It may be over 20 years since his last tour but this was one night worth waiting for. Phil Collins, the singer/songwriter/drummer/producer/multi-instrumentalist, award winner, with hundreds of millions of records sold, gave Sydney such a beautiful performance on Monday night at the Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, that it has made the rest of the working week that much more palatable. With his successful solo career, his years with the band Genesis, the albums he has helped produce, and play drums on, for other artists, including Adam Ant’s ‘Strip’ (yes, I’m a liner notes reader from way back), you would be hard pressed to find many humans across the planet that haven’t listened to this man somewhere. Over the last 50 years, Collins’ incredible career and legacy has influenced many new-era artists as his musical tentacles stretch far and wide.
This was such a hard ticket to snaffle good seats for that it just shows the love that Australians have for Collins and the anticipation and support that is still there after so many decades. It was quite touching. Sydney, you brought your best for this Monday night gig and Collins rewarded you with a stunning and memorable evening.
Two hours before Collins was due to hit the stage, Qudos was buzzing and there were fans everywhere. It was a very happy, pumped-up crowd, mingling, purchasing merchandise and preparing for a night of Collins magic. This enthusiasm didn’t wane until the last note was played. The venue was virtually jam packed by the time Collins carefully entered and sat at a solitary chair front of stage. It didn’t matter that he had a walking stick due to back surgery, as his voice, candor and charm just lit up the arena. The Sydney fans cheering, whistling and jumping out of their seats as we hear the start of one of my favourites in the history of love songs, the raw ‘Against All Odds’.
How do you not shed a tear as you hear those first bars? Impossible. Collins has a way of making you feel, without all the schmaltz, unlike some artists whose songs seem forced and lack emotion. You know what you are getting here as all the layers have been peeled and it’s just natural, unadulterated emotion. As I’m trying not to reach for a tissue, I reflect back to when mixed tapes were out, and it was all about ‘burnings discs’, and my first ‘Love Songs 1‘ disc compilation included this gorgeous song. How could it not? And there’s never a better excuse to watch Jeff Bridges in his movie prime either, just one more time, as those credits roll and two people in love stare intently at each other.
We move from love to reality when the poignant ‘Another Day In Paradise’ begins. The band and Collins’ voice are literally perfection, not a note or vocal are out of place. Everyone is glowing as we move through ‘I Missed Again’ and ‘Hang In Long Enough’. There are so many choices for this setlist that spans across many decades. We are then treated to some Genesis gems: ‘Throwing It All Away’ and ‘Follow You Follow Me’. Sydney is like putty in Collins’ hands, absorbing every morsel and wondering if some of their favourite songs will make the cut as the night progresses.
More gorgeous live versions of tracks including ‘Can’t Turn Back The Years’, ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Who Said I Would’, filling the arena with this faultless and impeccable sound, and the killer brass section just raises the bar. A stirring duet of ‘Separate Lives’, with one of Collins’ brilliant back up singers, takes us into a realm of calm and despair, the two working with and against each other as, lyrically, a couple are questioning their existence to live as two instead of one. Exquisite! Real love songs that tear and soothe at the same time, Collins does this so well.
A sensational drum trio then surged the venue into a frantic tempo. Including 17 year old Nicholas (Collins’ son), a percussionist and Collins himself, this was a show of talent and skill which then paved the way for a cracker intro and performance of ‘Something Happened On The Way To Heaven’. The fans jump up and it’s dancing time again before we are brought back to another duet now with Collins, and son Nicholas on piano, for the song ‘You Know What I Mean’. A song chosen by Nicholas as Collins tells us in jest ‘He likes one of my songs, just one…’ and what a song he has chosen, short but straight to the heart, again.
Our next song caused a frenzy as the first notes just floated slowly across the venue. Another masterpiece, ‘In The Air Tonight’ … I can only say this was epic and had such an effect when played live; atmospheric, intense but smooth. Collins just creates such depth musically and lyrically with these stories that unfold and draw you in. What an experience this night has been, I just can’t wait to see what other little treasures are coming our way. Then we hear those familiar drums and tambourine, yes, I love Collins’ cover of the Supremes ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. His voice mastering this Motown classic as Sydney’s faithful shake their booties once more. This doesn’t stop as ‘Dance Into The Light’ is up next and Genesis classic ‘Invisible Touch’. We are being indulged here, and we love it.
After praying it would make the list tonight, I almost lose myself as this next song begins. ‘Easy Lover‘, the Philip Bailey/Collins 80’s staple, is one of my all time favourites and my 9 year old self is just bursting with contentment, so thank you Collins, you have already made my year. And of course, I’m not the only one, Sydney is going nuts and the mayhem goes up another notch as yet another classic ‘Sussudio’ blasts from the stage, those brass maestro’s feeding the mania. An ideal finale before streamers drape the arena and Collins and band get their first standing ovation.
Such a glorious night of Collins music, it’s bittersweet to have ‘Take Me Home’ as our encore, as no one wants to actually go home. Sydney is in utter admiration as a second ovation sweeps across Qudos and we all try to gauge how special this performance is. These are nights that stay with you for eternity, and then re-emerge in goosebumps as memories come back while you listen to Collins in your everyday life. ‘Not Dead Yet’ may be the concert tour title, named after Collins’ autobiography, but it should be re-worded to ‘Alive and Brilliant’ as that is what Collins has given us and more. Totally unforgettable!