With a cane in his left hand, he hobbled to a swivel chair and plopped down like a bespectacled, unshaven grandpa ready to watch a football game on television.
That was how Phil Collins, one of the most ubiquitous pop musicmakers of the 1980s, made his entrance Sunday night at sold-out Target Center in Minneapolis.
“I know I said I wouldn’t be doing this anymore,” Collins explained before he sang a note. “The truth is that I missed you.”
Then the veteran rocker set the ground rules for his first Twin Cities appearance since 1992 (when he was with Genesis) on his first solo trek since his 2005 farewell tour. “I’ll be sitting down,” he continued. “I had back surgery. My foot’s hurt. It sucks getting old.”
He’s 67, same age as Sting, the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, all of whom have commanded Twin Cities stages this year. With nerve damage, Collins is more comparable to, say, Mötley Crüe guitarist Mick Mars or Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, rockers who make concessions in concert to accommodate for permanent ailments.
In any case, Collins is calling this his Not Dead Yet Tour, a tip of the hat to the title of his 2016 autobiography. And he’s right. He’s alive, in good spirits, full of self-deprecating humor and singing with force and conviction, even if his voice is thinner and more pinched.
Most impressively, he’s leading one terrific 14-member band. The Vine Street Horns, who have been touring with him since 1994, spiced many tunes with the right mixture of invigorating funk and imaginative jazz. Similarly, four soulful backup singers provided the right kind of seasoning on a variety of selections.
Guitarist Daryl Stuermer, who has toured with Collins’ group Genesis for 40 years, offered the occasional restrained flourish. Leland Sklar, perhaps best known for his work with James Taylor, delivered effortless funk on bass.
But the real discovery — and treat — of this band was the drummer, Nic Collins, the bandleader’s 17-year-old son. Sporting black Converse high-tops like EveryTeen Boy, he performed beyond his years, with precision, power and finesse. He nailed the signature Collins’ drum break on “In the Air Tonight.” He’s definitely a chip off the old block, not only inheriting his dad’s musical talent but also his eyes and eyebrows, albeit not his hairline.
While Phil, once a prodigious prog-rock drummer in Rock Hall of Famers Genesis, is no longer able to handle drumsticks, he showed his mastery of rhythms as his hands beat a woodblock while Nic and percussionist Richie Garcia banged cajons during a drum trio. Their two-minute threesome was an emotional high point, following Nic’s outstanding five-minute solo on his full drum kit.
While the musicianship was first-class and Collins’ spirit encouraging, it was still an odd concert. After opening, fittingly, with “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” Collins breezed through two hours of hits, including a trio of Genesis tunes. Seldom has a show with such a high profile — and high prices — lacked a visual focus. With Collins virtually stationary in a chair, there was no compelling performer to watch save for Nic Collins at the back of the stage.
Except for some playful oldies clips during one Genesis number, there was no fun visual footage, unless you get excited by an explosion of confetti and streamers accompanied by “Miami Vice”-inspired pastel colors during “Sussudio.” Collins could have entertained the fans with all the old black-and-white photos of him that he’d shown before the concert. Moreover, at a retrospective show, back stories about songs or anecdotes about events would have been welcomed.
Still, most of the music was rewarding, in the same way that a Steely Dan concert can be. The high-energy Vine Street Horns propelled “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” and “Hang In Long Enough.” Placing his hand on his hip for emphasis, Collins summoned some emphatic soulfulness on “Who Said I Would.” With his hard and insistent singing, “In the Air Tonight” was more vibrant than the recording.
Still, the concert begged for more personality. Collins simply seemed more retiring than he needed — or 13,000 fans wanted him — to be.