Richard Youngs, Geneva Cave12, 12 February 2017

Back in 2012, I made a fairly hopeful wishlist of the fifteen musicians I most wanted to see live. Fulfilling the list has been an uphill struggle, even though nearly all the people on it are still active and regularly touring; up until a week or two ago, I’d only been able to tick two of the fifteen off the list. Now, though, and thanks to the brilliant programming at Cave12, I’m able to tick off a third.

Richard Youngs has actually been on my radar ever since 2002, when I reviewed his early acoustic masterpieces Sapphie and Making Paper for The Sound Projector. I’ve kept an eye on his output since then, without ever attempting to keep up with the endless flow of releases that have appeared under his name. Every so often, though, I’ve picked up one of them and have been staggered by the variety and the creativity Youngs brings to everything he does.

One of my favourites of those later releases is Beyond the Valley of Ultrahits, perhaps Youngs’s poppiest and most immediate album. It was a knockout, therefore, to hear him sing “Collapsing Stars” from that record as the opening song of his Geneva concert, albeit in a lonely and desolate acapella version. Reflecting the incredible versatility of the man, the next two hours passed in a mesmerising whirl of drone guitar, delicate fingerpicking, shaggy-dog stories, audience participation, Fluxus playfulness and always that unmistakable yearning voice.

Youngs had set up the room in quixotic fashion, with a large carpet directly in front of the stage and a few seats further back. I had wondered what the carpet was for, and didn’t have to wait long for the answer, as Youngs occasionally stepped down from the stage onto the carpet and took several more acapella numbers at audience level. In between delivering his haunted, broken texts and stamping his feet to keep time, he encouraged the audience to add harmonies, bringing a strange feeling of unity to his long, questing ballads. Not since I saw the Copper Family and Shirley Collins lead the audience at the Royal Oak in Lewes in a stirring rendition of “Thousands Or More” has an audience singalong made such perfect sense.

Showing an equal flair for the conceptual and the ridiculous, Youngs presented the set as a selection of pieces from various categories, such as lists of numbers and one-chord tricks. Every so often he would solemnly intone a series of numbers or strum a single chord repeatedly, interspersed with laugh-out-loud stories related in his comforting Home Counties voice. It was never long, though, before Youngs broke out the moves on electric guitar, his inspired soloing and cracked, pleading vocals recalling near-namesake Neil Young.

Seemingly at a loss at one point as to which category to turn to, Youngs suggested exploring his voluminous back catalogue. This was the cue for a deranged fan sitting on the carpet to request another song from Ultrahits, which unfortunately Youngs didn’t know the words to. Undaunted, the fan persisted, this time calling for “something from Sapphie”, which Youngs conceded he “could probably remember”. There followed the evening’s most transcendentally beautiful moment, as Youngs’s reverb-drenched tenor and sublime arpeggios traced their way through the unbearably tender elegy “Soon It Will Be Fire”. Running it a close second for sheer heartstopping perfection, the encore of “Spin Me Endless In The Universe” (from 2013’s Summer Through My Mind), with its lonesome voice and slowly revolving guitar, sent us floating off into the Geneva night. Concert of the year? Don’t mind if I do, and it’s only February.

The Musical Box, Geneva Théâtre du Léman, 25 November 2016

Growing up in the late 1970s, there was a certain amount of friendly rivalry between my younger brother S. and me, in music as in other areas such as sport. Whereas I, at the age of 11, was a hardcore Numanoid and Kraftwerk fan, the 10-year-old S. cottoned on at an early age to other electronic pioneers such as John Foxx and The Human League. (Not for us the dire worship of heavy metal that seemed to afflict so many of our peers at grammar school in Salisbury.) Even before that, S. was only nine when he first heard on the radio, and promptly fell in love with, Genesis’ breakthrough 1978 single “Follow You Follow Me”. At that age, and with pocket money a severely limiting factor, the extent of your appreciation for a band was measured by whether you merely bought the single or went the whole hog and shelled out for the album. If you were in the latter category, you probably hadn’t heard anything else on the album; but you were confident, based on your liking of the single, that there would be further stuff on there that you would enjoy. Thus it was that S. came home one Saturday afternoon with a copy of And Then There Were Three, if I remember rightly not only his first Genesis album, but the first album he ever bought.

