Tuesday, December 15, 2020

'It's only knock and know all, but I like it'

One day in the fall of 1974, co-worker and regular concert pal Marty Bauer told me we should go to the Ambassador Theater the Sunday before Thanksgiving to see Genesis. Marty and I had become fast friends working side-by-side in that machine shop in Ballwin, MO, where I was biding my time between high school and college. We spent most of our workdays sharing our growing musical knowledge, taking a break in our discussion every now and then to focus on fire-testing those freshly made acetylene-torch heads soon to be shipped out the factory door.

By that time, Marty and I were exploring and exchanging thoughts on the progressive rock coming out of the UK and Germany hitting our shores like a tidal wave. I knew nothing about Genesis other than that track with the cool extended piano intro that had been in KSHE's rotation for a time. But my unfamiliarity wasn't going to stop me. I had at least heard of the band, Marty connected the group to the song "Firth of Fifth" for me, and I trusted his instinct completely that a Genesis show would be a great way to spend an evening of prog discovery. I eagerly accepted his invitation, not thinking much at all about what I should expect.

The night of the show, we entered the beautiful old converted movie house and made our way to our seats probably 15 or so rows back, slightly toward stage left. Resting on each seat was a playbill that I recall as a folded, slick-paper reproduction of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway album cover, possibly with some alterations to fit the live setting. I am certain the front cover of the album and the inside gatefold were there, but the back page may have been something other than the back cover of the album. I didn't have the foresight to hold onto that thing, and I haven't been able to find a reference to it anywhere online.

A few minutes after we took our seats, all the theater lights went down, and a few seconds later, a 15-foot-tall silhouette of a man in a cape with bat wings for ears appeared on the curtain to tell us that the band had just released a new album that told the story of Rael, etc., and that we would be hearing the album in its entirety, start to finish. Ahhh, OK, I thought, that was a really cool effect. This being a peak time for concept albums, especially from prog musicians, I was ready for whatever these people wanted to toss my way. Let's go.

And a lot of things were tossed. Three video screens up high at the back of the stage flashed story-enhancing images all evening long. A tight, well-rehearsed band of four stationary musicians were planted around the stage. And this lead singer, rocking an incredibly dynamic voice, reflective eye shadow and a greaser outfit that could have been worn by Bowzer of Sha Na Na, bounced and ran and skipped and slid all around the stage as a one-man kabuki theater.

And there were costumes. And head gear. And lighting effects, and smoke bombs and all kinds of visual shit. 

And the whole time, the four instrumentalists pretty much stayed out of the way, busy providing their killer soundtrack to this spectacle. The lead guitarist, for goodness sake, remained seated off to the side in what I assume was a comfortable little chair, ripping out an agressive killer riff now and then. I'd never seen anything like this madness. I was mesmerized. It was crazy.

"The Colony of Slippermen." By tony morelli - genesis 11/20/74, CC BY-SA 2.0

I walked out of that show completely awestruck. Of course, I made a stop by the record shop on my way home from work that next day to pick up a copy of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. And I devoured that album for months. Love it to this day. I quickly caught up to what had gone before in the Genesis catalog. I was heartbroken at the news soon after that Peter Gabriel was leaving the band at tour's end, that in fact he and his bandmates decided before the tour started that it would be his swan song.

But no problem: It worked out pretty well for everybody. We all know what happened with Gabriel and Genesis after that. Genesis and Phil Collins became monster hitmakers for several years in the 1980s. Gabriel went on to become one of the most influential musicians and important human-rights activists on the planet. Guitarist Steve Hackett, who left not long after Gabriel did, has had a good career as a solo artist and record producer. I'll have a bit to say about all of that as Geezerology moves forward.

See for yourself, kind of: For decades, I was so sad that Genesis never taped any of those shows on the Lamb tour, and that I would never be able to go back and see it again. But YouTube has helped fill that emptiness to some degree.

