Royal Albert Hall
I’ve been waiting for this concert all my life, ever since I started going to gigs over six years ago this has been at the height of my bucket list. despite ill health and a inconsistent first half Phil stills manages to dazzle.
As I write this review this morning I’ve been seeing a large amount of news articles about Phil, late last night he took a bad fall and was subsequently rushed to hospital, unfortunately the remainder of the Albert Hall dates have been pushed back to November, we wish Phil a speedy recovery and hope he can successfully continue on his tour.
The first CD I owned as a child was the Tarzan soundtrack, I was only five when it was released but the original copy still remains with me to this day, I have literally grown up with Phil’s music and for me it has a special place in my heart, when I started going to concerts aged 16 I could only dream of seeing Phil live (who by this point had entered retirement). My family were constantly reminded of this every year when I’d feverishly bring up articles of a rumoured return, this reached it’s peak when I was adamant a tour was coming alongside his discography reissues last year, I was pleasantly correct, I even attended the launch of his autobiography in London last year so large is my adoration of the man.
Skip 8 months ahead to last night, It’s fair to say I haven’t felt anticipation like this for a concert before, I truly believed I would end up missing my chance in similar fashion to that of Bowie and Queen, It’s immediately apparent as he takes to the stage however that Phil most certainly isn’t in the best of states, he slowly limps across the stage with his cane in hand, it’s clear his back surgery and subsequent ‘drop foot’ has left him handicapped, he takes a seat in which he’ll remain for the majority of the three hour set.
Even though physically he’s no longer the man he once was, he definitely still has that legendary vocal ability which is immediately apparent from the first notes of ‘Against All Odds’, the stage production is top class, for the opening track it’s just Phil and a chair seated in front of a giant screen, as the drumbeat kicks in he’s sons silhouette suddenly engulfs the entire screen behind him, it sends chills right through my skin, it’s both a beautiful and sad moment, as Nic is both figuratively and literally taking over the mantle from his dad.
‘Another Day In Paradise’ see’s the screen lifted and the entire band revealed in front of us, it’s fair to say he has spared no expense with a full range of backing singers, guitarists, bassists and brass units (all recognisable from his 2004 Farewell Tour) alongside newcomer Nic Collins (Phil’s 16 year old son) on the drums but we’ll talk more about him later. Never have Phil’s songs sounded more cinematic with ‘Paradise’ being an immediate sentiment to that, the acoustics of the Albert Hall send every note through you, Phil’s voice has a strain in it but he still hits the majority of notes, it comes across more emotional than ageing, this is none the more apparent on a beautiful rendition of ‘One More Night’.
The evening is split between two sets separated by an interval, Phil has clearly focused the majority of the slower numbers and rarities to be placed in it’s first segment, after such a terrific first three tracks it’s a little bit disappointing to be treated to ‘Wake Up Call’ from Testify albeit a favourite of Phil’s theres a reason it was never a massive hit, ‘Follow You, Follow Me’ takes a large proportion of the audience back to their Genesis days as the band’s video is displayed across the screen, it’s a joyous moment that lifts the first half.
‘Can’t Turn Back The Years’ brings the tempo down considerably, it’s instrumental is fantastic and sounds reinvigorated but the song itself is lacking, ‘I Missed Again’ is a triumphant moment which allows the brass section to flex their muscles and show off for the first time this evening, unfortunately the first sets inconsistency strikes once again with ‘Hang In Long Enough’ and ‘Only You Know And I Know’ which are both seemingly forgettable and Phil seems to struggle with the loudness and presence his voice had on the studio version, when it comes to ballads however Phil is unmatched, the entire set is turned into the night sky with stars projected across the hall as he performs a moving version of ‘Separate Lives’, his voice dramatically rises for the chorus, showing even stripped back he’s still got it.
After the interval we are greeted by an absolutely wild drum duet which really shows off young Nic’s talent, it’s fair to say he has every bit of fantastic ability that his dad showed all those years ago on the drums and like a proud father Phil really shows it off during the second set, the drum solo segues into the opening of ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’, the song takes on a new feeling of defiance, it’s the perfect choice for Phil and opens what is one of the best hours of live music in my life.
