Genesis’ 1977 live album Seconds Out is an underrated gem – one of the finest concert documents of the decade, if you are a fan of progressive (or “prog”) rock and its layers of complexity, the instrumental prowess of its players, and the imagination at play in its songwriting. Genesis changed, though, shortly after Seconds Out’s release – guitarist Steve Hackett quit the band, leaving drummer/singer Phil Collins, bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford, and keyboardist Tony Banks to carry on, gradually streamlining and commercializing their sound, eventually becoming one of the biggest bands on the planet within a decade.
Genesis toured behind each of the four studio albums they released in the ‘80s, augmented by guitarist/bassist Darryl Stuermer and drummer Chester Thompson and releasing live recordings (on both record and video) that documented those jaunts and the band’s excellence onstage. Here are some highlights from those recordings – the best of Genesis in concert that decade.
“Turn It On Again” (from Three Sides Live, 1981): On subsequent tours through the remainder of the ‘80s, “Turn It On Again” became the basis of a kitschy medley of oldies covers and a display of Phil Collins’ evolution into a grinning, gregarious front man – part bandleader, part goofy TV personality (the likes of which he would one day play on an episode of Miami Vice). The version on Three Sides Live presents the song as it was originally intended – a dark but sympathetic portrait of a man both haunted by and in love with the figures he sees on his television. It kicks off the set as a thumpy, driving crowd-pleaser, which, of course, was also as originally intended.
“Home By the Sea / Second Home By the Sea” (from The Mama Tour, 1985): Genesis were on the cusp of becoming pop stars when they brought their tour supporting their 1983 self-titled album to a close, with a five-night run at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, UK in February 1984. “That’s All” had become a worldwide hit, including in the U.S., where it was the band’s first Top 10 single; Phil Collins’ solo career was likewise trending upward, and would soon eclipse that of the band. Longtime fans, though, could be comforted by this two-part prog epic at the end of Side 1 of Genesis, and attendees at Birmingham got a great performance of the tracks.
“Abacab” (from Live at Wembley, 1988): At the absolute peak of their popularity, Genesis staged a four-night stand at Wembley Stadium, July 1-4, 1987, and brought their A game to the venue and the 300,000 fans that attended, across all four shows. Each night began with the title track of their eleventh studio album, blasting forth from the stage at breakneck speed, followed by a roughly four-minute instrumental outro, to give the prog fans something to salivate over, right from the jump.
“Follow You, Follow Me” (from Three Sides Live, 1981): Though Three Sides Live has its share of extended instrumentals and some thorny but cool material from early Genesis records ("The Fountain of Salmacis," anyone?), it’s hard to discuss their best ‘80s live material without mentioning this blissful ballad, which closed out Side 2 on the original live album. When the song originally came out in 1978, it was startling to hear Genesis sounding so sentimental, so romantic. Two years later, from the stage at London’s Lyceum Theater, one might imagine the band looking out at more than a few couples for whom “Follow You, Follow Me” was their song, and a whole new stream of possibilities lay before them.
Want more live Genesis to listen to? In March, BBC Broadcasts, an extensive collection of broadcast material curated by founder member Tony Banks and the group’s long-time engineer and producer Nick Davis, will be available through Rhino Records as a 53-track 5-CD set and 24-track triple LP.