Using a cane, the 68-year-old Phil Collins walked to a black chair near the front of the stage at the Pepsi Center Sunday night and told the audience that he’d be sitting down for most of the show.
“It’s just back surgery and the foot’s fucked,” he said. “Just generally bits falling off…”
What he didn’t tell the crowd was that in addition to a back operation causing “drop foot,” making it difficult to walk, Collins underwent an operation a decade ago to repair a dislocated vertebra, leading to nerve problems in his hands that has made it hard for him to play the drums. If that wasn't enough, about six years ago, Collins almost died from acute pancreatitis brought on by heavy drinking after his third marriage failed.
While Collins covers that and a whole lot more in his 2016 autobiography, Not Dead Yet, after which his current tour is named, you’d think that a guy who’s had a fairly rough go over the past decade might throw in the towel. He doesn’t need to prove anything. He’s spent the past five decades doing just that, starting with Genesis and then with a storied forty-year solo career.
But he wanted to tour again, and judging from a nearly full house at the Pepsi Center, people still want to see him live, like the middle-aged blonde woman near me who danced to every song as if Sunday night was her last chance to see Collins.
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Before Collins came on stage, Malian Afro-pop singer Salif Keita’s song “Souareba” played over the house system. His band set up behind a screen near the front of the stage as photos of Collins projected onto large screens. While the snapshots showed Collins in various eras of his careers, it almost felt like the kind of thing you’d see at someone’s memorial.
But Sunday’s show was far from a funeral. Instead, it was a celebration of Collins’s hearty contributions to the music world. Armed with a fourteen-piece band, he focused mainly on his solo output while also including two back-to-back Genesis songs early in the two-hour set (“Throwing It All Away” and “Follow You Follow Me”) and “Invisible Touch” near the end.
Vine Street Horns (trumpeters Harry Kim and Dan Fornero, alto saxophonist George Shelby and trombonist Luis Bonilla) helped punch up songs from 1985’s No Jacket Required and 1989’s …But Seriously, particularly the energetic R&B tracks “Hang in Long Enough” and “Don’t Lose My Number,” on which Collins played air drums alongside his eighteen-year-old son, Nicholas, who helped propel songs all night at the Pepsi Center.
Also on board with Collins for this tour is guitarist Daryl Stuermer, who’s been with Collins and Genesis for four decades; rhythm guitarist Ronnie Carroll, who’s played with Collins for 55 years; longtime bassist Leland Sklar; keyboardist Brad Cole, who started up with Collins thirty years ago; and percussionist Richie “the Octopus” Garcia.
While Collins fought with the high notes at times, backup singers Arnold McCuller, Amy Keys, Bridgette Bryant and Lamont van Hook filled the songs wonderfully, sometimes even overpowering Collins as he sang from his chair.
About midway through the set, Nicholas Collins and Garcia played off one another. Then the two stepped off the riser and sat on two cajones (Peruvian box drums) on either side of Collins while he tapped out rhythms with his fingers on a third cajón. Although Collins might not be able to play a drum kit anymore, it was great seeing him in this percussion trio.
After the R&B-tinged “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven,” Collins told the audience that when he started talking about doing this tour two years ago, knowing Nicholas would be joining him on drums, he thought it would be a good idea for his son to listen to some of his old records.
“I made him go out and buy them, and he listened to them and found a song he liked — just one,” Collins said. "And from an old album, Face Value, long time ago. He asked me if I could teach it to him.”
But Collins said he didn’t remember how to play the song, “You Know What I Mean.” (“I don’t even remember what I did yesterday,” he joked.) Instead, Nicholas taught himself how to play the song on piano.
“Now it’s one of my slow, boring songs,” Collins said, causing some in the audience to laugh. “There’s nothing funny in that, either. It’s not a long song, so if you don’t like it, it will be over quite quickly.”
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While it was charming to see father and son at the piano, it was, indeed, over in a flash. Then the stage darkened and filled with fog while blue stage lights made for an atmospheric start to one of Collins’s biggest hits, “In the Air Tonight." It was the only song of the night that Collins stood to sing. His son played the drum solo that Collins made legendary all those years ago.
A few songs later, Collins took more of a backup-singer role on Denver native Philip Bailey’s “Easy Lover,” with Keys and McCuller singing Bailey’s parts. Confetti and streamers shot over the stage during the opening chords of “Sussudio," and Collins closed out the night with a triumphant take on “Take Me Home” with the crowd singing along.
Although Collins spent most of the night in his chair, it didn’t prevent him from delivering an uplifting show that was entertaining as hell. There’s a good chance that most of the 18,000 or so fans at the Pepsi Center on Sunday were glad that Collins isn’t dead yet, either.