The Musical Box
(First is a review I made after seeing their first show)
We made our first road trip to the great white North to see The Musical Box perform The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, 17-Feb-01
We made it to Montreal and back from CT/Lower NY and it was WELL worth the trip! Possibly one of the best musical shows I have ever seen (Neil Young with crazy horse was another that moved me in the last few years, Wilco at Radio City was also great).
The music and show were amazing. I am a student of rock and the guitar in particular, and also of Genesis so I am very critical. But I could only be in awe of the amount of work and guts The Musical Box put into this production. Other than occasional short bouts of distortion in the sound system and some minor synth problems it was nearly perfect.
I applaud the band for keeping to original equipment as much as possible, as the modern digital crap just doesn't cut it. They make the stage look just like the original and having original gear (or at least it LOOKS that way!) really helps.
The keyboard player played an old ARP pro soloist synth often which he tamed quite well. He appeared to have some sort of Hammond Spinet like Tony Banks used. I think the Mellotron was digitally sampled but it sounded AWESOME anyway.
The guitarist played mostly a black Les Paul Custom as Steve Hackett did. He used an MXR phase-100 and some newer volume pedal which allowed all the swells for his violin-type playing. He also used an EBOW a few times for infinite sustain. I guess from reading other posts that the big white thing on his right was a Synthi-Hi-Fly effect, I have the manual for them but have never seen one. What amazed me most about his guitar playing was the "rhythm" or background parts which he played flawlessly - no idea how he figured them out as they are back deep in the mix, seeing him play them only made me realize that there was even guitar in some sections! An example was the opening number, the title track.
The bass player mostly used a (custom built?) doubleneck left handed guitar with a 12-string on top and what appeared to be a normal 6 string on the bottom. The bottom neck did not have a long scale length or thick bass strings. However the sound was decent, I am guessing he used a bass synthesizer (or even a WHAMMY pedal?) to lower the octave and get the fuzz bass sound. It lacked a bit of the solid low end that Rutherford got but it worked out OK. He also had bass pedals which he used for a few numbers, and quite well at that. Not sure if they were Moog Taurus pedals but he did not use the synthy-filtery Taurus sound, just a standard bass sound on the pedals.
The singer had the Gabriel act down pat! Not only did he sing just like him, but his movements, demeanor, and everything were pure pg. His stories between numbers were excellent, with no hint of his native accent. The singer is a truly excellent vocalist, with a range a bit past pg on either end, his low vocals were deep and rich and the high notes crisp without the sound of reaching. His "acting" was quite good too. This singer could be in a major rock band.
I am not much into drums but the drummer did an amazing job even in the impossible sections, never losing the beat. His backing vocals were not quite up to the quality of Phil, but to find someone as good at playing as he is, he did OK.
One very memorable aspect of the show was the feeling of the crowd- we were all like friends sharing our love of the music and memories of past times. I have been listening to early Genesis and pg for about 20 years and did not know there were that many others like me. The show was sold out far in advance and the hall was filled in capacity with the most receptive crowd I have seen. Though we were packed like sardines people were very friendly.
The encore was amazing, The Musical Box followed by Watcher of the Skies, with costumes. Two of my favorite songs also played flawlessly.
If you have a chance to check this band out, go - you will not be disappointed. I would go again to see the same show, definately will go again if they perform another tour (i.e. Selling England by the pound tour, etc).
Thank you to The Musical Box!!!
Selling England By The Pound, 5-APRIL-2002, Theatre for Living Arts (Philadelphia, PA)
After making the trek to the great COLD north last year for the Lamb show, this was not a bad trip (from CT, we even drove home that night...).
The show did start out a bit slowly for some reason, even though they started with Watchers of the Sky (maybe would have been better to save that one, though they may have been running the same set as 1973). It took several songs to get me in the magical feeling I had during all of the Lamb show. Watered down $6 drinks did not help :-)
By the end of the show the crowd was really into it, the encore of The Knife was excellent!
Also Supper's Ready is a
crazy piece played live, I really enjoyed it. The Old Man coming
in at the end of Musical Box was one of the most haunting scenes
I've seen on any theater stage in years.
Sebastien Lamothe as Mike Rutherford was really good this time- using the Rickenbacker double neck was so much better than the copy of the custom doubleneck he used in the Lamb show. The bass parts were much fuller and deeper with the Rick. The other one seemed to have a "simulated" bass sound. Sebastien was also very good on the 12 string acoustic guitars.
François Richard played the keyboards flawlessly, even though this was apparently his first live performance with the band. It was hard to believe he had not played dozens of shows. Only the junky digital ROLAND keyboard he used for piano hurt his performance. The Mellotron and ARP synthesizer were fabulous, as well as the Hammond spinet organ!!!! Please get a new piano...
Denis Champoux was extraordinarily competent on guitar and his sounds were very authentic although his choice of effects pedals could have been improved :-) (too many new Boss pedals). He used a British H & H preamp into a HIWATT head, and a vintage echoplex for echoes. Also a nice sunburst Les Paul, 1959 style (reissue I believe). Hackett did use some of these outrageously expensive guitars in the 70s, I hope he kept some of them!
Denis did not seem quite as good as the guitarist we saw last year with the band but I enjoyed his use of the EBOW for sustained notes. I did not think the EBOW was available in 1973 but it sure sounds like that on the record.
