Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 5, 2014)
After original singer Peter Gabriel left in 1975 and drummer Phil Collins took over that position, Genesis slowly transformed from a quirky, artsy Prog Rock band to a more pop-oriented group. By 1986’s mega-hit Invisible Touch, the Prog elements remained but the pop sensibility dominated.
This means that Genesis circa the early Eighties presented a band in transition, as they’d not gone totally pop yet but they clearly trotted down that path. It’s this stage of the band’s evolution that we view in Three Sides Live, a concert program taken from Genesis’s 1981 tour.
Undertaken to support that year’s Abacab, the program’s 12 tracks come from various parts of the band’s tenure. From Abacab itself, we find the title song, “Dodo/Lurker”, “No Reply At All”, “Who Dunnit?”, “Me and Sarah Jane” and “Man on the Corner”. 1980’s Duke produces an additional four tunes: “Behind The Lines”, “Duchess”, “Turn It On Again” and “Misunderstanding”.
With 10 of the 12 spots occupied by those two then-recent albums, we get only two places to account for the rest of the band’s existence. “Afterglow” comes from 1977’s Wind & Wuthering, and a medley covers songs from the Peter Gabriel era. It melds 1974’s “In the Cage” and “The Colony of Slippermen” (The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) with 1973’s “The Cinema Show” (Selling England By the Pound).
Three Sides Live takes its title from the band’s 1982 double album, one that indeed included three sides of live material – in the US, at least, where the fourth side included a handful of studio numbers. In the UK, the album presented four sides of live material, which makes me wonder why it still got called Three Sides Live in that territory.
Whatever the case, all versions of Three Sides shared this film edition’s concentration on the Abacab tour, though Three Sides the Blu-ray is the only one to focus entirely on that trek. As mentioned, the US Three Sides album included one side of studio songs, while the UK Three Sides used a few numbers recorded on earlier tours.
While the album versions of Three Sides always present the songs in their entirety, the filmed one occasionally cuts away from the stage. For instance, we see Phil Collins chat with a Philadelphia radio host, and we also watch some backstage interactions and other non-concert material.
This can become a bit of a distraction at times, mainly on the occasions where the interstitials directly interfere with the on-stage performances. That doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s not a good choice, and I’m not happy that some tracks get shortened even without cuts from the stage.
Still, even with these bad decisions, I find a lot to like about Three Sides. I’ve never been the world’s biggest Genesis fan, but I do like them, and Three Sides focuses on my favorite era of the band, as I think Duke and Abacab offered the best compromises between the band’s Prog past and their pop future. They were still a cult act – albeit one big enough to sell out basketball arenas – and hadn’t achieved true super-stardom yet; that “in-between phase” seemed to suit them, so I like the music of Three Sides a lot.
The tracks get performed well, too. Genesis manages to add life to the songs in a live setting, so they play them in a tight, competent manner but don’t simply reproduce their studio versions without variation. The tunes find some room to breathe and work nicely in the concert venue.
As for the visual depiction of the show, it also satisfies. Created in the very early years of the “MTV era”, director Stuart Orme keeps things fairly restrained. We get the occasional clever-clever bit – like overhead shots of Tony Banks on keyboards – but the program usually seems logical and appropriate.
That doesn’t mean the presentation remains stodgy or static, though. Three Sides shows a good sense of visual energy as it captures the concert. Compared to more modern pieces, it probably looks a little quaint, but I’ll take that over gimmicks and rapid-cutting.
It’d be nice to get an “extended edition” of Three Sides Live to cover the entire concert, if that’s possible – for all I know, no additional footage still exists. Until/unless a longer version gets the greenlight, I’ll remain satisfied with the original 1982 Three Sides. Despite a few dodgy choices, it gives us a good look at Genesis live circa 1981.