November 9th, 2011
A couple weekends ago my partner, The Dulcinea, and I caught The Musical Box at the Pabst in Milwaukee. They were doing The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway again and I’d seen them do it back in 2005 while she had never seen them do The Lamb previously.
This time around I paid more attention to the theatrical part of the concert. Having seen it already before, the novelty of it was gone and I was able to concentrate a bit more on the presentation because I wasn’t sitting there thinking, “Holy fuck! This is what the legend is all about.” I came away with an even greater appreciation for both the Lamb concerts as rock theatre and the album as a story.
First let me get a purely musical thing out of the way. The air in the theatre was electric before the band went onstage and this feeling was dramatically heightened when the lights went down, the New York skyline appeared on the screens at the back of the stage, and the piano opening of the title track began. It’s a rather innocuous way to begin a 90+ minute musical journey and I say “journey” because, for me, The Lamb is one. It’s not simply a concept album where the songs tread a common thematic ground but rather one with a narrative, however odd it may be. So you have this down the rabbit hole kind of moment at the beginning. But what really sent shivers up my spine was when the “pharoahs going down the Nile” jam on “Fly on a Windshield” kicked in. The opening of the song is quiet yet tense. The pictures of New York are folded back like the pages of a book. “And I’m hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freeway…” Lights go out and BAM! The drums crash in. That Mellotron string sound cuts the air and the bass pedals make your whole body shake. You feel them. Every part of your body feels them. I absolutely love this song and think that, live, it is simply amazing.
Moving onto the theatrics of the show, there’s really a lot going on in addition to the slides and costumes. To begin with, there are risers at the back on either side of the stage and Denis Gagné would alternately sing from both of them. It wasn’t until this second go-round that figured out that this fits into the theme of the album, i.e. – Rael finding another side of himself or whatever it is that The Lamb is about. I didn’t pay enough attention to discern whether or not the side of the stage he sings from correlates to something in the lyrics which would indicate we’re hearing the tough kid Rael or another side of him. Regardless, I think it reinforces the notion of Rael having more than one side to him.
“The Waiting Room” is quite remarkable live. Once the free form evil jam ends and the melodic part takes over, some very bright white lights at the foot of the stage come on. Since they’re pointed at the audience, it is rather hard to see. I had to look away. This simple lighting setup illustrates the lyric from “Lilywhite Lilith” – “Two golden globes float into the room/And a blaze of white light fills the air.” Gagné then dons a Lamia costume and does a little routine in the center screen. You can see it unfold in below but the video doesn’t do it justice. The lights truly are disorientating and, combined with the spooky music and the costume, the performance creates this mini gesamtkunstwerk moment that moves it away from a standard rock concert. The lights caused my eyes to tear up and they darted around looking for view of the stage that didn’t involve staring into them. Combined with the loud music that dominated my hearing, it was, like I said, really disorientating. So, when the Lamia appears on the screen, it was genuinely creepy.
During “Back in NYC” Gagné picks up a bottle as he sings ” When I take out my bottle, filled up high with gasoline” he picks up a bottle from the drum riser and, after finishing the verse, throws it at the prop at the back of the stage which looks like a rock formation. Now, when it lands, there’s supposed to be a flash of light and a small explosion that emanates from the rock. At the Milwaukee show, a flash went off before he threw the bottle and there was no flame.
Now, The Musical Box recreates the experience of old Genesis shows but I’ve also heard that they occasionally throw in some of the mistakes that actually happened back in the day. But unlike, say, Dark Star Orchestra, I don’t think TMB actually attempt to recreate individual concerts. For example, Peter Gabriel face-planted during the performance on 10 April 1975. Now, if Gagné were to do the same thing at the same point (during “And the lamb lies down…”) I wouldn’t expect the rest of the show to be a replica of the way Genesis played that night. Or should I?
Along these same lines, IT didn’t end with Gagné on one riser and a dummy on the other. How often was that done back in the day? Or has my memory failed me? I thought that that was the standard ending of the show and one infamous night a naked roadie took the place of the mannequin. And they included “The Musical Box” in the main set with “Watcher of the Skies” as the encore. I don’t think they did that very often. I’ve gotta say, it was a blast to hundreds of people sing “Why don’t you touch me, touch me…”
Overall, it was quite simply a remarkable experience. The costumes, the slides, the set piece, and, above all, the music just take you away into the world of the story.
Lastly, I want to mention that I saw a woman at the show who was wearing Gabriel’s flower costume. Pretty silck. Now, if we could just get someone to wearing a homemade Slipperman outfit, we’d be set.