S. rounded out his Genesis collection over the following months, with a double cassette of Seconds Out gradually followed by the remaining works by both the Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins incarnations of the group. He wasn’t the only one in our family whose ears were attuned to Genesis, either. Picking us up from school one afternoon, our mother told us that she had been in Threshold Records in Andover that day (a record shop owned by the Moody Blues). I have no idea what she was doing in there, as it certainly wasn’t one of her usual hangouts. Anyway, she told us that she had heard the music being played over the shop’s PA and had casually asked the guy behind the counter, “is this Genesis?” And of course she was right, the song she heard being the studio version of “Carpet Crawlers” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I seem to recall that she told us this story before S. had acquired his copies of both Seconds Out and The Lamb, which makes her act of identification all the more remarkable.

As for me, I kept my nascent Genesis fandom to myself, although I secretly liked the music very much. This was my entry point into the world of progressive rock, a genre that was to become increasingly important to me as time wore on. It wasn’t until 1983, when I belatedly discovered Pink Floyd, that I finally had a prog rock band I could call my own. Yet for all my love of Floyd, I couldn’t exactly deny that there was something doleful and depressing about them that was entirely absent from Genesis. These songs were dramatic, funny and engaging, and were lent immense power by Phil Collins’ yearning vocals and powerhouse drumming and the intricate constructions of Tony Banks’ keyboard melodies.

I specifically mention Collins’ vocals, because it was A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering and And Then There Were Three (plus Seconds Out, of course) that appealed to me the most. I liked the Gabriel era well enough, but there was something callow and baroque about it that gave the Collins era a certain edge. Much later, I was to discern a similar distinction between the (at that time) two periods of Van der Graaf Generator, with the science-fiction melodramas of the 1970-71 era being easily surpassed by the leaner and meaner 1975-76 period. But I digress.

Anyway, to admit to being a Genesis fan would have meant losing face, since they were S’s group and therefore off limits to me. He was a member of the official Genesis fan club, Genesis Information, which was run by a bloke called Geoff Parkyn. Every so often S. would receive an A5-sized, photocopied fanzine, which was rich in the kind of minutiae I liked (and still like) to read about the group. S. also had a large-format book by Armando Gallo called Genesis: I Know What I Like, which I would occasionally read when his back was turned. I recently tried to find a copy of this book on the internet, and was dismayed to discover that it is very rare and eye-wateringly expensive.

If any further proof is needed that S. was by that time a true Genesis fan, I need only mention the fact that he bought copies of Tony Banks’ first solo album, A Curious Feeling, and that of Mike Rutherford, Smallcreep’s Day, on their respective days of release. Both were excellent, especially A Curious Feeling, an album I still return to frequently today. The first new Genesis music to emerge since And Then There Were Three, however, was problematic. Duke certainly had plenty to admire, but it also had stuff like “Turn It On Again” and “Misunderstanding”, stupid pop songs that had none of the drama and excitement of A Trick of the Tail, Wind and Wuthering or And Then There Were Three.

Unlike many Genesis fans, by the way, I had no problem with And Then There Were Three. Its melodic power and lyrical excellence were in no way compromised by the brevity and concision of the songs. And because it was the first Genesis music I ever heard, it retains a special place in my admiration for the group.

By 1981, though, it was all over. The one-two knockout punch of Abacab and Collins’ solo début Face Value was more than enough to convince both S. and me to get off the bus. Driven by the greed of Phil Collins and the treachery of Tony Banks, Genesis descended into a morass of inconsequential pop shit from which they would never recover. It was an ignominious end for one of the world’s greatest bands.

