Genesis, ‘Three Sides Live’ – DVD Review
"It's just one little step towards taking people off automatic pilot," Phil Collins remarks during an interview on the 'Three Sides Live' DVD, reflecting on the funky, horn-driven 'Abacab' track 'No Reply at All.' "Because they do tend to put us in one area, which we're not afraid to be in, but at the same time, we're also in lots of other areas. They like to think of you over there and Earth, Wind & Fire over there, and Devo over there. But we're not any one particular thing."
The Genesis heard and seen on the 1982 concert film (and its original companion double-LP) were bored with prog-rock nostalgia, disinterested in emulating past glories. The 'Abacab' album and its subsequent tour signaled a creative rebirth for the trio – frontman drummer Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist-guitarist Mike Rutherford – and not only with fancy horn charts. This Genesis was soulful and scaled-down, unafraid of venturing into R&B ('No Reply at All') and snot-nosed synth-punk ('Who Dunnit?') and throat-ripping soul ('Man on the Corner'), while keeping their artful foundation intact. It's a transitional stage with creative speed-bumps – but one also electrified by the excitement of new possibilities.
The 'Three Sides Live' film encapsulates the scope of this pivotal stage, with cherry-picked live performances punctuated by intimate road interviews and backstage silliness. And in its newly remastered form (also available on Blu-ray), the visual effect is even stronger. All the period details of a 1981 concert cut through: the ethereal dry ice, the pink lights that spray across the stage during the climax of 'Afterglow,' every last sweaty hair on Collins' balding head.
But the performances, warts and all, remain the selling point. By the early '80s, as Collins was developing his own voice as an emotional pop songwriter, the frontman's enthusiasm for the old material was waning. Here, as usual, the classic prog tracks are condensed into one lengthy medley – with a lethargic 'In the Cage' (from 1974's 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway') segueing into blistering instrumentals bits of 'The Cinema Show' and 'The Colony of Slippermen.' (Even if Collins looks uncomfortable singing Peter Gabriel's lyrics, his propulsive tom-tom flourishes on 'Cinema' suggest he never lost his zeal for complex drumming.)
The band sounds most engaged on cuts from the recently released 'Abacab.' Though Collins' voice is clearly worn from the stress of a long tour, his passionate belting – even in this ragged form – gives these live version extra muscle, as does the reliable thunder of touring members Daryl Stuermer (guitar, bass) and Chester Thompson (drums). The galloping 'Abacab' is beefed up by Stuermer's nimble slap-bass and a jaw-dropping drum duel; the concert's centerpiece is a darker, funkier 'Dodo/Lurker,' driven by Banks' wildly distorted synth.
Even the relentlessly annoying 'Who Dunnit?,' clearly the weakest of the 'Abacab' bunch, packs a harder punch in its live form. It's also fun watching Collins sing the juvenile hook while sporting weird goggles, as a gangly looking Rutherford keeps time behind the drum kit.
Midway through the film, the scene shifts to a tired Collins fielding questions from fans during a radio call-in. Even back in 1981, only six years after Gabriel left the band, Genesis were being hounded about the prospect of a reunion. "As far as him coming back to the band," Collins says, "I think that's very unlikely."
Genesis could never win. In the '70s, they were criticized for being excessive, and when they evolved toward a more commercial '80s style, critics lamented their streamlined approach. Luckily, as 'Three Sides Live' proves, these guys were too busy following their instincts to care.