Phil Collins

Phil Collins at Wells Fargo Center, October 8, 2018,

Oct 30, 2018 Web Exclusive
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September 23, 2004 was the last time Phil Collins played Philadelphia. At the time, Collins imagined it his last hurrah, part of his First Final Farewell tour in support of his 2003 album, Testify. As he says of the jaunt in his excellent 2017 memoir, Not Dead Yet: "I think maybe it's possible to go out on tour and, rather than disappear without a trace, say goodbye properly...I can alert those around me to the fact that I want to stop, properly, finally, forever, amen. After that, I will be free."

Collins was suffering through partial deafness at the time, and in the intervening years between then and this, his first show in Philadelphia since that "final" tour, Collins has suffered something of a crisis in identity. In a stark, depressing Rolling Stone article in 2011, with another failed marriage in the books, a morose Collins pondered the caricature he had become in the minds of so many in the 2000s: ""I've become a target for no apparent reason. I only make the records once; it's the radio that plays them all the time....But it's too late. The die is cast as to what I am.'" Even the back jacket of Not Dead Yet, seven years later, somewhat cheekily addresses this concern, "I'm Phil Collins and, as you can see from the front cover, I'm not dead yet. But when I do go, I'd prefer my epitaph not to be 'He came, he wrote 'Sussudio,' he left.'"

But things were not over for Collins in 2004. Slowly he returned to performing, in scattered dates with the support of his now 17-year-old son on drums, the instrument that Collins once mastered but no longer had the physical ability to play. Tonight, at the same venue he last played 14 years ago, Phil Collins returned nothing less than a hero.

Promptly at 8:25 PM, Collins walked onto this stage for the first time since 2004, but this time limping and with use of a cane. He is dressed in all black, a cushy black chair set up for him center stage and next to it a small table on which sat a bottle of water. He is flanked by two large standing lights. A tarp separates Collins from his band. Ambling gingerly, physically far removed from the bearded ball of energy he used to be so many years ago, Collins initially struck one as a fragile, almost pitiable man. Until, that is, he sat down to sing.

Collins seemed apologetic in his greeting the crowd, explaining that he would be sitting tonight, his physical limitations having taken their toll. But when the first piano notes rang out and Collins emoted the opening line of "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)," it was like 30 odd years disappeared in an instant. "Another Day In Paradise" and "I Missed Again" followed, the backdrop separating Collins from his band now gone and the singer flanked by the 13 piece band that provided uplifting energy to his songs all night.  

"Three or four hundred years ago I was in a band called Genesis," announced the ever self-deprecating Collins, before launching into "Throwing It All Away," and "Follow You Follow Me," the latter performed while a montage of old Genesis photographs played on the large screen above the band to great emotional effect.

Gentle synth lines complemented the perfectly poignant "Can't Turn Back the Years," sung with Collins bathed in blue light from the ocean background behind his band. With Collins singing about the finality of time, the song from his 1993 album Both Sides took on new significance and a certain indescribable weight.

"Separate Ways" was sung with backup singer Bridgette Bryant sitting in a chair beside Collins, the song rendered slower, with a chorus that eked every emotion out of the lyric as the two singers sat in front of a starry backdrop.

After "You'll Be In My Heart," Collins stood, taking his cane and retreating backward to a stool that sat right in front of his son's drums. Everyone else left the stage, but Collins remained seated, as the percussionists began a dual drum solo. It was a tender moment, Collins watching so intently his son play his old instrument, nodding his head and tapping his foot, a hand slapping his knees and in absolute rhythmic enjoyment and pride. Then slowly turning back toward the audience, Collins was presented with a small drum. His son stepped out from his set and percussionist Richie Garcia stepped out from behind his, and the three drummers sat shoulder to shoulder, beating out a rhythm together. It was one of the most memorable moments of an evening full of them.

Collins' band on this night-the Vine Street Horns, Ronnie Caryl, guitarist and 40 year Genesis alum Daryl Stuermer, percussionist Garcia, bassist extraordinaire Leland Sklar, background singers Arnold McCuller, Amy Keys, Lamont van Hook, and Bryant, and of course Collins' son Nicholas on drums (who in introductions received the biggest cheer of the night)-lifted his songs to extraordinary heights. It was a monumental show, as momentous as one might expect for Collins' return after a 14 year absence.

In another poignant moment, Collins introduced his son who would accompany him on the piano, singing a song that Collins said his son had personally chosen from one of his father's old albums. With both Collinses sitting beside one another on the piano bench, they rendered a heart wrenching version of "You Know What I Mean."

The show would close with some of Collins' biggest hits. Standing for the first time to sing, Collins clutched the microphone stand and cut a menacing figure as he belted out the crowd favorite "In the Air Tonight." "You Can't Hurry Love" was an all-out party, leading without pause into the horn driven "Dance Into the Light." The crowd sang along to every word of "Invisible Touch," and "Easy Lover" was a playful romp. And finally, streamers and confetti rained down on the first few rows for "Sussudio," the one song Collins stated on his book jacket that he hoped would not come to solely define his artistry.

Nostalgia is one thing, and for certain tonight was a night to look back. But more importantly, it was a night to celebrate. And celebrate the packed Wells Fargo Center crowd did, throughout a joyous two full hours. For Collins, however, one must wonder how he now sees his musical history, the one that had caused such self-doubt just a few years ago. It seemed from all appearances that he enjoyed revisiting. One hopes he has turned a corner. From the audience's vantage point, it seemed a triumphant return, the sight and sound of a man reclaiming his legacy.




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