The Musical Box
October 31st, 2003
The Royal Albert Hall, London, UK.

By Kevin Murphy


Since 1993, Canadian band The Musical Box has been paying tribute to the music and vision of Gabriel-era Genesis. While most tribute bands seem content to play a reasonable facsimile of their chosen act's catalogue, many end up sounding like nothing more than glorified cabaret acts. The Musical Box is a whole different kettle of fish entirely. Taking the tribute band idea to a higher level, they completely restage the Genesis' 1972, 1973 & 1974/75 shows. Stage sets, costumes, masks, original instruments, and slide projections, even Gabriel's amusing between-song stories: everything is reproduced in the finest detail.

Tonight at the Royal Albert Hall it was the turn of the Selling England by the Pound set. I've travelled over to London (from Dublin) for many shows over the years, but this was my first visit to The Albert Hall and I must say it is a very beautiful and impressive venue, and perfect for tonight's show.

It's pointless describing the music here, as I'm sure most readers will be familiar with this classic era of Genesis. Suffice to say that The Musical Box performs every note perfectly (based on the studio versions) and that as a collection of classic Genesis music, this set can't be beaten. Better to give readers some idea of the visual aspect of the show. From the opening Watcher of the Skies, singer Denis Gagné is the centre of attention. Donning cape and batwings, with luminous eye paint (the only thing visible during the mellotron intro - very spooky!), it's patently obvious that this man has studied Gabriel long and hard and has him down to a fine art. Gagné not only sings and speaks like Gabriel, but moves and displays all the mannerisms of his chosen subject. Add to this some fine flute playing, and he is a very impressive performer indeed. Not to detract from the talent of the other band members though, as each and every one of them deserves praise for taking on their own particular role with skill and finesse. Again it's clear that the musicians have worked hard to achieve the standards required to perform this great music. Quite obviously, this is a labour of love for these guys.

Special mention, however must go to drummer Martin Levac. Not only does he play Collins' drum lines to perfection, but his backing vocals are superb too. And when he stepped out from behind the drum kit to sing More Fool Me, the gasps of surprise and delight from the audience spoke for themselves. If he ever decides to leave The Musical Box, I'm sure he could get a job singing in one of the bands specialising in later Genesis material.

A huge part of the visual aspect of these Genesis' shows were Gabriel's various costumes. Along with the aforementioned cape and batwings, Gagné donned the Britannia costume for Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, pointed hat and straw in mouth to play the Lawn Mower in I Know What I Like, old man mask for The Musical Box, and a weird bowler-hat/face-stocking/satin tails ensemble during The Battle of Epping Forest. 'Supper's Ready' features a number of costume changes including the Flower Mask and the alien looking Magog Mask, as featured on the cover of Genesis Live. At the finale (the 'As Sure as Eggs is Eggs' bit), there is a huge flash of smoke bombs, and a caped Gabriel/Gagné suddenly appears in shining silver from head to toe ('…the angel standing in the sun', perhaps?) and holding a fluorescent tube which he lifts high and then lowers towards himself to create the effect that he himself is luminous. The music and lights fade and this glowing figure is the last thing we see. Spectacularly effective, one can only wonder what audiences back in 1973 made of the whole spectacle.

Apparently, Genesis didn't do encores during The Selling England by the Pound tour, as they felt that Supper's Ready could not be followed. Fair point! The Musical Box, however, did return to the stage for a powerful rendition of the Knife, which had the entire audience on its feet, basking in the nostalgia of it all.

If you, like me, were never lucky enough to witness the live spectacle that was Gabriel-era Genesis, then I can highly recommend that you see The Musical Box. Even if you did get to see some of those early concerts, go along anyway. I'm sure the memories will come flooding back.

Rumour has it that The Musical Box will be coming back next year to perform The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway 30th anniversary shows. I for one will be making the journey again.

Setlist:

Watcher of the Skies
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
Cinema Show
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
The Battle of Epping Forest
More Fool Me
The Musical Box
Horizons
Supper's Ready

The Knife

Photos by Bart Jan van der Vorst © DPRP 2003

 

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