Saturday, September 15, 2012

Genesis: Watcher of the Skies

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While I’ve probably seen only fifty concerts or so over the years, people often ask me, “What was the best show?” Well, I’ve seen some pretty good ones such as Bruce Springsteen at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium; Madonna at Madison Square Garden; Emerson, Lake, and Palmer at the Charleston, WV Civic Center; and Heart at the Huntington, WV Civic Center; however, the best show I’ve seen was on November 30, 1974.

I was on Thanksgiving break from college and my birthday present from my brother that year was a chance to accompany him to see Genesis live at the Syria Mosque in Pittsburgh. Sadly, this intimate and ornate hall is no more having been demolished to make room for something really important – a parking lot. Grrrr.

Every seat in the house was a great seat and I am not sure how many rows back from the stage we were situated, but we were in the last row at stage center – it was like being at the fifty yard line. It couldn’t have been more than 20 rows back. This was still very close to see all of the action and Peter Gabriel’s Genesis had plenty of action.

“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour was not just a musical event; it was a theatrical event. This was the best concert, bar none, that I’ve attended. Apologies are extended to ZZ Top, Van Halen, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Robert Plant, Jefferson Starship, and a host of others that I’ve attended over the years.

I became a fan of Genesis when I heard selections from the “Nursery Cryme” LP played over Carnegie, PA’s WZUM – Sweet 16 on your AM dial. Being that Carnegie was some distance from my home (17 miles) and that this 1,000 watt daytime station was at the second worst dial position (1590) on the AM dial, it was difficult to pick it up always. (By the way, the worst position was 1600 kHz; however, since the medium wave spectrum was extended in the Western Hemisphere during 1993, 1700 is now the worst position on the dial.)

The station had a split format – ethnic (read Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, etc.) music until sometime in the afternoon (4 PM perhaps) and then album rock until signoff. I could not wait until the ethnic music went off the air. Whoever was programming the selections in the late afternoon did a great job. I shortly purchased my first Genesis album – “Nursery Cryme.” “Foxtrot” and “Genesis Live” followed shortly.

During the concert, I was hoping to hear some of their older material, but alas, only one older Genesis number was featured in the encore. It was “The Musical Box” from “Nursery Cryme.” While I like this particular song, I was hoping that at some point the song they used to begin shows would be used. This was the opening cut from their 1973 album “Foxtrot.”

“Watcher of the Skies” started out with keyboardist Tony Banks playing this surreal string intro on his Mark II Mellotron. The chords just sound fantastic. It is said that this particular string sound could was only available on the Mark II version. For the latest Mellotron emulator, the Manikin Electronics’ Memotron has samples from the Mark II Mellotron (recorded from the speakers no less) to get that true “Watcher of the Skies” sound.

When performed live, Peter Gabriel wore a headdress similar to bat wings. He also used fluorescent makeup that glowed under black lights on stage. I would have loved to have seen this, but I never got the opportunity.

The Single Mix

For a shortened version of the single, Genesis completely re-recorded “Watcher of the Skies” that cut the length down from the 7:52 version to 3:44. The guitar parts are very different on the single.

Also extricated from the song was its now famous Mellotron intro – which was too long of an intro for AM radio (excepting WZUM) and the newer breed of FM Contemporary Hit Radio stations. “Watcher” redux is good in its own right and worth a listen or two as it is a completely different mix. The single failed to chart in the Hot 100.

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