Synopsis: The Gabriel Era DVD is an independent critical guide to the music of Genesis in the crucial progressive rock years when the legendary Peter Gabriel was the frontman of the band. As a showman Peter Gabriel was unsurpassed, appearing in a mindboggling array of masks and costumes, including the dress-clad fox and the human sunflower. These amazing theatrical performances were featured alongside some of the most powerful music of the 70’s.
The Gabriel Era DVD features rare archive performances from film and television, alongside the views of a team of leading musicians and music critics. The book Genesis and the Press features rare photos, documents and memorabilia and tells the story of Genesis using the words of the band and the critics. To ensure editorial control, the film is totally unauthorised and has not been approved by past or present members or management of the band.
Genesis: The Gabriel Era 7.25
‘Genesis: The Gabriel Era’ is not much of a documentary in the traditional sense. One doesn’t really get a history of the band as a unit, or its members as people. It’s mostly about the albums themselves. This is typical of this DVD series, unlike the ‘Classic Albums’ series, which is authorized by the artists it covers.
Thankfully, they delve into all the albums relatively well. Likely for legal reasons, they didn’t show the album covers completely, resorting instead to close-ups of some of the artwork, as the commentators spent a brief time discussing the artist who created them and the impression they made. It’s strange to discuss something you can’t show off.
‘The Gabriel Era’ is split in two parts of a little under an hour. I suspect that these were television programmes of some sort that were thrown together on DVD for a few quick bucks, otherwise there’s no sense in breaking them apart in 55 minute chunks – especially since both parts feature the same commentators and concert footage throughout.
Watching Peter Gabriel do his thing was quite a sight, even for my buddy who is a blooming fan of Genesis: from his strange makeup, to his peculiar hairdo, old man mask, fox head with red dress, bizarre dances, unique vocal stylings and ponderous storytelling intros to some songs, he made for quite the unique frontman for any band. No wonder he made a reputation for himself as a live act.
It”s funny, but I got this impression that the rest of the band was sort of waiting for him to move on to something else; they almost seemed detached from his shenanigans, like a super-talented backing band that can’t stand out from the shadows of its grand-standing lead(s) (not unlike The Blue Brothers Band, for instance). They waited patiently, but they didn’t seem to dig or be amused by it.
Meanwhile, Phil Collins looked like he was doing his grocery list in his head whilst drumming. Either it speaks to his talent (and skill at multi-tasking!), or it says something about his attitude. I wasn’t impressed – I would have expected some life coming from him, if only because he’s the drummer and I’m used to feeling the energy coming from there. John Bonham or Ian Paice, for instance, wouldn’t be sleeping behind the kit that way. Heck, even Ringo wouldn’t be.
Most of the footage comes from two concerts, circa 1973 and 1974 but there’s enough of it to fill the programme and give one a sense of what the band was like at the time. Thank goodness for that because, unfortunately, the only recorded music that is featured on these programmes are reproductions done by a no-name keyboardist, who proceeded to explain the technique behind the music.
Aside from his technical mumbo-jumbo, most of what was discussed is extremely subjective and lacks depth. A few of the commentators contradicted each other, which could be frustrating for the Genesis novice trying to get a sense of the band. Still, they managed to convey a true appreciation of the material and the band, so that (combined with the live footage) is enough to do the trick.
Personally, I knew virtually nothing about Genesis before this, so learning about the Gabriel era -even in sketchy details- was interesting to me – especially since I’ve been exploring his solo career lately. Sure, there were no period interviews, and there was very little historical background, but it was nice first look at the band for someone who is slightly curious. For the true fan, however, I suspect that it would mostly be vacant retread.