic Records brings us to the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center for another photo session, but Gabriel is not granted permission to enter because there is fear that the sight of the white face and bald streak mowed back to the center of his skull will distract the skaters and cause accidents.
Down to Times Square, all goes well except that the locals are a little irked that this weirdo on their turf is now the center of attraction. “Never did like that creep Alice Cooper,” one of them says.