It’s hard to believe now but there was a time when Genesis were a state-of-the-art progressive rock band, dealing with huge, multi-part epics, complex harmonies and wild, fantastic stage productions. The change to globe-straddling, arena-swallowing pop stars did not happen over-night (nor, as popular myth might suggest, did it happen upon the departure of feted vocalist Peter Gabriel), rather it was a slow shift in direction the like of which afflicted so many artists seeking to redesign their sound in the artistic year zero that was the 80s. Unwilling to compete with punk, bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis simply carried on doing what they did best, absorbing modern trends and refining their sound, ditching twenty-minute epics in favour of stream-lined pop songs and a heavily polished sheen. For Pink Floyd the result was ‘a momentary lapse of reason’, for Genesis it was ‘Abacab’. Whilst the Pink Floyd machine was slowing down, however, Genesis were standing on the cusp of superstardom. A self-titled (and very good) album followed, ‘Invisible touch’ came next and the eventual result was ‘we can’t dance’, an album that sent the band into the stratosphere.
Here on ‘three sides live’, however, we find the band caught at a crossroads. In the period following ‘Abacab’, Genesis were experimenting with digital drums, short songs and pop melodies, but still filling their set with longer material like ‘dodo/lurker’, ‘duchess’ (from ‘duke’) and stunning, slow-burning ballads like ‘afterglow’, the beautiful highlight from ‘wind and wuthering’. The result made for spectacular listening and the audio has long been available on the album of the same name. The video footage, however, has not been seen since the days of VHS and with no hi-def Genesis releases available, ‘three sides live’ is a most welcome release indeed. Whilst it is odd that Genesis should release this odd and rather dated oddity over, say, the ‘when in Rome’ set which had already been set for a hi-def release, ‘three sides…’ has actually been polished up pretty nicely.
Restored by Simon Marbrook and Teres Svensson the Blu ray footage looks as good as any concert filmed on 16mm possible could look with a clear, crisp image, faithful colour reproduction and a decent amount of detail. That said, it’s not a hi-def treat, but then considering source limitations it was never going to be and there is no question that this is the best this ever will (or ever could) look and the restorers deserve a fair vote of thanks for their efforts. Where ‘three sides…’ stuns, however, is in the amazing sound crafted, as ever, by Nick Davis. Whilst surround effects are limited (Nick rarely goes in for gimmicks) the enhanced surround sound and the amazingly crisp reproduction leaps from the speakers. Compared to this the CD sounds flat and lifeless, and songs like the ‘in the cage’ medley both sound and look spectacular.
What is a touch more annoying, all this is no fault of the technical crew who worked on the new release, is that ‘three sides’ falls in to the all-too-common eighties trap of intercutting exhilarating performance footage with back stage shenanigans and interview footage. It’s not dull stuff, but it would be far better separated from the music (particularly the segment that cuts into an amazing rendition of ‘duchess’, making you want to beat the bearded interviewer over the head for his nonchalant intrusion into the music. Happily, Eagle Vision have at least partially redeemed themselves by adding a number of tracks (seven in total) as audio-only bonus tracks including the aforementioned ‘duchess’ as well as a rousing version of ‘fountain of Salmacis’. Whilst there are those who are undoubtedly already complaining about the lack of video to go with the bonus tracks, the audio, beautifully remastered and mixed, sounds stunning on blu ray and is a most welcome extra.
Overall ‘three sides live’ is a fascinating time piece. It captures Genesis just as they were about to take over the world, it features some truly magical performances and it serves as a potent reminder as to just how damned good Genesis really were, laying rest to the myth that Genesis died a creative death after Peter left. Released at a low price (around £11 at time of writing) and packing one hell of a sonic punch, ‘three sides live’ is a most welcome addition to the collection of any Genesis fan.