BESTED TRIBUTE The Musical Box, here featuring Denis Gagne in the Slipperman costume, have taken on a task that even Genesis have abandoned.
"And I'm hovering like a fly, waiting for the windshield on the freeway." Thus proclaims Puerto Rican protagonist Rael, a/k/a the "Imperial Aerosol Kid," seven minutes into Genesis' 1974 behemoth double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, a work that 37 years after its release remains a masterpiece mindfuck of near-Lynchian proportions.
Spawned from the lyrical subconscious of then-frontman Peter Gabriel, the album became as difficult to perform live as it was to understand. Fans and critics were baffled by Rael's hallucinogenic 95-minute journey from New York City to a dark underworld riddled with sexual and sinister creatures (Lamia, Slippermen), as he searches for his "brother" John — an extension of his own personality.
Though not the first rock opera to focus on schizophrenia (the Who's Quadrophenia beat it by almost a year), The Lamb's conceptual twists and turns wreaked havoc when played live. Genesis trudged through roughly 100 performances of the album (before Gabriel officially left the group) yet encountered technical hurdles on a regular basis. The shortlist included faulty background slides, Gabriel's elaborate costumes throwing off his ability to sing, and, on one occasion, an explosion towards the show's end that forced the band to stop playing.
Although members of Montreal-based Genesis tribute band the Musical Box say they've been successful in re-staging The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in its entirety for their third tour with it since 2000 — which comes to the Wilbur Theatre November 16 — they acknowledge the album hasn't gotten any easier to perform. "It's such a complicated production for us," says 41-year-old musical director Sebastien Lamothe (and Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford counterpart) via phone last week from a tour stop in Chicago. "I mean, let's face it: musically speaking, the musicianship needed to perform such a show is asking a lot of work and dedication . . . . We need to be very focused as a group to go through these shows. It's a renewed challenge every night."
But Lamothe quickly adds that any and all errors committed by the band — technical, musical, or otherwise — only add to the authenticity. "If you're really talking about the essence of it, we're really, really putting ourselves in the same spot as Genesis were," he says. "If anything, we're taking more risks."
The Lamb marked a turbulent time in Genesis's history, but barely missed the American Top 40. Several tracks — "In the Cage," "The Carpet Crawlers," "It" — remained tour staples for years. But The Lamb's infamy sustained for decades. "I cringe at certain places now when I look back at it," Peter Gabriel once quipped in the 1991 documentary, Genesis: A History.
Drummer Phil Collins said in the same film: "We did about 98 shows with it, all the way across the world. Then we went to America before the double album had come out. Suicide — we played the whole thing to an audience of people that said, 'What the hell is going on?,' because Peter was dressing up in extraordinary costumes."