Needless to say, I never saw Genesis live. The 2007 reunion tour didn’t make it to Vienna, and I didn’t have the appetite to go and see them in Linz, the tour’s nearest stopping-off point. Which brings me to the point of this story, as last month I saw The Musical Box, the world’s leading Genesis tribute band, in Geneva. When they last played here in 2005, Phil Collins joined them on drums for the encore; it would have been nice if that had happened again this time, but it wasn’t to be. Not that it mattered much, since The Musical Box were a highly enjoyable proposition in any event. In fact this was less a tribute gig than a theatrical re-enactment, so totally and unnervingly did Denis Gagné immerse himself in the role of Peter Gabriel. Prowling the darkened stage (this was, after all, the Black Show from the Selling England by the Pound tour) in a succession of striking costumes, Gagné captured Gabriel’s wounded bark of a voice to precision, while the four musicians around him effortlessly conjured the epic splendour of Genesis in full flight.

In 1973 S. and I, then aged five and six respectively, were living in a small village near Andover in Hampshire. It’s strange now to think that one October evening that year Genesis were only 30 miles away from us, playing “Supper’s Ready”, “Cinema Show” and the rest at the Gaumont in Southampton. Until they invent a time machine able to take me back to that evening, The Musical Box are easily the next best thing.

Peter Rehberg, Geneva Cave12, 28 September 2016

Since I’m now based part of the time in Geneva, this blog, never frequently updated at the best of times, is becoming more sporadic than ever. There are a few decent venues in Geneva, but on the whole the live music scene is far quieter than it is in Vienna. For some reason there seem to be more concerts in the neighbouring cities of Lausanne and Vevey than there are in Geneva, even though they are both much smaller, which blows.

Anyway, since moving here in July I’ve only been to two concerts. The first of these was Cat Power, which I may get around to reviewing at some point (although I wouldn’t hold your breath). It was a great pleasure, though, to catch up with Peter Rehberg last week on the first date of a mini Swiss and French tour. The venue, Cave12, seems to be the nearest equivalent to the Rhiz in Geneva, with an impressive roll-call of visitors from the avant rock, noise and experimental music scenes. Centrally located just a few minutes’ walk from the main station, staffed by friendly people and with a PA that has plenty of wallop, Cave12 gets the thumbs up from me.

The last time I saw Rehberg live was back in March at the Rhiz, when he opened for Consumer Electronics – a highly enjoyable evening which I never got around to reviewing for this blog. That evening was notable, among other things, for the fact that Pita had left his Macbook at home and was playing, for the first time I could remember, off some kind of modular synth setup called a Eurorack – an arrangement that he also brought to Geneva. Now I have only the barest understanding of what this means, but speaking as an audience member, the change is dramatic. Instead of staring impassively at a laptop screen, the performer focuses on a range of modules festooned with dials and differently coloured cables, making adjustments to them in real time. From a purely visual standpoint it makes for a far more satisfying experience, invoking as it does the boffin-scientist image that remains key to the iconography of electronic music.

As for the music, that too seemed to benefit from the change in the way it was delivered. Over the course of his 45-minute set, Rehberg generated a single, constantly changing piece that was more variegated and hard-hitting than any I’ve heard him play before. Making few concessions to audience members’ hearing (earplugs were available, although I demurred), Rehberg ramped up the noise levels with explosive shards of frequencies, while deep sub-bass drones threatened to crack the floor open. It could have been the power of suggestion, but I certainly felt that the modular setup brought a more organic, earthier and less clinical edge to proceedings. As Pita busied himself with the plethora of wires and dials in front of him, the music modulated from visceral sludge to moments of Kraftwerkian beauty and proto-Ambient shimmer. For the most part, though, the atmospheres conjured up were distinctly unheimlich, sounding like the despairing cries of some stricken, hydra-headed monster.