Phil Collins: To Sing or Not to Sing?

For longtime Phil Collins fans who remember his rockin’ days with band Genesis, Saturday night’s “Phil Collins Big Band” concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion was a mixed blessing.  Yes, the big band was there (and it was as brassy as it was big), but where were the expected hit vocals of Mr. Collins that the diehards had come to hear.

The full, rich and jazzy band was outstanding from the outset.  Opening with the Genesis tune “That’s All,” it was clear the powerful brass would highlight the evening with able assistance from the pulsing percussion, including great work from famed drummer, Mr. Collins.

The next arrangement was a softer, gentler swing, under soft blue lights that reminded me of those that reflected on late night snow at holiday time in my New York hometown. There was no printed program or press kit available to specify the performers. Musicians whose names were not clear in Mr. Collins’ British-accent introductions treated us to great work on lead guitar and piano.  Now I recall why my Dad never liked British films: “Why can’t those British learn to speak English?”

All was forgiven as the band played a richly resonant “Against All Odds,” Mr. Collin’s title song hit from the 1984 film.  This was highlighted by the saxophone wizardry of Gerald Albright.  His breezy jazz interpretations were as delightful as the light winds that circulated the Pavilion on a warm but pleasant evening under starry skies.

Another Genesis hit, “Hold On To My Heart,” featured a remarkable performance from Harry Kim with a smooth, bluesy solo for flugel horn that was the most satisfying trumpet work I have heard since enjoying the “Jazz Knights” in concert on summer Sunday evenings at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point).

Returning on sax, amid dreamy violet and teal lighting, Albright creates a masterpiece with an “In the Air Tonight” that is powered by the virtuoso drum work of Collins.  Albright continues with a vibrant, Caribbean flavored “Chips and Salsa,” and a definitive “Georgia On My Mind” that showcases his unimaginable virtuosity as he hits notes that would be beyond most trumpets, let alone saxophones.

Next, we meet talented  “girl singer,” Oleta Adams, whose opening “From This Moment On” makes us feel all is not lost with the passing of Ella Fitzgerald.  She is soaring one moment on the high notes and husky-voiced the next, but she is ever- mellow.   Her jazz vocals may, at times, be over-embellished, but her smooth, full tones always carry her back to the melody in songs like “If They Asked Me I Could Write A Book.”

Miss Adams is not new to the Pavilion, having opened here for the likes of Michael Boulton and Luther Vandross.  After fine vocals of “I Want to Be Happy,” and “I’ve Got A Right to Sing the Blues,” she shows further talent by taking to the grand piano to sing and play “New York State of Mind.”

Yet, there was some tension in the Pavilion as Collins returned to the microphone to announce, “Here is another song without me singing!”  Audible  “Boos!” were heard around the Pavilion from an audience desperate not only to hear Collins sing, but also to have an intermission that would never come.

At encore time Collins confesses, “I am aware that I can’t get away without singing something.” The audience roared approval and was rewarded with “The Way You Look Tonight” in a gentle rendition with phrasing that was rich in feeling.  Singing Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me,” Collins maintained the big band atmosphere and then sent the audience home smiling with his familiar “Su Su Sudio.” But Woodlands resident and longtime fan, Mo Smith was a bit chagrined: “Collins missed a big opportunity by not singing more with such a great big band!”

(The Courier    6.20.98)

About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), The International Theatre Critics Association, and America's oldest theatrical club, The Lambs, he also had long service as the editor of The Lambs' Script magazine. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at
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