Starring: Phil Collins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Distributed by: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Blu-ray (1 disc) & DVD (2-disc set)
Total Running Time: 231 minutes
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
In the beginning…there was Genesis. And they had a drummer. And he was a good drummer.
Yes…it’s easy to forget that the drummer for Genesis – throughout their Peter Gabriel-fronted early progressive rock era and the subsequent trio-based years – was Phil Collins. In fact, it’s easy to completely forget that he’s a drummer at all, given the incredible number of pop hits he managed to dish out over the course of his decades-long solo career in which he was primarily known for his singing voice and the slew of MTV-era music videos that rarely showed him behind a kit.
“Phil Collins: Live at Montreux 2004” immediately seizes the opportunity to remind us that the guy is a powerhouse percussionist. Instead of starting the show by jumping into the role of the chart-topping solo vocalist, he takes a seat on the drummer’s throne and bashes away at a solo that’s impressive in its own right. But wait…there’s more! Another drummer joins in to make things more rhythmically complex. And by the time a third drummer joins in, the whole affair has become a joyous bombastic escapade that leaves Phil covered with sweat and a beaming smile. And he hasn’t even sung a single note yet.
As soon as the drumming circle concludes, Collins takes center stage and the journey through his greatest hits begins. Even though his solo career often produced some corny clunkers (you know the wer-HERRRRD: sus-sus-sudio!) and sappy ballads, it’s undeniable that so many of his hits are damn good songs. (Go ahead. Just try to not get into the groove of “I Missed Again” and “Easy Lover”. I dare you.)
Of course, the delivery of the 24-song live set has a lot to do with a 16-member backing band that is comprised of some truly amazing musicians – some of whom have been with Collins for quite some time. They’re quite a versatile lot that knows how to propel energetic songs and recede during quieter ballads such as “A Groovy Kind of Love” and “Against All Odds”. Collins has a little trouble hitting the highest of highs that were present on the original studio tracks, but he and his musical crew have such a command of solidly delivering the material that it doesn’t matter. Phil’s dynamic energy is invigorating and his ability to jump from being a smooth crooner to a jump and jiver is so effortless that it’s hard not to get engrossed in his performance. But, above all else, it seems like he’s still having a grand time singing songs that he’s performed countless times over the decades.
Even though the 2-hour plus 2004 show easily provides more than enough material to satisfy, a 13-song 1996 show that was also recorded at Montreux is also included. Looking at the track list, it seems that the vast majority of the tracks from this gig are redundant with the ones that are included in the 2004 concert. This immediately begs the question “Why even bother including it at all?” But, from note one, it becomes quite clear why it has been added: all of the songs are big band-style reinterpretations of Phil’s solo songs along with some Genesis and classic jazz covers thrown in for good measure. As a result, many songs are performed sans vocals and, because it’s a Montreux Jazz Festival show, special guest appearances by legendary performers happen throughout. David Sanborn lends his supreme saxophone skills to handle the vocal line of “In the Air Tonight”, Quincy Jones conducts a group of orchestral musicians and the one-and-only Tony Bennett adds his unmistakable swagger to the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”. Sure, some of the instrumental versions of the slower ballads might better suited for the confines of an elevator, but everybody onstage – including drummer Phil – seems to be having such a blast transforming Collins’ songs, that the program manages to be a lot of fun even during its sleepiest moments. The audio quality of the entire 1996 show, however, has some MAJOR problems. But we’ll cover that soon enough…
“Phil Collins: Live at Montreux” is available as a one-disc Blu-ray and a two-disc DVD set. The 2004 show was filmed in high-definition (1080i), so the Blu’s image quality is far superior to the DVD’s. The 1996 show was recorded in standard definition and, as such, there’s not much of an appreciable visual difference between the two editions for this segment of the program. Unfortunately, even though the big band show should be presented in 4:3, it defaults to 16:9 during playback which makes Phil and his cohorts appear short and wide. Be sure to pop your TV/monitor into 4:3 to correct this technical error: those “annoying black bars” on the left and right of the screen help to make the show look more like a concert and less like an Oompa Loompa outtake from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”.
The audio options for the Blu-ray and the DVD are pretty much what we’ve come to expect from live concert discs: Dolby Digital 5.1 for both, DTS-HD for the Blu and standard DTS for the DVD. All are sufficient for the 2004 show, although the drum track (especially the low-end of the kick drum) seems a little less defined and present in the mix than one would hope for and expect and the bass track is rather heavy and is frequently somewhat muddy. On the whole, it’s quite listenable and will probably only bug audiophile listeners. The audio for the 1996 show, for any set of ears, leaves a lot to be desired as it gets jarringly compressed and distorted – even on the Blu-ray – when the band’s dynamics reach a loud fever pitch. Just because Phil himself states at the beginning of the 1996 show that “We’re going to play my shit…but differently” doesn’t mean that it should sound like shit. How a glitch this major made it past Eagle Rock Entertainment’s mastering engineers and quality control department is beyond comprehension.
Despite these technical shortcomings, the 2004 part of “Phil Collins: Live at Montreaux 2004” is easily the best Phil Collins greatest hits collection on the market and should please long-time fans as well as those two or three living beings in the animal kingdom who aren’t familiar with his music. Given that Collins retired from performing soon after this show, it’s great to have a most-filling (although not always aurally satisfying) retrospective that showcases a truly talented singer and – lest we forget – one hell of a drummer.