Winterland, San Francisco
March 24, 1974
Photos by David Miller
Text by Michael Collins Morton
The beginnings of Genesis go back to 1967, when a handful of young students at Charterhouse, a preparatory school in Surrey, England, first joined together for the purpose of writing songs. At that time, Peter Gabriel (vocals, flute), Tony Banks (keyboards), Mike Rutherford (guitar, bass), and Anthony Phillips (guitar) did not actually intend to make themselves known as performers. They turned their ambition to the necessity of having to perform (with Chris Stewart, another student at Charterhouse, on drums) only as an expedient means of ensuring that their songs would be heard.
The five students were soon taken in hand by Jonathan King, a former student at Charterhouse himself, who was well-known as a singer ("Everyone's Gone to the Moon") and a producer ("It's Good News Week" by Hedgehoppers Anonymous). After taking the name of Genesis, and with the help of Jonathan King, their first single "The Silent Sun," was released on Decca Records in February, 1968, and was followed by the release of their first album, From Genesis to Revelation, also on Decca Records, in March, 1969. A second album by Genesis, Trespass (produced by John Anthony), was released on Charisma Records in October, 1970.
By 1971, after several members had come and gone, Genesis had settled into an accomplished membership that consisted of Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford, with the addition of Steve Hackett (guitar) and Phil Collins (drums). It was this lineup that become well-known and recorded the third album by Genesis, Nursery Cryme, which contained two of their most famous songs, "The Music Box," and "The Return of the Giant Hogweed." In October, 1972, their fourth album, Foxtrot, was released. Foxtrot included "Watcher of the Skies," "Get 'Em Out by Friday," and "Supper's Ready" among its tracks, and firmly established Genesis as a major act in the United Kingdom.
Much of the singular appeal that Genesis displayed onstage in those years was derived from the vigorous performances of Peter Gabriel. Instead of merely standing in front of the audience and singing, he took it upon himself to act out the stories in the songs, using makeup, hats, masks, and costumes, combined with props and lighting, to convey the strange qualities of the varied characters, which often were taken from fairy tales, Greek myths, and other works of literature. Peter Gabriel's extraordinary abilities, along with the formidable talents of his fellow musicians, enabled a concert by Genesis to reach into a special realm, far beyond the usual confines of rock'n'roll.
When Genesis arrived in San Francisco to appear at Winterland in March of 1974, they were promoting the release of their latest LP, Selling England by the Pound, an album that was highlighted by "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)," "The Battle of Epping Forest," and "The Cinema Show." Their appearance was billed as an "Evening with Genesis," and did not feature (or require) any other performers. Genesis offered a highly sophisticated performance at Winterland, a performance in which they skillfully blended a number of musical and visual elements, fully living up to the awesome reputation that had preceded them and creating an overall experience that was both striking and unforgettable.
While we were waiting outside of Winterland on the day of the concert, I saw a guy walking toward us. I was used to seeing all sorts of characters, and once even a naked chick, hanging around Winterland. Michael said, "Look at that jerk, trying to look like Peter Gabriel!" Then he said, "Oh, my God! It IS Peter Gabriel!!" Peter Gabriel made his way past us and pounded on a side door. Getting no response, to our amazement he started kicking the door. Finally, Gary directed him to the correct door, and after he gave us his autograph, he slipped inside.
Michael had prepared us for the event, so we knew about Gabriel's frequent costume changes and theatrics. I was disappointed that there was no fox head, but the rest of the performance made up for it.
They played most of Selling England by the Pound, which had just been released. I still have a copy of that LP, which I bought at The Record House, near Winterland. A high point of any Genesis concert was "The Musical Box" from Nursery Cryme. Peter slowly walked out in a craggy face mask that had sparkles on it. He moved hunched over and fragile, like an old man near the end of life. As the song progressed, his body took on a different stance. It was shocking to see him evolve into a young man, prancing like Mick Jagger. As the song peaked, he leaned over the stage right next to me and sang, "Touch me, Now! Now! Now!" A strobe light flashed under him at each "Now!" The audience grasped at him, just as he demanded. I clicked off a picture as the light flashed. Gabriel's face was frightening as he screamed the words, with hands reaching up. It is one of my favorite photographs.
The last song, "Supper's Ready," was just as climactic. Dressed all in black, under darkness, Gabriel suddenly exploded on stage, bathed in hot, white lights, and transformed in a glimmering, silver suit.
The drumming of Phil Collins impressed me as possibly the best I ever heard, although his singing did not. The musicianship of all was incredible. Steve Hackett sat down throughout the concert. Steve, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford were without any theatrics, leaving that to Peter Gabriel.
After the concert we waited to meet the band, as did many others. Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, and Tony Banks were friendly and generously scribbled their autographs on our paper pads. Peter Gabriel suddenly shot out of the door and dove into the back of a waiting station wagon. No one there, but us, got his autograph.
One of the most memorable and exciting concerts that I ever saw, and one of my favorites to photograph.
