The Ignition of Souls

As we cross over the suspension span after exiting the Yerba Buena tunnel the elevated seats of the vehicle provide an unobstructed view of the sun settling into the fog that engulfs the silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge. We park in the underground garage at the Japan Center and walk to Post and Steiner to join the line of ticket holders. The fog has rolled into the City and the marquee in front of the arena was alight. The neon letters WINTER are illuminated in red, but the third syllable is dark. Below, black plastic letters declare, “An Evening with Genesis.”

It’s the only band on the bill. There are no juggling acts tonight—and I’m grateful. We make our way to the stage. A black curtain is hoisted behind the instruments and amplifiers. The stage set is modest, though atypical in that Phil Collin’s drum kit is in line with the other musicians rather than behind on a riser. Stools are set in front of the guitar amps on the left side of the stage. On the far right, next to the drums, is a set of keyboards: an ARP Pro soloist synthesizer atop a Hammond T-102 organ, at right angles to a M400 Mellotron and an RMI 368x Electra Piano. In the center of the stage is a single bass drum. Behind it is a large waist high white circle.

The enthusiasm for Genesis tonight is comparable to Pink Floyd two years earlier—mellow and thoughtful pre-concert conversation rather than obnoxious whooping and hollering. The laidback expectancy of a throng of college kids permeates the atmosphere without a random bouncing beachball anywhere in the auditorium. The effect foreshadows a dramatic theatrical presentation rather than a rock show and the character of the audience complements it—fueled with marijuana rather than motivated by alcohol.

When the house lights dim, the placid mood is replaced by a swift, visceral charge of energy that flares through the audience. This is the band’s first appearance in the Bay Area but is feels as if Genesis is coming home to a fervent San Francisco welcome. To the left of the stage Steve Hackett, hirsute and wearing black-rimmed spectacles, sits on a stool. Mike Rutherford adjusts the substantial double-necked Rickenbacker guitar and bass around his neck. Phil Collins, dressed in white overalls with no shirt, takes his place in his elaborate drum kit while Tony Banks sits on the keyboard bench and pauses before starting the introduction to “Watcher of the Skies.”

The crowd’s enthusiasm is swamped by the stately sound of mellotron string and brass tones blaring in full fortissimo. A purple florescent light materializes at the front-center of the stage. The introduction progresses. Peter Gabriel painstakingly walks from the shadows behind the band and halts in front of the white circle. Dressed in black, he wears a full cape that glistens with gold, blue, and green sequins. His black hair is shoulder length—a section above his forehead is shaved in a reverse widow’s peak outlandishly exposing his scalp.  A headband around his forehead accentuates the effect. White face paint reflects the eerie glow emanating from the light fixture on the floor. Blue makeup beneath his eyes sparkles as he stands like an immoveable statue. A pair of bat wings extends from either side of his head—a curious science-fiction-fantasy touch.