The Musical Box

February 20, 2014
Coach House
San Juan Capistrano, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by TourBusLive.com

As more classic vintage rock bands fade away, more bands paying tribute fade in. At least that’s the way it seems. So much so that the world of tribute bands has taken on a life of its own — one I guess I can no longer ignore. For years, I avoided tribute bands despite seeing a few and appreciating what they do. Frankly, I could base the whole Vintage Rock website on tribute bands; but I’ve always strived to report on the genuine article. These days, however, that rule has its limits, the kind I can no longer impose upon myself. Seeing a tribute band like The Musical Box has something to do with that.

The angle with The Musical Box is that they are capturing a specific and pivotal period in the life of Genesis — a time and situation that can no longer be replicated despite the fact that all the members from said time and situation are still alive and well. What also separates The Musical Box from other like-minded Genesis tributes, and tribute bands in general, is a great attention to detail and authenticity to the music and the staging, coupled with rock-solid credentials, including a thumbs-up endorsement from Peter Gabriel himself.

Walking into the Coach House, it was clear just from looking at the stage that this band out of Canada has the whole thing down cold. Everything was white — the backline gauze curtains, the amplifiers, the drums, the keyboards, and, when it was their time to play, the band members themselves. But before anyone could see The Musical Box come to life, a splendorous set from master Chapman Stick player Tom Griesgraber was first. Having seen Griesgraber open for Carl Palmer in 2013 at the Coach House, I sort of knew what to expect, but I keyed in more on what exactly he was doing.

Griesgraber is able to create a broad range of ethereal sounds on his Stick by simply recording multiple loops within a song to create a harmonic subterfuge of unfettered music. It was like hearing a pleasant, relaxing pre-text blossom into an orchestrated montage — all while exhibiting Griesgraber’s virtuosic command of the instrument. Add his light, friendly in-between-song banter and a finale of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” and you have all the makings of a remarkable opener for The Musical Box.

Shortly after 9, the members of The Musical Box — vocalist Denis Gagné ("Peter Gabriel"), guitarist François Gagnon ("Steve Hackett") , bassist Sébastien Lamothe ("Mike Rutherford"), keyboardist Guillaume Rivard ("Tony Banks") and drummer Marc Laflamme ("Phil Collins") — emerged from behind the white curtain without a word and took their places. The theme for tonight’s performance was centered on 1972’s Foxtrot, the fourth album from Genesis. Four songs from the album were played, starting with the enigmatic “Watcher Of The Skies,” which saw Gagné donning the “Batwings” costume with glowing eyes — the same getup Gabriel wore when Genesis performed the song, which typically opened their shows. Musically, everything seemed to fall into its proper place, right down to the distinctive Mellotron MK II.

For “The Musical Box,” from 1971’s Nursery Cryme album, Gagné removed the “Batwings” costume, revealing that he had shaved the hair off the same front part of his head as Gabriel had done in the early 70s. Another detail covered. Although he didn’t put on the “Old Man” mask Gabriel would wear when he sang the song live (editor's note: per The Musical Box, Gabriel didn't wear the "Old Man" mask until the Selling England By The Pound tour), a solitary white light at the foot of the stage washed over his face as the climactic “Now, now, now…” lyric of the song was repeated over and over to the thrill of the audience.

The next two numbers, “Get 'Em Out By Friday” (about the plight of being a landlord) and the epic “Supper's Ready,” both from Foxtrot, elongated the momentum with theatrical histrionics and proggy deliciousness. Gagné never fell out of character, even in between songs when he would engage the audience with the same colorful dialogs Gabriel gave. With all the musicians seated and Gagné positioned by a bass drum, there was little movement on the small Coach House stage. The environment, mood and presentation of an early 70s Genesis show are really what The Musical Box is all about. As the music played on, Gagné miraculously transformed from the Flower into the pyramid-headed Magog without missing a step.

The main set ended with “The Return Of The Giant Hogweed,” tumbling out with its wild and abrasive synth opening before morphing into a twisted tale of what Gabriel called, referring to the giant hogweed, “an onslaught, threatening the human race.”
For the encore, the band returned with intricate performances of “The Knife” and the beatific “Can-Utility And The Coastliners.” By this time, Gagné was all dressed in black and Gagnon was down to a red tank top, similar to what Steve Hackett wore back in the day. By 10:45, the show was over and anyone who missed the original lineup 40 years probably felt as I did — this is about as close to the genuine article as it can possibly get.

Indeed, watching The Musical Box provided me with a new perspective on what a good tribute band can accomplish. Whether that means I’ll start checking out other tribute bands remains to be seen. Right now, I can only hope they will return and play The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway as they did in 2013 — the year I was still on the fence about tribute bands.

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