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Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'll have the Lamb...

In my last entry I referred to a few examples of slavish musical re-creation, but I thought I'd close out the year with an example that takes things to a whole different level.

Cover, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, 1974

Certain albums have a sound all their own, and there is no doubt that the 1974 Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway has a distinctive sonic signature. The bass notes are thunderous but articulate, the analog synthesizers blossom with a warmth that the soon-to-arrive digital models could never hope to approximate, and the guitars shimmer with crystalline arpeggios. It's all the more astonishing when you realize that the recording was made with the Island Mobile Studio.

In the early 1970s, mobile studios were becoming popular among well-to-do bands. Of course, the most famous example is the Rolling Stones' mobile studio, which captured the sounds of their own Exile on Main Street as well as Deep Purple's Machine Head, in which the recording truck was immortalized in the lyrics to “Smoke on the Water.”

The Rolling Stones Mobile performs Exile duty, as Keith makes a daylight apperance on the right.

Though their portability was an asset in turning any far-flung location into a potential studio site, there are drawbacks and functional constraints a-plenty. So it's quite amazing that Lamb producer John Burns and engineer David Hutchins would succeed at crafting a monumental collections of tones, especially when one considers the fact that Brian Eno was adding to the complexity by assisting Genesis with assorted frequency generation.

As to the album's content, it was certainly a stunning declaration of Peter Gabriel's creativity. The convoluted, hallucinatory tale of a young punk named Rael (who essentially goes down a mid-Manhattan worm hole) provided Gabriel with an opportunity to explore a gamut of emotions, from fear to the explosively angry outrage of the line, “You cannot buy protection from the way that I feel!”

Peter Gabriel as Rael, main character of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

After emerging from the recording process, Genesis took Lamb on the road. Already known for elaborate stage presentations, the band went to new heights in an attempt to provide visual context for the sounds and images of their new album. Hundreds of slides were projected onto multiple screens as Gabriel transformed himself into the album's central character, a character who himself undergoes a multitude of mental and physical changes over the course of 90 minutes. I was fortunate to see Lamb live in both Philadelphia and New York, and it was an unforgettable musical experience.

Peter Gabriel is about to reveal a Rael transformation as Michael Ruthford (left) and Phil Collins (right) chart the complicated musical waters.

In November, at the Keswick Theater in suburban Philadelphia, I had an opportunity to relive that experience. Or at least, I hoped to tap into at least a little of the wonder of that live experience.

The Canadian band The Musical Box (named after an early Genesis song) has built a reputation based on their ability to recreate the music and live presentations of Genesis. After they obtained the rights to perform The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the Genesis organization assisted the band by providing access to the 1000+ images form the 1974 tour, as well as props and guidance regarding how the original show was presented.

Original concert programs from the 1974 Genesis tour.

So how was it? Careful. Where the original Genesis presentation surged with an explosion of creativity, The Musical Box replication of Lamb tread lightly, almost trading any sense of energy for the assurance that no mistakes would be made. The overall sensation was one of Lamb Lite.

Interestingly, the Keswick was loaded with security people enforcing a “no photos” rule. I'm not sure why that would be such a concern to The Musical Box. After, they're essentially a Canadian cover band recreating the staging of events from nearly forty years ago, so it's not like any leaked photos would be a big surprise.

The Musical Box play Lamb. Never a good idea to leave your flash on when sneaking a shot. Oooops...

Anyway, told that no photos were allowed, I had to take one, security goons be damned. Even though it's a lousy, blurry image, the act itself provided great personal satisfaction. After all, these words are being written by someone who used to disassemble his Minolta SRT-101 and lenses to sneak into the Tower Theater to take surreptitious photos of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust tours. Now that was worth shooting!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

my very first concert EVER was the Phila. civic center "Lamb" show. Damn Genesis, damn Peter Gabriel and damn The lamb !!! I would go on the see hundreds of shows in the decades to follow. Unfortunately, I'd seen the best everything to follow paled, pitifully. I too saw the keswick show a handful of years ago and it was "nice" but it was not The Lamb. There are about eight or ten events in my 59 year old life i would sell everything I own just to relive one more time and this concert is probably 3rd or 4th on that short list. 'nut said!