A few fans have cobbled together long-form videos using the audio from a show in Los Angeles that appeared on the Genesis Archives box set. The visuals generally consist of still photographs and a few amateur video clips that have surfaced here and there. Here is a link to the best one I have found.

Also, a Genesis tribute band called The Musical Box toured several years back with a recreation of the Lamb show. Gabriel worked with them as a staging adviser to some degree, and I heard an interview with Collins in which he said he saw the show and loved it. I have watched it a few times, and it does match up pretty closely with my memories.

The stage setting looks exactly like I remember it, the only difference being that Michael Rutherford does not play the double-neck Rickenbacker bass guitar left-handed. The singer doesn't have Gabriel's vocal range, and his voice is noticeably thinner. But he seems to have Gabriel's choreography and body language down pat as far as I can tell. Here's a link to a video to the full show. Obviously, it doesn't have the impact you would have inside the theater 15 rows from the stage. But it gives a pretty good idea of what this was.

A thought on the album: This piece originally was a Facebook post discussing the album. But I rewrote it as a concert memory because that concert was the most important piece of my personal history with Genesis and Gabriel. I love the album, and it was my first exposure to Genesis' catalog. But in retrospect, it is not the album I would recommend to someone seeking an entry into the Gabriel-era Genesis catalog. It's so different than what we now think of as the classic Genesis sound. It does feel in some ways more like a Gabriel solo effort than a Genesis album. And it does come off in some degree as a soundtrack instead of a typical catalog studio album. But I have never nor will I ever be able to judge The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway as an album on its own terms. To me, it will always be attached to that stage show that so threw me for a loop. So I will have to leave it to others to critique and discuss this album as a work of art unto itself.

By the way, the title of this post is the last line Gabriel sang as he vanished from the stage in a burst of light and smoke. (It is the last line of the album's closing track, "It," obviously a nod to The Rolling Stones' hit song released earlier in 1974.)

One more note: I left home a few weeks after seeing that show with Marty, moving across the state to Springfield to attend college. I cannot recall if I ever saw or spoke to Marty again after that, in January 1975. I do know that I have tried to look him up on social media and in other ways a couple times in the past few years to no avail. So I have no idea whatever became of him. Marty, if by some miracle you see this blog post, look me up. I'd be ecstatic to hear from you. But just know that you will forever have my gratitude for suggesting we go to that Genesis concert.


  1. This evening, two prog-nerd buddies and I are getting together for a monthly album listen get together we do, typically centered on albums celebrating their 50 year anniversaries. Tonight, as the resident Genesis fanatic in our group, I'm excited to be tackling this masterpiece of an album.

    In the course of refreshing myself on the history around the Lamb, I came across your blog here. Thank you. I only wish I could have a memory like this of the show you describe (as I was only 2 years old at the time). I have had the privilege of seeing Collins era Genesis twice, Peter Gabriel solo twice, a Hackett Genesis Revisted show twice (SEBTP and Seconds Out), then fortunate to catch the Musical Box on their last ever tour of the Lamb.

    Anyway (one of my favorite tracks), just wanted to express my appreciation for your memories and thoughts on this great album. Hope you can reconnect with Marty one of these days.

    It's only knock and I may be a knowall... But I like it ;-)

  2. Peteycat, thank you for stopping by. And thank you for reviving this for me. Enjoy your listen to The Lamb. This album will always hold a special place in my heart because of the mind-blowing experience of the stage show.

    1. Made for a very enjoyable evening indeed. They don't make stage shows like that anymore (if anyone else ever came close).

      If you have an idle afternoon, you should check out the illustrated version this guy, Nathaniel Barlam, has created (https://nathanielbarlam.com/comics/the-lamb-lies-down-on-broadway). Bit literally interpreted, but quite well done and adds an interesting dimension to experiencing the Lamb. He's also illustrated Suppers Ready and some other Genesis tunes.

    2. I have watched those illustrated bits on YouTube. Good stuff.


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