I am not a Genesis fan. Yet. But I am a recent Peter Gabriel fan who hadn’t explored his back history with one of the world’s most popular prog-rock groups.
Between my all-consuming exploration of Gabriel’s solo works in the last six months, a close friend’s sudden passion for early Genesis, and another friend’s Christmas and birthday gifts to me of ‘A Trick of the Tail’ and ‘Selling England by the Pound’ CDs, it certainly seemed like the right time to get cracking.
But I didn’t know if I would like them. I’m not a big prog-rock fan because those artists frequently trade in heart for head and focus on technical prowess over melody. Still, while I was looking for some Peter Gabriel albums, I discovered that the whole Genesis catalogue had been remixed and remastered to DVD – and, while I wasn’t interested at the time, now I was contemplating it. Seriously. After all, DVD is a marked improvement over CD and, if one is going to explore intricate stuff such as Genesis’ music, this would be the best medium.
In fact, I had my eye on the full 1970-1975 boxed set, which featured ALL the Peter Gabriel stuff from his years with Genesis aside from the first album (due to rights issues). Not only did it have all the studio albums of that era, in both CD and DVD formats, but there was an extra disc of rare tracks as well as HOURS of video footage, including new interviews, and plenty of vintage interviews, footage and concert performances. A whole SEVEN hours’ worth!!!
Having borrowed all of my buddy’s CDs and copied them months ago, I decided to take a quick spin and played the first track from each album – including the two that had been given to me. I thought that this would be a good gauge of my interest. And, even though I was only listening to the music casually, I liked each track and knew that it would be a safe bet – that, even though I may not like everything I hear, this exploration was well worth the price of admission.
So I ordered the set and, as I eagerly awaited, transferred each studio album to my mp3 player and proceeded to listen to all of it – including ‘A Trick of the Tail’, even though it’s not a Peter Gabriel album. I wasn’t a convert, but I was enjoying bits of it – and enough so that I couldn’t wait to sit down and listen to them in a high-resolution format. My gut feeling told me that an mp3 file simply couldn’t do the music justice – especially not tracks like “The Musical Box” or “Supper’s Ready”.
But, beyond this, I was totally stoked to watch all that video footage. I thought that this would be a terrific way to get a proper impression of the band, of their place in history, as people, and as performers. I had recently watched a few critical reviews of Genesis (as detailed in previous posts), but they had left me wanting. Thankfully, my buddy who is on his Genesis trip was as thrilled as I was to explore this material, so we set a date the moment that my boxed set arrived.
True to form, we binged: we spent a whole day watching everything on the boxed set, aside from one 1-hour show that he had already seen, and the “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” slide show – which we only discovered existed well after the fact, while listening to individual tracks in a post-video listening session. It was not only great fun, but I came out of this with a better understanding and deeper appreciation of the group.
The discs included in the boxed set are:
Extra Tracks: 1970-1975: The new interview footage was very brief, and was mostly on the remixing of the albums – not so much on the extra tracks themselves. The performances of “Watcher of the Skies” and “The Musical Box” are dated 1973 and could probably be have been included on ‘Selling England…’. The VH1 special focused on both the boxed set release and the Gabriel years, covering as much ground as they could in 44 minutes. It was fairly average, but insightful enough.
Trespass: the only feature on this disc is a 42 mins interview segment with the band members. It’s very informative stuff because it focuses on that particular era, as well as their origins, at great length.
Nursery Cryme: the only feature on this disc is also an interview segment, this time at about 36 mins in length. By this point it was starting to be apparent that the format was: set-up/situating the audience, dissecting each track on the album, talking about the artwork.
Foxtrot: this time, the interview segment was only 34 mins long (already pretty good considering that it’s focused on only one album), but it was supported by live footage from 1972. One bit was produced for a 30 minute Belgium television programme and the other for Italian TV. The latter is extremely short and also includes a period interview.
Selling England by the Pound: by far the most substantial of the lot, with an interview segment of 32 minutes, plus a terrific full hour show as well as a 34 minute performance and an amusing interview for a 1973 French television programme. I suspect that there is more archive material here because, by this point in their career, the band was popular enough that there was more demand by the media.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: the interview segment for this one is much longer, as the focus is taken away from the album per se and more about the group dynamics at that point, right before the break-up. I was impressed by how civil everyone was, despite their various grievances with that album, accompanying tour and Gabriel’s departure. The TV performance included here highlights just how elaborate Gabriel’s vision was becoming; it looks a bit shoddy by today’s standards but, for an British art-rock band of modest means, it’s pretty good. Another amazing addition to this disc is that the full album is played with the slide show that was originally used on tour, as well as photographs from that era. It makes for quite an enjoyable way to immerse one’s self in the music – as a total experience.
Everyone is involved in the new interviews, which is excellent – and not a given, based on other bands I’ve explored. Unfortunately, all the interviews were done separately so we don’t have any sense of the dynamics between the many parties. Still it’s as complete as it could possibly get, short of getting perspective from critics and fans.
As for the various concert footage, it’s all fairly low quality stuff. Most of it was likely taped on video and there is serious damage to the tapes on some of the shows – so the picture and audio quality isn’t great. But it’s as close as we’ll ever get to seeing the original band perform. And it’s quite something.
So, in the end, even though it took hours upon hours to get through (and this doesn’t even consider the time required to listen to all the music and reading the liner notes!), it was worth every darned second. Granted, it hasn’t made a convert out of me yet, but it provided me with an in-depth look at the band and their music. And that’s the only way to explore an artist or band (forget those $#itty “greatest hits” and “best of” albums – they rarely paint a proper picture ).
I would highly recommend this boxed set to Genesis fans who don’t already have it, as much of the material included here is not available elsewhere (the CD/DVD combos have been released separately, mind you), and for anyone who would like to get to know the band’s earlier days. After all, as pricey as a boxed set is, it’s far cheaper than a concert ticket these days. And I’d much rather have such a massive amount of entertainment for my hard-earned dollar – especially when I can return to it time and again.