"The Lamb Lies Down on
Broadway" stands as one of the best concept albums/rock operas ever made;
Genesis' sprawling epic is a hundred times better than, say, "Tommy" by the
Who. But it's not without its problems.
Peter Gabriel, who left the English quintet after the work was performed
in its entirety on a 1974 tour that included more than 140 dates, has said
that the legendary progressive rockers were rushed in finishing the double
album, and the second disc -- or LP, for longtime fans like me--isn't nearly
as good as the startlingly brilliant first.
There's also the fact that the story, which was oddly prescient of the
soon-to-explode punk movement while simultaneously reaching back to the most
nonsensical, absurdly self-indulgent psychedelia, is pretty much
More than a guilty pleasure
I must have listened to the album 500 times over the last 30 years, but I
still can't tell you exactly what's going on when Rael, a Puerto Rican
graffiti artist living in New York City, descends into a hallucinatory
underworld of lamia, slippermen and carpet crawlers to rescue his brother
John. For the matter, I've never had a clue about what that lamb was doing
in Manhattan, or why it decided to recline on such a busy thoroughfare.
It doesn't matter. More than just a guilty pleasure from the ponderous
past, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" represents a pinnacle of wildly
inventive cinematic rock which still inspires many of the most ambitious
bands today, from the Flaming Lips to a new generation of progressive
rockers like Coheed & Cambria and the Mars Volta.
Genesis itself has been missing in action since 1997's abysmal "Calling
All Stations," but it had begun a sad, steady decline into vapid mediocrity
in the late '70s, when guitarist Steve Hackett quit and Phil Collins started
his slow transformation from superhuman drummer to decent frontman to
buffoonish cartoon and pandering poseur.
How to celebrate the 30th anniversary of "The Lamb" when its creators
have no inclination to leave their yachts and mansions, much less talk to
one another? Enter the Canadian Genesis tribute band, The Musical Box.
Great night for graying fans
Passionately, obsessively, some would say creepily devoted to duplicating
the sounds and spectacles of that 1974 tour, The Musical Box thrilled a
packed crowd of graying progressive-rock fans and a smattering of younger
acolytes with its note-for-note, scene-by-scene, nearly two-hour recreation
of "The Lamb" in all of its mesmerizing beauty and mind-boggling silliness
at the Vic Theatre on Friday night.
The term "cover band" hardly does this group justice. Licensed to perform
the work by its heroes, these guys obtained more than 1,000 original slides
that Genesis used as backdrops during its tour; scoured the world for the
exact vintage instruments, and painstakingly reproduced the stage props,
costumes and scenery -- an especially questionable endeavor, since what was
impressive in '74 now looks underwhelming and pretty ridiculous, like
comparing the special effects on the original "Star Trek" TV series with
those of the recent movies.
But it was always the music that mattered most, and here the group
Denis Gagne was a convincing Gabriel whose voice grew stronger as the
night progressed, really blossoming with the gleefully rambunctious
"Counting Out Time" and the gorgeously lulling "Carpet Crawlers." Like
Hackett and keyboardist Tony Banks themselves, Francois Gagnon and Eric
Savard astounded listeners with an extraordinary arsenal of otherworldly
sounds. And bassist Sebastien Lamothe was great, too, though I found it
disconcerting that the faux-Mike Rutherford was actually a dead ringer for
the real-life Hackett. Maybe plastic surgery would help.
A Collins clone
If you think that crack is far-fetched, it was positively eerie how much
Martin Levac resembled "The Lamb"-era Collins, complete with the beard, bald
spot, New York City T-shirt, goofy grin and massive left-handed drum set,
which he assaulted with a fury, finesse and virtuosic technique that were
unparalleled -- that is, unparalleled by anyone since Collins circa '74.
Just like the real deal, this holodeck version of "The Lamb" petered out
during the second half, limping toward the grand finale of the raucous "It."
I'll never fathom why Genesis didn't end the album the way it started, with
the reprise of the fantastic title track. But far be it from The Musical Box
to try to improve the original.
The group returned for two well-deserved encores. Plenty of people were
shouting for "Supper's Ready," the other epic masterpiece by early Genesis,
but I called out for "We Can't Dance," its dreadful 1991 hit. Both requests
were ignored in favor of the track that gave The Musical Box its name, from
1971's "Nursery Cryme," and "Watcher of the Skies," from 1972's "Foxtrot."
But I really couldn't complain.
For 2-1/2 hours, I was transported back to the wood-paneled basement rec
room where I spent countless hours listening on headphones and pondering the
universe while staring into the lava lamp. Then I left the Vic, hopped into
my time machine on the corner of Belmont and Sheffield, and happily returned
to the present.