In Genesis’s journey from Gabriel’s Edwardian prog fantasists to Collins’s 80s dad-pop behemoths, they hit one major stumbling block: Abacab. It had been a tentative transition thus far, weaving their way pop-ward through 1976’s dual classics Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering – records with just the right balance of fairy tale and direct melody – and Follow You, Follow Me to reach arguably their finest moment on 1980’s Duke.
That album saw them break America with the 50s teen swing of Misunderstanding and expertly set their 80s synth-pop blueprint with Turn It On Again, without losing touch with their other-worldly storyteller charms. But their first grasp at the mainstream synth-pop nettle, with Abacab in 1981, was, bar the title track and mystical alien yarn Keep It Dark, a messy electronic disaster akin to the internet unravelling.
Three Sides Live, released for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray, captures Genesis during this crucial wobble on fame’s trembling tightrope. Filmed largely at Long Island’s Nassau Colliseum, it starts like a glimpse of a golden age, the powerful two-drummer attack of Phil Collins and Chester Thompson launching into Duke song Behind The Lines like a legendary band hitting the red zone on their creative reactor dials. The interviews dotted between the songs reveal a comfortably united threesome too; they discuss writing as a trio, and Collins looks only marginally exhausted explaining to a radio phone-in caller that Peter Gabriel wasn’t likely to be back in the flower head or gonorrhea costume any time soon.
The problems really arise as the set begins to slide between the sublime and the embarrassing. The wonderful Duchess and a hearty Misunderstanding give way to the goth-ragga misfire Dodo/Lurker, Collins conducting Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks with a drumstick as if willing the band’s classical prog bedrock to merge seamlessly with a new synthetic age that, at this point, it wouldn’t bend to fit.
No Reply At All is over-wrought beach pop, but worst of all is the atrocious playground twaddle of Who Dunnit, the song where The Who’s Tommy’s Holiday Camp meets Devo, and Collins mimes arresting himself while doing the world’s fastest Ian Dury impression. Heaven knows how corrupted the footage of Follow You, Follow Me must have been for the editors to leave it out for this.
By contrast, the Gabriel-period medley of In The Cage, The Cinema Show and Slippermen sounds even more magical, the sumptuous Afterglow is a stratospheric showstopper and Turn It On Again their solid gold encore for the coming decade. They’d soon find their feet in the stadium pop league with 1983’s sublime self-titled album, but here is where they very nearly lost their (invisible) touch./o:p