STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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There hasn’t been anything quite like the years Genesis was a quintet fronted by Peter Gabriel.
Many of the songs were long and complex, and the lead singer donned eerie and outlandish costumes on stage for different numbers, which added even more quirky theatricality to the music.
Montreal group The Musical Box — named after a 1971 Genesis composition — are headed for a two-day residency at the Keswick Theatre that’ll be like an epic flashback to the ‘70s.
The March 4 show will be a recreation of when the British prog rockers were competing with their peers in Yes; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and King Crimson by performing grandiose experiments like “Watcher of the Skies” and “Supper’s Ready,” while testing out the then-new works from the 1973 album “Selling England by the Pound.” Then on March 5, the lighting and stage backdrop dramatically changes for The Musical Box’s “Black Show.”
Bassist and 12-string guitarist Sebastien Lamothe — The Musical Box’s Mike Rutherford counterpart — said they’re selective about which venues they perform the Black Show, named for a certain part of Genesis’ 1974 tour when they introduced a pitch black stage illuminated with two giant circle screens. “It’s really a variation on a theme for the very versed, or educated, in old Genesis. And of course, Philly’s always been that way for us,” he said.
“By 1974, at some point, Genesis came back to America for an extra visit, and changed the direction of the live presentation. Basically by that time, the band got comfortable with the (new) material. As a musician, the way I interpret this is they really tried to fill in what they lose on stage,” Lamothe said of certain harmonies and studio overdubs that couldn’t easily be replicated from the records.
It was also during those “black shows” that Gabriel tried interacting more with the audience during his surrealistic storytelling interludes between songs, and Phil Collins started noticeably improvising with his drumming.
“We know, for example, one of the masks in ‘Supper’s Ready’ was replaced during the later part of the tour,” Lamothe said of studying the promotional video for the “Selling England by the Pound” tour and audience-shot super 8 film footage of that time period. “Through the years, we’ve been able to acquire little mysteries and Genesis secrets. We know exactly — I’d say 99 percent of the time — who was playing what, on what instruments, and what tone they were using.”
The Musical Box’s attention to detail extends to using most of the same guitars and basses that Rutherford and Steve Hackett used. “It was a laboratory in some ways,” Lamothe said of early ‘70s musical technology like sound effects, synthesizers and hybrid guitars.
Of Musical Box singer Denis Gagne as Peter Gabriel, he said: “The more you give, usually, the more you receive. As much as it’s a physical performance, I think he feeds on that (audience) energy like Peter Gabriel would do.”
The Musical Box has been paying tribute to Genesis since 1993. When asked why audiences remain fascinated by those early- to mid-’70s concert presentations, he responded: “You see all these crazy, modern productions on stage — it’s not very nourishing, in some ways. (At our shows) people are touched. People are cheering. People are crying. It’s such a unique and intense experience that people can’t get enough of it. Playing such music in a live environment is something that doesn’t exist anymore. ”