For almost 20 years now, Montreal's the Musical Box has been re-creating Genesis concerts from the early '70s and paying attention to every last detail in the process. For the current tour, the band will play the 1974 concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Founder Sébastien Lamothe, who plays bass in the group, spoke via phone from his Montreal home about his band's approach. "We do not change, interpret, modify or update the music," he said, adding "we do the songs as Genesis did them." The show has even won approval from Genesis band members, and some Genesis members have performed with the guys over the years.
Forming The Musical Box
We were young musicians and we were great fans of Genesis and very touched by everything they produced in the early '70s. Of course, we were all too young to have witnessed it. The myth grew, and we wanted to get closer to what Genesis was doing then. The only way was for us was to go deeper and research and eventually reproduce it as accurately as we could.
We're not trying to just play Genesis songs or different things that they've been doing. We're reproducing live events that they put on stage at the time. When they would produce a new album, they would go on tour. That's what we're trying to do. We've been reenacting specific live tours from '71 to '76. The shows evolved and changed a lot, and the band would try to incorporate the classic Genesis anthems. They went from being an opening act for Procol Harum and acts like that and very fast took the audience by storm and became the A-listers in a few short years. They're very famous for the theatricals and for rock theater. That was brought in by Peter Gabriel, and that's an important part of the staging of any Genesis show and their signature. For a lot of people, curiosity was the main reason they would attend a show, and all this happened during that period of time. It started in 1972 and evolved until Peter Gabriel left in 1975. I use the term "re-enact." We gave ourselves the mission to have people the chance to see it again or for most people like us, to witness how a Genesis show would be presented, in every little detail.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
It was the last collaborative effort between Gabriel and Genesis. As they started the tour in America, he said he announced to the rest of the band that he would leave at the end of the tour. This was a strange moment for the band. Even writing the album was different from previous efforts. Gabriel was involved in other projects and was having the first baby of the band and things were difficult and he was away while the musical writing was taking part. Then, he came back and imposed this strange and complex story on the rest of the band with a lot of tension. It was a strange moment. It's also a concept story, so you would follow through the concept, and it was supported live by a very complex slide projection system that was created to support the telling of the story. It's a completely different way for Genesis to present the show, and the format of the songs was that they had to be presented just as they are on the album to really tell the story. The songs are not just songs on their own, but parts of the story. When you listen to the album, you can tell that instrumental parts were put there for the purpose for staging. People have criticized that, since some of the pieces are strange and not really songs on their own. I understand that some people don't get it, but they're right that these pieces were put there to help presenting the show. There would be break moments for Peter Gabriel to change into his weird costumes.
The Album's Concept
It's not our role to understand all the complexities and you can see what scholars have written about it on the Internet. The first album is depicting concrete moments in the main character, who lives in New York City and every piece of music is depicting the reality in his difficult life. The second album is more internal, and that's when the imagery becomes less pragmatic and much more personal. Peter Gabriel incorporated mythical images. That's the internal battle of the character and it gets into religion and the music follows as well. The music is much darker, and the format of the songs features instrumental parts. You can tell there's lots of darkness going on.
Licensing the Rights to the Album
We have an exclusive international license to produce The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Peter Gabriel is very protective of it, and to this day has not let anyone other than us perform it. Our license will end in 2013 and this is the last run for The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway for us forever. We are coming to an end and this project will end soon enough. This is the last time to see the show. Genesis will not work on this again. Peter Gabriel for many years was considering using his beloved concept to do something new with it but I think he felt comfortable that we were out there re-enacting it as respectively as we can. We did renew our license a year and a half ago but there won't be another renewal. For us, it's a bit emotional. We're extremely attached to this piece of work but it's time to put this in the past and move on.
All Dressed Up
It's not a secret that this whole thing that Peter Gabriel was the bearer of all publicity. The rest of the group were not too into the costumes. There was a lot of tension from the get-go with the costumes. The members were extremely proud of their music and were trying to push their own limits as musicians. When he brought these new aspects to the live performance, they thought it was taking away from the music. They were not too happy with it. [Genesis drummer] Phil Collins says it was difficult to perform the songs because Peter Gabriel was stuck in his costumes. After having done these shows, I can see how there was some form of frustration. They did feel in some way that because of all the attention Genesis got for the costumes and theater things, it was taking away attention from the music and directing it to the visual. The rest of the band were not too happy with all that stuff. But the costumes were a signature for Genesis concerts.
We can now look back and I can openly say that as musicians trying to re-enact all this, we understand what the original guys went through. Peter Gabriel got a lot of media attention at the time and status that other members did not get. It's always like that for the lead singer of a band. They were not your typical rock band. He was not just a flashy singer. They were part of the progressive British Wave and there was competition between the bands, like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Led Zeppelin. Everybody was going out of their way to implement the new technologies from the early '70s. There was this mentality of trying to break every possible limit to push forward in the live performance.
A High Approval Rating
I'm pretty sure Peter Gabriel's daughters have seen a Selling England by the Pound concert and I think it was in the Bristol, UK. Yes, he commented publicly about how his daughters were finally able to make fun of him for wearing the flower on his head. Other members of Genesis have come to the show. Recently, [guitarist] Steve Hackett has been around quite a lot in the past few years. I think he is reliving a lot of the past and just came up with a Genesis Revisited album where he plays the older songs. I guess he feels like there is still some of core of fans still interested and some revival, at least in the UK. He even performed on stage with us. Phil Collins has played "The Musical Box," and he was nervous and sweating crazy, and that was funny. He was gracious and performed very well. He was unhappy with his own performance, but we told him it was amazing. That was many years ago in Switzerland.
The Album's Enduring Popularity
People go back to fact that nowadays with pop culture and access to everything, it's difficult to be stimulated. Everything is compressed in every possible way, not just the art form but the format itself and how it's composed. Everything has to be in three minutes. Yes, at some point, there's a lack of that kind of product out there nowadays, which makes people want to go back to that kind of music. It's not just nostalgia. It was a very creative period of time in a very localized area. It was the Southern UK that produced all this music. We can count on our hands the people in that wave. It's one that touched most of the audience at a perfect time for concertgoers and record buyers. It was a question of timing and creativity. There are so many aspects to this. The technology was just coming out. Recoding techniques and equipment just exploded, and synthesizers changed the face of music, and these bands were the first ones to be up to date with all these things coming out. That's a personal statement, but to my taste, I just feel the writing is so strong that it aged well. It's not true of a lot of stuff I that I used to listen to in the last 20 years. Genesis has aged well and stood on its own, even as part of a wave of music. People try to include us in a progressive rock movement, and I disappoint them and tell them that I don't like progressive rock. I'm interested in Genesis specifically. The music on its own stands. You can tell it's pure genius. We surprise ourselves listening and re-listening to the songs, and we often turn to one another and say, "My God. How did they come up with that?"