The Musical Box: Genesis Recreated!
As my readers know, I am an enormous progressive rock fan. Now, as all my readers also know, Yes is, by far, my favorite band (you can read more of my writing about Yes here), but my second favorite vacillates, depending on the day, between Genesis and King Crimson.
Now many of you, who may not be familiar with the history of Genesis, may be a little bewildered by the fact that a prog-rock fan would be a fan of Genesis, but that is likely because your contact with Genesis is only their 1980s material when Phil Collins was its lead singer. Unbeknownst, unfortunately, to many people is that Genesis finds its origin in the late 1960s when Peter Gabriel was their lead singer for many years over several albums. The Peter Gabriel-era of the band was one of the giant pioneers of the progressive rock movement and it is that music which makes me a Genesis fan.
Phil Collins joined Genesis for its third album, Nursery Cryme, as a drummer and backing vocalist. To be fair to post-Gabriel Genesis, it is worth noting that it retained its prog rock credentials in full for two albums after Gabriel left, after which its long time guitar player Steve Hackett left. Genesis made another album, …And Then There Were Three…, which had a lighter but still prog rock approach, but its subsequent album, Duke, was only about half prog rock, and after that the band pretty much left its prog rock roots behind, except for the occasional album track and some songs in live sets.
Aside from excellent music, Gabriel-era Genesis was known for Gabriel’s extravagant stage theatrics. While the rest of the band was sitting still looking at their feet while expertly playing their instruments, Gabriel was all over the stage acting out the scenes and dialogue found in their music while wearing all manner of strange costumes (a sample of which you can see here), in front of psychedelic scenery. Gabriel’s antics became the stuff of legend and made legions of dedicated fans. Of course, the attention he got, sometimes at the expense of the rest of the band, due to his antics led to some discord between he and the rest of the band which, in part, resulted in his departure from the band. Upon Gabriel’s departure, the band’s live performances became much more typical for a band playing arenas and, therefore, the crazy artistic live spectacle as an aspect of Genesis disappeared.
Of course, Genesis fans and/or progressive rock fans the world over were saddened by the loss of such unique and exciting stage performances, doubly so as no official videos survive from this era, and assumed that this era of Genesis was lost to history.
Suddenly, though, as if an answer to prayer, the band known as The Musical Box (“TMB”) (official website here) appeared in about 1993. TMB has been called a tribute band but I do not think that moniker is entirely accurate as it seems rather incomplete considering what it does. TMB is more than a tribute band. It is a recreation band. TMB does more than merely play old Genesis music. It is more than merely inspired by Genesis. TMB literally reproduces old Genesis concerts note for note and scene by scene, even down to the in-between song banter! The musicians take on the roles of the members of Genesis as if they were actors. The concerts TMB plays follows a set list – song by song – from one of the shows from a Genesis tour with Gabriel. The mannerisms of the musicians playing the roles of the members of Genesis are replicated through the painstakingly tedious effort of combing through thousands of photographs and hours of footage to ensure they literally act and look like Genesis would have when it played a particular set on a particular tour and these songs originally, not to mention their use of authentic and vintage instruments from the Gabriel-era. In addition, TMB also combs through hours of recordings to ensure that the inter-song dialogue during a TMB show reflects what the Genesis would have done. Furthermore, Genesis and Gabriel have given TMB license and permission to use their scenery and stage sets and costuming in order to ensure that they can reproduce the complete Gabriel-era Genesis experience. One of the features of a TMB tour book are side-by-side photographs of TMB and Genesis and, unless one has a keen eye, they are virtually indistinguishable. TMB presents itself on stage not as band playing Genesis music but as Genesis itself.
Needless to say, as a prog rock and Genesis fan, I was disappointed at being much too young to have had opportunity to experience Genesis in its prime (let along with Gabriel), but when I discovered TMB – I admittedly was suspicious at first – I simply could not believe my eyes and ears. TMB sounded and looked exactly like I expected Genesis would. It was absolutely amazing and I truly felt like I can say I saw Genesis after I saw TMB.
My first time I saw TMB they were performing the Selling England By the Pound tour on February 26, 2004 (which is when the photos below were taken) and I was transfixed. I have seen hundreds of concerts and this concert still stands out as one of the greatest concerts I have ever seen, from the music, the scenery, costuming, and presentation. In short, it was amazing. My wife, who was then my girlfriend, attended this show with me. She was being a good sport and attending various prog rock concerts with me at this time in our relationship. This was our last of these concerts together. I will never forget that moment, at the beginning of the show, when “Peter Gabriel” appears in bat wings with incandescent face paint around his eyes glowing in front of a black light to introduce the classic show opener “Watcher of the Skies.” What was happening on the stage put her over the edge and she turned to me and said “this is it, I’ve had enough, I am not going to any more of these concerts.”
Since then I have also seen TMB perform the Selling England By the Pound a second time (at NEARFest 2004, see here), the Foxtrot tour show (three times, two normal and one black where all of the props and instruments were painted incandescent black), and the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour show (twice). The most recent time I saw TMB was at Yestival in 2013 when they played the Foxtrot tour set.
Whenever I get a chance I try and see TMB and I highly encourage you to do so too! This band is very protective of its (due to the nature of the shows) so the “no photographs” rule is strictly enforced. I have only really been able to get a good picture of the set up once on February 26, 2004 (the Selling England By the Pound Tour show described above) at the Keswick in Glenside, PA. The photographs from that show are below for you to check out.