The smart and cheesy Genesis take turns

October 3 2007


"We're Genesis," Phil Collins announced early in Tuesday's show at the United Center, the first of a sold-out three-night stand on the reunited British rockers' first tour in 15 years.

''We're your entertainment for the evening. ... And we're going to run through some things from all of the different periods of Genesis.''

Given the band's rich discography and four-decade history -- and its radical shift in the mid-'80s from lush but wildly inventive progressive rock to stripped-down and sometimes simplistic MTV pop -- if the band was going to deliver on its frontman's promise, it was inevitable that we'd be in for a pretty schizophrenic night.

Indeed, at times during the quintet's lengthy performance, it sometimes seemed as if an inferior opening act composed of unabashed poseurs and pop wannabes was alternating with a historic and groundbreaking headliner.

Was that band tossing out dismissible trifles such as ''No Son of Mine,'' ''Land of Confusion'' and ''Hold on My Heart'' really the same group thundering through a (no kidding) breathtakingly brilliant medley of ''In the Cage,'' ''The Cinema Show,'' ''Duke's Travels'' and ''Afterglow''?

How could Collins be so inspiring double-drumming with Chester Thompson during "Behind the Lines" and so moving while singing "Follow You, Follow Me" and "Ripples," but so smarmy and annoying while setting up and then crooning "Home by the Sea"?

And how could the band's co-founders, guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford (who was celebrating his 57th birthday and still looked incredibly cool sporting a doubleneck bass and 12-string guitar) and keyboardist Tony Banks (who may no longer be hauling a Mellotron, but who still plays like a one-man orchestra) fail to recognize the difference between the band in those divergent modes, or try to encourage the good Phil and save us from the cheesy hambone?

At last year's press conference announcing this reunion, Banks said the hope had been to reconvene with original singer Peter Gabriel (which would have kept Collins behind those drums) and guitarist Steve Hackett to perform the 1975 masterpiece "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway." Alas, Gabriel postponed that jaunt for some indefinite time in the future, but the others decided to tour anyway "just for fun" (as well as one of the biggest concert paydays of 2007).

Truth be told, the old boys did seem to be having a blast twisting through the complex time signatures and regal melodies of the more challenging prog material. (Another big highlight here: a thoroughly rousing ''I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).'') But then we'd get a flamboyantly theatrical but otherwise hollow ''Mama'' or a perfunctory reading of another pandering late '80s or early '90s hit, and the spell would be broken.

In the end, Genesis tried to be all things to all of its fans. And for those who really knew what they liked, whether it was the old-school art-rock or the bubblegum pop, it's likely that no one was 100 percent happy -- except for the musicians' accountants.