‘Something Happened On The Way To Heaven’ has everyone in the hall on their feet dancing, the brass section look like their having the time of their lives as everyone sings along, the most touching moment of the night comes when Phil recounts the memory of Nic learning how to play ‘Face Value’ rarity ‘You Know What I Mean’ on the piano, the pair come together on the side of the stage, seated on a grand piano. you can’t hear a pin drop as Nic beautifully plays the keys as his dad sings along, as they finish Nic hugs his dad and the room is full of ‘awww’s’, with as such a complicated family life as Phil has had over the past 30 years, it’s nice for something sweet to come out of all the drama for once.
‘In The Air Tonight’ unsurprisingly features the best reaction of the night, the crowd going absolutely wild for that now iconic drum solo, yet again Nic does his dad proud stepping into his shoes, the production is once again impeccable, the hall is encased in purple light, it’s so bright it seems to fill the room like fog, the stage is pretty much invisible as a single light is used to show Phil’s face as a single head on the massive screen, it’s like something out of the Wizard of Oz, seemingly magical.
The next five songs saw everyone on their feet, I’m sure at one point the whole of the hall was rocking, “You Can’t Hurry Love” is truly iconic, a cover that somehow Phil has made bigger than it ever was with The Supremes, it’s truly infectious, everyones face was lit up with massive smiles as they sang along. “Dance Into The Light” keeps everyone on their feet, stomping and swaying to the saxophones and the beat.
Genesis classic “Invisible Touch” is perfectly placed, after all these years Phil somehow brings fresh life into the track, no sign of former bandmaster Mike Rutherford however who’s been spotted among the audience. ‘Easy Lover’ allows the backing singers to take on the Philip Bailey parts, they do the song justice and then some, their soulful vocals fusing with Phil effortlessly, the grin on his face as he’s embraced by the singers is brilliant, his cheeky sense of dry humour shined through the night, each story and joke had the crowd laughing along with him. The main set closed out with ‘Sussudio’, The studio version has never really grabbed me, live however the song is a completely different beast, an unexpected highlight, most likely down to the bands terrific and note perfect rendition of the song.
Phil returned solo for the beginning of the encore, bringing only a story with him, he tells the audience of his favourite song throughout his teenage years and of course a girls involved, what follows is a heartbreaking version of Vera Lynn’s “If You Really Love Me”, when you strip everything back to just those beautiful lyrics and Phil’s stellar vocals you get a really moving and touching moment. the night however can only finish on one song of course, the wonderful ‘Take Me Home’, as arms fly out into the air the cameras pan across the hall, Phil proves that all this years the demand is still there and thankfully the quality.
It really was a night of two halves, despite starting off incredibly strong some strange setlist choices really hampered the energy early on, it was nice to hear some rarities but part of me was yearning for those hits, especially the Tarzan tracks that were sadly absent, after the interval everything seemed to be turned up to 11 however, easily the best hour and a half of music I’ve witnessed live, due to health issues however it really seems that this maybe his final farewell, it’s clear he’s struggling but if this is to be his final gigs, then I can’t think of a better way to finish his career, he say’s his done the shows because he’s missed performing, from the audiences reactions to every song and the 15 second sell out time it’s clear we’ve missed him just as much.
1. “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”
2. “Another Day in Paradise”
3. “One More Night”
4. “Wake Up Call”
5. “Follow You Follow Me”
6. “Can’t Turn Back the Years”
7. “I Missed Again”
8. “Hang in Long Enough”
9. “Separate Lives”
10. “Only You Know and I Know”
11. “I Don’t Care Anymore”
12. “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”
13. “You Know What I Mean” (Nic on piano)
14. “In the Air Tonight”
15. “You Can’t Hurry Love”
16. “Dance Into the Light”
17. “Invisible Touch”
18. “Easy Lover”
20. “If You Love (Really Love Me)”
21. “Take Me Home”