Genesis were progressive rock trendsetters in the 1970s, becoming pop-rock hitmakers in the 1980s. Both stylistic forays earned the British band a devoted following, leading to brisk ticket sales for its 2021 North American tour, the group’s first since 2007. After rescheduling twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Monday’s concert was the first of two nights at United Center and the kickoff for the trek. The evening’s generous set list largely mirrored the newly released “The Last Domino?,” a retrospective of Genesis’ influential career.
The elephant in the room was the condition of singer and former drummer Phil Collins. Physical challenges including nerve dysfunction and diabetes forced the 70-year-old frontman to retire from drumming long ago. At the United Center, a visibly frail Collins performed seated at center stage. He nonetheless mustered enthusiasm and good humor, dispensing witty banter throughout the evening. “Please sing along, because that way you’ll make me sound better,” Collins said cheekily before launching “That’s All.”
Collins couldn’t belt from his seated position, but he delivered melodies with tone and character. He performed the creepy “Mama” bathed in eerie red light, delivering the chorus with maniacal laughter. A pair of background singers helped with held high notes, and the audience’s enthusiastic assistance was enlisted on songs like “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” and “The Carpet Crawlers.” Collins coaxed a ghostly wail from the crowd while singing the haunted house story “Home by the Sea.”
Taking the drum throne was 20-year-old Nic Collins, a seasoned professional despite his youth. In 2017, the younger Collins at age 16 drummed for his father’s Not Dead Yet tour. The father gamely grabbed a tambourine on Monday to join his son during “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe),” punctuating the beat with a jangling smack to his own head — and comically milking the audience for applause afterward.
The concert carefully interleaved the band’s unusual breadth. Selections skewed toward the arena-packing ’80s pop of the band’s biggest successes, but nuggets of the ’70s progressive rock favored by Genesis’ most ardent fans were strewn throughout the evening. The earliest selections were drawn from 1973’s prog touchstone “Selling England by the Pound,” released during Peter Gabriel’s tenure as vocalist. Instrumental movements from “The Cinema Show” and “Firth of Fifth” allowed keyboardist Tony Banks to perform thrilling and complex passages.
Honeyed soft-rock ballads including “Throwing it All Away” blurred the lines between Genesis, guitarist Mike Rutherford’s side band Mike and the Mechanics, and Phil Collins’ chart-topping solo material.
Genesis’ rare foray into political protest “Land of Confusion” was originally aimed at leadership during the Reagan/Thatcher era. “The last couple of years have given it new meaning,” said Collins. The song’s relevance was re-primed with images of masked marchers and raining rolls of toilet paper. The bluesy grind of “I Can’t Dance” criticized commercialization and shallow glamor.
The lanky Rutherford earned ovations for the appearance of his signature double-necked guitar and bass instrument. He struck heroic poses under dazzling lights while playing the slashing power chords of “Domino,” propelled by galloping drums. Longtime sideman Daryl Stuermer played elemental parts and solos, swapping guitar and bass with Rutherford frequently.
Crowd-pleaser “Misunderstanding” was performed for the first time in decades. Although Monday’s concert ran beyond two hours, other favorites were inevitably absent. The urgent “Abacab” and horn-spiked “No Reply at All” were notable omissions.
The evening was nonetheless satisfying, aside from infrequent missteps like stripping Gabriel-era prog anthem “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” of its complexities and intrigue during a brief acoustic set. The format proved better-suited to the romantic “Follow You Follow Me,” during which United Center was illuminated by twinkling cell phone lights. The main set concluded with euphoric No. 1 single “Invisible Touch.”
Collins has revealed that this tour will be his last with Genesis, with no plans to record new music with his bandmates. “Fading Lights” was a song that came to be identified as Collins’ original goodbye to Genesis fans, closing 1991’s “We Can’t Dance” album. Performed three decades later at United Center, the bittersweet song underscored the special opportunity offered by Monday night’s performance. Chicago-based fans have one more chance to witness their heroes on Tuesday. Afterward, the faithful will bid farewell as Genesis does the shuffling “I Can’t Dance” dance into pop music history.
1. “Duke’s End”
2. “Turn It On Again”
4. “Land of Confusion”
5. “Home by the Sea”
6. “Second Home by the Sea”
7. “Fading Lights”
8. “The Cinema Show”
10. “That’s All” (acoustic)
11. “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” (acoustic)
12. “Follow You Follow Me” (acoustic)
13. “No Son of Mine”
15. “Firth of Fifth”
16 “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”
18. “Throwing It All Away”
19. “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”
20. “Invisible Touch”
21 .“I Can’t Dance”
22. “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight”
23. “The Carpet Crawlers”