Phil Collins -- Concert Review

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NEW YORK -- Phil Collins played exactly one of his hits in his opening show of a three-night stint at the Roseland Ballroom. It was his cover of the Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love," which gives you some indication that this was not an ordinary concert by the former Genesis frontman.

Accurately billed as "Up Close & Personal: Phil Collins Plays 60's Motown & Soul," the tour is designed to promote the September release of an album exclusively featuring cover versions of the songs that influenced him as a teenager.

At one point, Collins pointed out the appropriateness of the venue, a legendary former dance hall that here provided plenty of room for the show's attendees to cut loose.

The show was a decidedly old school affair, with the singer, clad in a dark suit and tie, backed by an impressive conglomeration of 18 musicians and vocalists, including several veterans of his band and, most notably, three members of the Funk Brothers -- bassist Bob Babbitt and guitarists Eddie Willis and Ray Monette -- who played on many of the original tracks. (Collins himself stuck strictly to vocalizing, going nowhere near the drum kit.)

The set list included classic songs originally sung by the likes of the Temptations, Martha & the Vandellas, Dusty Springfield, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.

The result was an evening of double-edged nostalgia. The cavernous space was filled by Collins' baby-boomer fans eager to see one of their favorite stars performing songs that were no doubt part of their musical DNA as well. Indeed, cheers arose whenever one of the various songs' many classic opening riffs were first heard.

Collins has made no attempt to reinvent the material. It certainly was a pleasure at times to hear these great songs performed in full-throttle renditions by such terrific musicians. But the strict fidelity to the original arrangements resulted in a show that too often resembled karaoke, or a performance by a particularly expert cover band.

Generally speaking, the more familiar songs were the least rewarding. Such numbers as "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Heat Wave," "Going to a Go-Go," "Tears of a Clown" and "My Girl" suffered by comparison to the originals, with Collins' vocals not exactly up to the likes of Robinson's.

Some numbers didn't work at all, such as "Jimmie Mack," which even with subtle changes made to the lyrics seemed strange being performed by a male singer.

It was when he dug deeper into the archives that the show blossomed. Collins' talents as a balladeer were showcased in such songs as "Blame It on the Sun" and "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" (both by Wonder) and especially on the Goffin/King reverie "Going Back," the lyrics of which encapsulate the rationale for the whole project.

At this point in his career, Collins has earned the right to do pretty much whatever he wants. And considering the massive hit he had with "You Can't Hurry Love," maybe this project will even prove commercial. But it wasn't hard to avoid the feeling during the show that the evening was more rewarding for him than it was for us.

Venue: Roseland Ballroom, New York on June 23
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