SAN FRANCISCO — Phil Collins can still defy expectations.
The rock star who never behaved like one. The prog rock drummer who wrote and sang more pop hits than all drummers from all musical genres since the beginning of time. The MTV star who looked more like the everyday, average bald guy holding up the end of the bar at the neighborhood pub. The vocalist who took Genesis to heights of popularity even the great Peter Cabriel couldn’t.
But when the lights dropped and the 68-year-old British legend hobbled out to the middle of stage at Chase Center on Thursday night, propped up by a cane, it looked like the beginning of an uncomfortable evening. Age catches up with everyone, but not jolly Phil Collins—right?
Well … yes, and no. This run of shows is called the “Still Not Dead Yet” tour, after all.
Collins, of course, is not the musical dynamo he used to be. He didn’t play drums and barely even stood up over nearly two hours. His fans didn’t care and neither did he, and once everyone understood the dynamics of just being in the same (large) room with a musical legend, listening to him sing the songs he made famous, nothing else mattered.
It helped that he was with a locked-tight band whose core members have been with him since dinosaurs seemingly walked the Earth, outside of the fast and fluid 18-year-old drummer named Nicholas Collins, who happens to be Phil’s son. He’s only been part of the band since he was 16. “I was 43,” the older Collins quipped.
Yes, Collins’ voice sounded a bit pinched, but he still has his sense of humor and the aura of a man who not only enjoys himself, but makes it impossible not to enjoy being around him. He started slow, with “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” and “Another Day in Paradise.” His physical issues, which include a surgically repaired back and a bad foot, seemed front and center. Though he promised everyone a fun evening, his initial delivery was dimunitive and he looked pedestrian, even for a guy parked in a swivel chair all night. It looked like the curse of the aging solo act, who sputters out with no one to whom he can defer. Everyone was there to see him, period, despite having 14 other people on stage with him.
But Collins kept rolling through the hits (and there were a lot of them) and things got better. Slowly, the music fought through and the show ended up working pretty well. Collins is still funny and engaging, whether he’s questioning what’s behind the size of the horn section’s instruments or watching the old clips of Genesis on the video screens during “Follow You Follow Me.”
The show’s high point was Collins deferring to Nicholas and percussionist Luis Conte for a wild synchronized percussion duel that eventually saw both of them coming out to sit with Collins and play amplified cajons. It drove the energy up, especially once Collins showed his hands aren’t lagging behind with the rest of his body. Another highlight was Collins bringing Nicholas out to accompany him on piano on “You Know What I Mean,” which Collins said the son requested to be included on the tour.
“He found a song he liked,” Collins said, prompting Nicholas to hold up a single finger. “One song.”
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Nicholas returned to the drums and his father found some strength to stand up for a big version of “In the Air Tonight,” through a stage shrouded in purple mist. Collins kept momentum through “You Can’t Hurry Love.” The evening ended with “Easy Lover,” “Sussudio” and appropriate encore “Take Me Home.”
Collins sent his fans home happy through personality and sheer overwhelming weight of hit songs. Whether he can do it again—or once more with Genesis, as he seemed to hint at one point—is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t seem likely, but so is betting against him.