The overall sound was not great but probably better than in 1973! The sound man could not keep the guitar sound audible, many lead lines could not be heard at all. Also the keyboards were often brought in much too loud as were certain painful vocal parts.
We enjoyed the show and I hope we can see the band for a 3rd time in the near future!
I later saw the band in NYC and also some of my crew to see the bank at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY. When they played in CT near my shop in 2008 I got tickets and brought my family to see the show. They played their first post-Gabriel tour, the 1976 Trick of the tail show, and it was amazing. Somehow the singer, Denis Gagne, who was so amazing as Gabriel, turned into Phil Collins for this tour. Just as he had done with pg, he captured the essence of pc and his singing was flawless again. I met guitarist François Gagnon after the show and was amazed to find that he had built his own replicas of two of Steve Hackett's original and hard to find fuzz pedals! So we found we had something in common and kept in touch via email.
I saw that they would be playing the show again in NYC while my Japanese collaborator Ohbayashi san was here for The Amp Show, so I contacted François to see if we could get together. He kindly got us some passes and we met up before soundcheck to do some gear testing. I saw his live rig and showed him an old Univox SuperFuzz to compare to his handmade model.
Here is his pedalboard on stage, with his handmade SUPA FUZZ replica in the middle, with the Shaftsbury Duo Fuzz (same as Univox SUPERFUZZ) on it's right. Note the LED mounted through the bottom plate of the SUPA FUZZ so as not to require drilling holes in the carefully made casing. The Ernie Ball volume pedal on the right is BEFORE the fuzzes, and used for the violin swells. It works great for that as it adds the fuzz and sustain as you push it down, driving the fuzz pedals harder. The volume pedal on the left is for his level.
Here is his original H & H British solid state amp, as used by Hackett and others like Marc Bolan (T Rex) and EVH (slaved with Marshalls). It sounds really cool for a solid state amp, with a built-in distortion circuit. On top is a Danelectro echo, the normal Space Echo was having problems. But the Dano would not hold the tempo well, so he was not very happy with it. Also the EBOW is seen on the amp, used for holding long notes.
François is testing out the Analog Man King of Tone pedal through the H & H amp. We also tried running the fuzzes through it, I do that often to simulate running into a cranked up tube amp. Note the Synthi Hi-Fli controller pedals below the amp, one is used to remotely turn the H-Fli effect on.
Here is the band's EMS Synthi Hi-Fli effect, it has settings for several songs on the top. It can do a really cool phasing effect and more crazy sounds like the Colony of Slippermen. He used it on several songs. This is one of the most rare and valueable pedals ever made, and one of the few that I do not have in our Effects Museum so it was a treat to see and hear it!
I am holding my old Univox Super Fuzz and François (sans Hackett hair) is holding his replica.
Here you can see how well he duplicated the pedal on the inside. François built the chassis out of an aluminum Pizza pan! He bent the metal himself and soldered it up, using some body filler to hide some screws and metal connections. His pedal did not have quite as much sustain or low end as our old one, possibly a few capacitors and transistors could be changed, we will help him out and hope to get it even better.
This is his replica Marshall Supa Fuzz pedal. He made it out
of a sheet of brass, bent and soldered together unlike the original which was cast alloy.
You can see the three old Germanium transistors and circuit board. Both pedals circuit boards
were made by hand, manually etching away the copper with a dremel to make the original circuit.
This is not an easy pedal to make sound good, but his was great.
After checking out the pedals backstage it was time for the show! I took this shot with my IPHONE from the balcony.
But the guitar sound was not very strong from there so we moved to the other side after a while.
Note Sebastien's Moog Taurus pedals and what appears to be another one by François (but housing
a digital sample with some Taurus samples and other samples used for certain sound effects). Also
notice Bill Bruford on drums!
François taking a solo.
Awesome Genesis light show, fans getting into it!
A Trick of the Tail, indeed.
In early 2010 the band was back in Ridgefield, CT and François contacted me. They were staying in Danbury so I was able to bring him to my shop to check out some pedals! He was very interested in seeing my NOS Marshall Supa Fuzz to compare with the one he built. He also played through ALL the pedals on my personal pedalboard, through my old Marshall Super Lead 100, at a good volume. It was great to hear him play other styles and get feedback on my pedals, including two prototype distortion pedals. François is an excellent player and does a tuning trick I have never seen, going from drop D to normal tuning and back in the blink of an eye.
I also got to try his '70s Les Paul and he got to try a few of my historic reissue Les Pauls. I am posing with one of my Genesis guitars, an EKO 12 string as used by the band in the early 1970s. The Supa Fuzz can be seen on the table. After a few hours at the shop we went to soundcheck which I always enjoy. Then after dinner Tom Hughes (Analog Man's Guide to vintage effects author) joined me to watch them play an awesome set to a full house. We then hung around afterwards and talked to the keyboard player about vintage synths and organs, which we both love. François also showed the NOS Supa Fuzz to other band members so they could see how he was able to so accurately reproduce the pedal from only pictures! I hope they can visit our shop again next year.
Be sure to click on the CLIP on their website TheMusicalBox.net to get an idea of the show, it's pretty amazing.