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40 Years Ago: Phil Collins Fronts Genesis for First Post-Peter Gabriel Tour

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“I didn’t want to not be the drummer,” Phil Collins reflected in the 2014 Genesis documentary Sum of the Parts. “This is what I did. This is my territory.” But after Peter Gabriel, the prog-rock band’s charismatic, costume-wearing frontman, left to pursue a solo career in 1974, Collins accidentally stumbled into his destiny.

He’d recorded vocals for the seventh Genesis LP, A Trick of the Tail – initially as a stopgap measure, after the quartet failed to spark chemistry with a parade of auditioned singers. But some cajoling from his first wife prompted Collins to face the inevitable: Like it or not, he was the perfect choice to take over the reins, both in-studio and onstage.

Genesis unveiled their revamped line-up  – with Collins as singer-drummer, backed by extra percussionist Bill Bruford – on March 26, 1976, with a concert at London, Ontario, Canada’s London Arena. But the band eased their fans into the future, highlighting the bulk of Trail (majestic opener “Dance on a Volcano,” thunderous “Squonk,” fusion-styled instrumental “Los Endos”) alongside a generous helping of Gabriel swan-song The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (introduced at various points as “Lamb Casserole,” “Lamb Cutlet” and “Lamb Stew”) and a variety of deep cuts and classics (epic “Supper’s Ready”). Probably the strangest choice was “White Mountain,” an atmospheric pre-Collins track from 1970’s Trespass.

This 1976 Genesis hit a live peak: Though Collins was still figuring out the awkward, down-to-Earth charm that became his signature stage presence, he was already a more consistent singer than Gabriel, whose final Genesis performances were highlighted by technical difficulties due to his absurd costumes. Collins’ softly crooned voice had never been in doubt – he’d proved his balladeering strengths as early as 1971’s “For Absent Friends,” But on-stage, he was equally adept at powering through the climax of “Supper’s Ready” and coaxing out the sweetness of “The Carpet Crawlers,” as evidenced by their In Concert tour special (embedded above).

Bruford – the busiest of all prog drummers, having already served time in Yes and King Crimson – helped the band smooth out their transition. His colorful, oddly accented fills and supplementary percussion beefed up their instrumental attack (establishing a template for their subsequent Chester Thompson years) and allowed Collins to maneuver back and forth between the microphone and drum kit.

But the most crucial test was in the audience. Would fans warm to the more mild-mannered Collins while still processing the loss of one of rock’s most dynamic frontmen? “I remember nothing but good vibes from the audience,” Collins reflected in Sum of the Parts. “They wanted this to work. They didn’t compare me with Pete. I was one of the guys in the band coming forward, and I’d been there all along.”

The Trick of the Tail tour, divided into North American and European legs, concluded on July 11. The chemistry of the Collins-led Genesis was evident: Two months later, they flocked to the Netherlands to record their eighth album (and Steve Hackett‘s final LP with the band), Wind & Wuthering.

See Phil Collins and Other Rockers in the Top 100 Albums of the ’80s

Next: Top 10 Phil Collins Genesis Songs

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