Denis Gagné of The Musical Box, at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, March 8, 2018 - photo by Sal Serio
I’ve made no bones about my criticism of tribute bands, but like all subjects, you can’t just draw an all-encompassing conclusion without taking in to account the outliers. Every situation needs to be considered individually to determine it’s own merits, which are sometimes overtly evident, and other times masked in nuance.
My primary criticism about tribute bands and their relation to the local Madison music community (which has often been taken WAY out of context) came about more because of the increasing prevalence of local musicians playing tribute gigs, and publicizing those concerts as bigger events than their own concerts of original music. I, for one, almost without exception would rather support locals playing their original material than the same musicians playing a threadbare set of Z.Z. Top or Judas Priest songs. Heck, Z.Z. Top and Judas Priest still exist! Go see the real thing if that’s what you need to spark your plugs.
Where I tend to humor and embrace the concept of the tribute band is when, A: the group being covered no longer exists, B: the level of musicianship and technical expertise is at an extremely high level, and C; pains are taken to faithfully recreate said extinct group’s concert experience in precise detail.
And this brings me to Thursday night’s concert by The Musical Box at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Madison. The Musical Box are French-Canadian musicians who recreate the early-to-mid 1970s concert experience of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. And any fan of the early theatrical prog-rock days of Genesis will tell you this is no easy feat.
A small but enthusiastic crowd assembled for this concert, and as the lights dimmed and the stage was bathed in fluorescent black lights, the five musicians launched in to “Watcher Of The Skies”, and it was obvious this was going to be a top-tier production. Adding to this excellence was a pristine audio presentation by the sound man; indeed, this may have been the most impeccable sound I have ever experienced in the Orpheum. Vocalist Denis Gagné was dressed in long black cape with striking chiaroscuro make-up on, made more intense illuminated by the black lights. Adding to the contrast were the other four musicians dressed in all white, while Gagné was in black.
The current presentation by The Musical Box is an exact reproduction of the 1974 Genesis U.S. Tour titled “The Black Show”. As such, the second song of the evening was “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight”. Sébastien Lamothe, the Mike Rutherford member, faithfully and exceptionally played Rickenbacker double-neck 12-string and bass, with bass foot pedals, while Gagné accompanied with celestial flute. Stoic guitarist Francois Gagnon stayed seated for the entire performance, surrounded by vintage effects pedals.
Gagné’s between song spiel / dialogue was also authentic to early 70s Genesis concerts, such as the intro to “The Cinema Show”, which included a subtle yet sexually suggestive story involving Romeo and Juliet. “Cinema Show” featured bassist Lamothe on a shimmering acoustic 12-string guitar intro, and the Orpheum lit up like the cosmos when several spot lights hit a disco ball hung high above the stage. The middle / end section of “Cinema Show” featured a lengthy trio instrumental workout of Lamothe, drummer Marc Laflamme, and keyboardist Guillaume Rivard, with bassist Lamothe often moving between guitar and bass.
A pleasant detail to the concert was how the musicians assumed the same vocal parts as the Genesis members that they were portraying, such as on “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” when drummer Laflamme sang the humorous Phil Collins parts, wearing bib overalls just as Collins did with Genesis in the 70s.
Gagné was almost always the focal point of the show, as he brought the early 70s Peter Gabriel characters to life on the Orpheum stage. “The Musical Box” featured dramatic underneath spot lighting, as Gagné, in an old man mask, unzipped the front of his tight black one-piece outfit and implored the listener, “Why don’t you touch me, touch me, touch me, now, now, now, now now?”
The epic “Supper’s Ready” brought the set to a close with several costume changes by Gagné including the legendary flower head mask and towering black caped monolith with intense strobe lighting.
The audience responded with a rousing standing ovation, and the group returned quickly to the stage. Lamothe explained that Genesis back in the day usually did not do encores, as “Supper’s Ready” was supposed to have said all there was to say. However, The Musical Box had prepared an encore set of ‘Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ material to bring the proceedings to it’s eventual conclusion. The only thing I noticed missing here (besides of couple of favorite ‘Lamb Lies Down’ songs, like the title track and “The Carpet Crawlers”) were the lack of laser lights on “In The Cage”, like Genesis featured on their mid 70s tours. All in all though, this was an extraordinary recreation of a band that was quite far ahead of its time when these performances were originally staged some 45 or so years ago.
Watcher Of The Skies
Dancing With The Moonlit Knight
The Cinema Show
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth Of Fifth
The Musical Box
Horizons > The Battle Of Epping Forest
Fly On A Windshield > Broadway Melody Of 1974
In The Cage > Hairless Heart > Counting Out Time