Michael was pointing out things about their writing, showing the difference between Peter Gabriel's writing and the writing by the rest of the band: how the other members wrote rhyming, metrically regular words that were more distant in emotion, while Peter Gabriel's angular, gear-shifting, non metrical writing didn't rhyme as much and was full of asides and comments, often incorporating dialogue and stories into the mix. Peter Gabriel's writing was full of pointed barbs, political opinion, and sexual innuendo, more prose than rhyme. He was sly and devious, very alive. The music itself was very dynamic. Genesis get lumped together with Yes, ELP, and ELO in the prog rock category, but their music was unique. The theatrical aspect made it absolutely that way. Mythic tales and human irony. It had a lot in it.
I remember that we went early and were at the front of the line on the entrance side of Winterland. In the afternoon, Michael and David went near the stage entrance and came back saying that Peter Gabriel was getting out his limo with a couple of interesting ladies. By the time I got there, Peter Gabriel, who apparently didn't know how to get backstage, was strongly kicking one of the exit doors with his high platform shoes. We all were just standing there, watching him kick the door, listening to the thuds, until without really thinking I sort of stepped forward and said, "You can kick that door all you want, but if you want to get backstage, the door is over there." (I feebly pointed.) BAD IDEA. He spun around and I found myself face to face with a peeved Peter Gabriel. He paused, squinted, cocked his head, and said, "See you, LAY-tuh," implying that I may have known more about the Winterland doors than he did, but who was waiting in line for WHOM, pray tell? (I understood and slunk away, muttering.)
The concert was truly amazing, with the band in fine form. Mike Rutherford, I think, was the real key to this music, playing what must have been a state-of-the-art, dual Rickenbacker bass/twelve string guitar, and playing the most rhythmic rhythm guitar I had ever heard: rapid, odd-metered music juxtaposed exactly with even meters in an almost casual way, pushing the structure of the music forward. Sometimes he wasn't even playing bass, and he and Phil Collins were really at the core of the complex music. Steve Hackett played those glorious, long, sustained, bent-note melodies over the top, that twinned with the synthesizer and clavinet lines of Tony Banks. Even though Steve Hackett was sitting while playing, I remember him almost rising out of his chair as he coaxed those lines from his guitar and pedals.
In the more savage pieces, the fierce organ playing of Tony Banks became the driving force along with the bass and drums. The piano compositions were delivered on an RMI electric piano. It would have been nice to hear a real piano, but it sounded fine. He was an underrated keyboard player. I remember being floored by his playing on "The Cinema Show." His playing at that time rivaled all the greats (Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Kerry Minnear), but it was a style that he abandoned in later incarnations of the band. At that time, he seemed to me to be almost out of place, belonging more in the Italian renaissance than on a rock stage. Phil Collins sang one song solo ("More Fool Me," I think), with acoustic guitar backing. They were all strong musicians, with Peter Gabriel also adding interesting elements with his flute and bass drum.
I don't remember seeing Peter Gabriel wearing the head wings during "Watcher of the Skies" (Editor's note: he did, actually), and we definitely didn't see him wear the red dress or the fox head, but we saw everything else that evening: top hat and tails, green and yellow flower, red, white, and blue Britannia with helmet, old man hunched with wrinkled face mask, and the silver suit with face paint during the explosions at the climactic end of Supper's Ready. There were many costume changes. The theatrical performance was stunning.
All in all, a fantastic concert. We were talking about this one for a long time.
As usual, we arrived early at Winterland, and spent the day sitting on the sidewalk near the front doors. Late in the afternoon, as we were passing the time until the show, Phil Collins came walking around the corner, looking for the stage door and taking us completely by surprise. We directed him to the proper door and then quickly ran after him, knowing that the band had come to check the sound.
I laughed when first I spotted a young man who apparently had attempted to fashion himself into a rough likeness of Peter Gabriel. I assumed that he merely was a weird fan. A moment later, after looking closer, I saw that it actually was Peter Gabriel himself. He was unshaven, with a fresh tan, and the front bits of his hair had been hacked off, which made him look different from his appearance in photographs.
When we approached Peter Gabriel to ask for his autograph, he seemed quite ill at ease. As he nervously signed his name on our scraps of paper, keeping his head down as he did so, and writing in the smallest script that I had ever seen, he kept kicking the heel of his boot against the stage door, presumably wanting it to be opened. He clearly did not enjoy mingling with the public.
The concert that evening was absolutely stunning. David took some of his best photographs at that show. In particular, Peter Gabriel's performance was utterly astonishing to witness. From the first song, "Watcher of the Skies," to the last, "Supper's Ready," he maintained a fast pace, swiftly changing from one character to another, sometimes in the blink of an eye. He was the most impressive performer that I had seen since attending a concert by David Bowie in 1972. (That performance is described here.)
The "Evening with Genesis" that we attended at Winterland set an usually high mark of musical excellence. Genesis, with Peter Gabriel standing out, provided the audience with something rare in the world of rock'n'roll: an experience of powerful music that richly combined intellect and imagination, while still carrying a strong measure of excitement. It was, unquestionably, one of the best shows that we ever saw.