Monday, November 7, 2011

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

We all have loved you, Rael.

Cleveland has always been kind to Peter Gabriel and to Genesis. When few in the United States even knew who they were, they would attract sold-out crowds here. I found a review of their 1973 gig at the Musical Hall in my high school newspaper.

In 1974 they released their most ambitious and ill-fated album to date, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. "Concept" albums were already a worn-out phenomenon, and yet the band created a two-album set that weaved out an utterly bizarre tale from the mind of Peter Gabriel, following what we would call a Nuyorican kid (of whom Gabriel knew none) named Rael, who is transported to an Alice-In-Wonderland type underworld in pursuit of his lost brother John.

He is frozen in space, is forced to confront his first, humiliating sexual encounter, is made love to by a mythical beast, has his penis surgically removed, and finds out he and his brother are actually the same person.

I love this record.

Unfortunately, the album had not yet been released when they began their world tour in America. Imagine paying good money to see your favorite band, but they refuse to play anything you have ever heard before. Some may have been thrilled, most were not. This "performance event" also involved over 1,000 slides and many large, unwieldy costumes which Gabriel had designed with no thought given to how to get the mic anywhere near his mouth.

As you can imagine, there were plenty of "Spinal Tap" moments. The show closes with a strobe on Rael and his doppelganger (a mannequin) at opposite sides of the stage, making it look like he's in two places at once. Closing night the dummy was missing and in its place a nude roadie. And after 120 performances, it was never filmed.

According to manager Tony Smith, the day came - early in the tour - when Gabriel announced that he was quitting the group. The fact that he decided to tell his manager this news in a hideous, orange-paneled hotel room at Swingos makes yet another notable moment in Cleveland Rock and Roll history.

In 2005 (Jesus, really? Six years ago?) I took Josh to see The Musical Box, a French-Canadian tribute band that recreates the Gabriel-era Genesis tours in exacting detail. They brought The Lamb to the Allen Theatre. I had asked my father, but he was going to be out of town. He was pretty interested in Genesis around the same time I was, during my high school and college years. This time around, however, he asked me, and I was only too delighted to accept.

So last night we saw The Lamb in the State Theatre. Myself and a 76 year-old man. The median audience member was a guy somewhere between mine and my father's age. There were assorted wives, but also other women who looked like they actually wanted to be there. I noticed this time, as opposed to five years ago, a number of teenage girls with their fathers. The father-daughter combo seated behind us were cute, she was really interested in the program they'd bought, and he was only too happy to share his insight.

It's a great show. I mean, it's a tribute band, but I would much rather see this than, say, 1964: The Tribute because once you get beyond the "Whoa! They sound just like ..!" factor, what do you have? Why pay to see someone impersonate the Beatles when you can just listen to a CD or watch a movie? Watching these guys is like seeing a play or something, rock storytelling, there's a lot to look at and listen to -- with a crowd of like-minded creeps who applaud and whoop and cheer. And, if you are the guy sitting in front of me, light up a marihuana cigarette.

For an encore, they played Watcher of the Skies and, yes, The Musical Box.

Genesis: Chapter and Verse (Collins, Banks, Gabriel, Rutheford, Hackett)
Peter Gabriel: An Authorized Biography (Spencer Bright)


  1. I must have been seated just ahead of you - we called the gentleman the "Whaler"....and, yes, he did light up, didn't he? They were even smoking tobacco!

    My only regret with last night's show was that for those that were not familiar with the story, the lyrics were often times unintelligible and the sound could have been better in a venue such as that. Having said that, I applaud the five musicians giving their whole existence to perform some of the best Genesis music ever written.

  2. Well that's the thing, maaaan, is this a rock show or some kind of historical artifact? I liked the fact that people kept coming and going out of the house, that blonde lady down in front who couldn't stop dancing even after a red coat told her to sit down -- and the scent of weed.

    Regarding the sound, I believe part of their deal is that they strive for historical (there's that word again) accuracy, playing on authentic, period instruments. Whether or not that is an excuse for poor mixing, I do not know.

    I hope you had a great time, I know I did. If you were the guy sitting in front of me (we were talking about Mike Oldfield before the show if you were) then you left before was over! What was up with that?