The Mission; Napier
Wednesday, February 6
I’ve struggled through many a Mission concert in my time – there’s been some incredible acts, sure, but often the setting, the, erm, “Clientele” – it can be a challenge. The time Ray Charles played there stays with me still; should have been The Best concert, felt, at times like The Worst, but only because of the Great Unwashed on the bank yelling racist obscenities….
It’s barely ever a music-loving crowd that attends. And this was obvious in the days when you could take all your own alcohol in – people would walk for miles with golf-trundlers and stretchy cable-ties securing multiple chili-bins. They’d be cheering the local opening act. Some nobody that won a newspaper competition. They’d be bored, drunk, tired – some ugly combination of two of the three – by the time the main act came on…
But, also, there’s been some great Mission concerts – and not just the ones I was happy to avoid.
Well Phil Collins at The Mission was absolutely the best show I’ve seen there. The best sound. The best light show. The best crowd – no jerks, or they kept themselves quiet at least…
Phil Collins is far older than his 68 years will tell you. He is helped to the stage by a walking stick. He no longer plays drums, cannot hold the sticks, major nerve damage – and the blame goes to surgery, apparently. He looks closer to 78, he looks not only like he’s had a stroke or two but that he’ll likely have one or two more before the encore. But through gritted teeth – this tour is called “Not Dead Yet” (named after his recent memoir) and the opening song is Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) which speaks to his gallows humour – he delivers a set for the ages. A greatest hits show that takes in some deep cuts also, reinforces his place in the canon and features his phenomenal band. They may in fact be covering for him. But seeing is believing. It’s the only way that you’d ever know…
In a wide-ranging set that features the band always, we move through the opening balladry (Against All Odds, Another Day in Paradise) to thrive on horn workouts (I Missed Again, Hang In Long Enough) and feature Genesis faithfuls (Throwing It All Away, Follow You Follow Me) before going into the deep cuts from his most prominent album (No Jacket Required’s Inside Out and Who Said I Would). All the time Collins is on a seat, his 17yo son Nick is subbing for dad on drums, doing a bang-up job too, as it were. And we’re in safe hands right across the stage – Daryl Stuermer on guitar (with Collins on nearly every solo album and a part of the Genesis touring fold since 1977), Lee Sklar (session legend) and a mix and match of players that have been part of Phil’s bands across the years – many appearing on the classic “Seriously Live” era – so we have backing singers for all occasions (from the classy duet on Stephen Bishop’s Separate Lives to the subbing for Philip Bailey on Easy Lover) and son Nicholas comes down to play keys on You Know What I Mean from the classic Collins solo debut, Face Value. That morphs into In The Air Tonight, the song 92% of this audience is there to hear. And they’re treated to a gem – from the lights, to Nick hitting the drum-intro and following fills, to Phil still selling the emotion of the song that is actually an allegory for his first divorce, but is remembered by so many for the urban myth around a literal reading of the ‘drowning’ that takes place in the song.
It has so much drama, it has full impact. Tonight, and in this moment, it’s not just Phil Collins’ best song – it’s probably the best song of all time by anyone ever. People are waving their $50 signature drumsticks in the air, flashing their $10 wristbands from the merch-store.
Elsewhere you’d have read stories about the rain – how people had wished he would have played I Wish It Would Rain Down; subs had punned that jackets were in fact required – but the rain was only something to plague those that had come for anything but the concert. Yes, spirits were dampened, the rain was not what anyone wanted, and Collins joked – before he’d even played a song – that the weather was “fucking awful”, something he could have got at home, something he was trying to escape in fact. But the set he delivered was close to a masterclass.
There was the odd note not accounted for – but that’s no different to any singer in their late sixties singing songs that were made famous when the singer was in their early 30s.
Collins had the best closing-run too – from his cover of You Can’t Hurry Love through mid-90s album, Dance Into The Light’s title track, and on to Genesis’ Invisible Touch, the obligatory Sussudio – aforementioned banger Easy Lover and perennial encore Take Me Home.
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