Phil Collins: sage or potato? : THE CRITICS : Rock

THE KEY line of Phil Collins's latest album, Both Sides, is: "We always need to hear both sides of the story." One side of the story is that Collins is one of Britain's best percussionists, and a talented singer, writer and multi-instrumentalist w ho hasmastered even the bagpipes. (Amazing pop fact: Phil Collins and Eternal both played in London on Wednesday, and both played "Amazing Grace" and "You Can't Hurry Love".) The other side is that Collins is a dullard who released 1993's dullest record , andwhose head, according to a vintage cartoon by the IoS's Martin Rowson, has long since been replaced by a giant potato.

Thursday's Wembley Arena show begins with a stage decorated with windswept newspapers, scaffolding, a flickering hotel sign, steam rising from subway grates, the doorway of a ramshackle hut. Collins enters through the doorway, hangs up his hat and coat, and launches into a drum solo on a pile of rubbish. So far, so imaginative.

But then come the schmaltzy white-soul arrangements and barely detectable tunes. Collins fakes emotion by marching up and down, shaking his fist. Amazing pop fact: as a child actor in London in 1965 he played the Artful Dodger. Tonight, the same night that Oliver! returns to the West End, he reprises the role. "One More Night" and "Another Day in Paradise" slip down painlessly, but not even his fans, who knew what they were letting themselves in for, are on their feet. Interval.

Pink Floyd's recent show was a game of two halves too. (The Division Bell, Both Sides . . . the interval is part of the concept, see?) And in Collins's show, like theirs, the second half is better than the first. The band are joined by a sparky brass section. The musicians relax, and with a blast of streamers (imagine a 50ft party popper) the atmosphere is carnivalesque. The fans are on their feet until the protracted finale in which Collins investigates an age-old philosophical conundrum, How many times can a man repeat the words "Take me home" before someone smashes him in the face?

Another question is, if you have classic songs and a classic voice, do you need anything else? Joe Cocker thinks not. At Wembley Arena, Cocker, 50, dispenses with inspiration or show- manship. Some of the latter is provided by his heavy-metal guitarist, who appears to be trying to wrestle his instrument to the ground, and his exceptional ragtime pianist. Cocker's only movement is to wobble slightly, waving his arms like the pub drunk preparing to tell his joke. But he has a repertoire of standards by Lennon and McCartney, John Hiatt, Randy Newman and, erm, Bryan Adams. And he has that hair-raising growl to wrap around them. That satisfies his audience. They don't greet the intros to his latest songs with much applause, but they whoop for "With a LittleHelp from My Friends". Cocker conceived its regal arrangement while on the toilet - hence, perhaps, the racked facial expression he adopts to this day when singing it. He should keep hunting down songs of this distinction, because on the more MOR material, he is bog standard.

His opening act, Sheryl Crow, asks, "Do you mind if I make Wembley sort of a club tonight?" - a reference both to her revered debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club (A&M), and the fact that the Arena is not her ideal venue. Her rootsy rock with a lop-sided grin and a bruised heart has been one of the year's surprise successes. She should be topping the bill at medium-sized theatres. Instead she is contractually obliged to play a half-hour set to a half-empty hangar. The only real revelation is her voice,a mewl on record, mighty in concert. Watch out for her in a more sensible venue next year.

Most of the audience at Eternal's Hammersmith Apollo concert on Wednesday had rifled through big sister's wardrobe and make-up drawer in a misguided attempt to appear older. They could do so more successfully by staying away from an Eternal concert in the first place.

But the younger the audience, the greater the sexual content. Consider Take That, whose routines were first displayed in X-rated nightclubs. Then consider Joe Cocker, sexy as a wombat. Eternal leave the raunch to their support acts. First come MN8, keeping a grip on their crotches in order to reach the high notes of their hip-hop pop. Then Michelle Gayle, the latest soap star turned frothy pop-ette, flounces on in micro-skirt and bra. But apart from the contagious chorus of her hit single "Sweetness", her act is dreary stuff. Maybe she'll improve. These days people say that Kylie's much better than she used to be. (I saw her at BT's Prince's Trust concert on Tuesday, and she's not.)

Eternal arrive in their gym kit and anoraks, backed by a funky four-piece, and skip through cheerleading routines worthy of a bronze medal in the stage-dancing Olympics. Reports of their aptitude as a gospel quartet should not be taken as gospel, although unlike Take That, they can all sing. Easther Bennett is the Diana Ross of the crew. Whenever a note is longer, louder, or lovelier than the others, it comes from Easther. The Supremes analogy is theirs. They appear in white dresses for one segment anddon't quite pull off a medley of Motown hits. They look as if they are borrowing their big sisters' clothes themselves.

Phil Collins: Wembley, 081-900 1234, tonight, Tues, Wed. Eternal: Plymouth Pav, 0752 229922, tonight; Bristol Colston, 0272 223682, Mon; Portsmouth Guildhall, 0705 824355, Tues; Poole Arts, 0202 685222, Wed.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Specialist - HR Team

    £26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £38,000

    £16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Parts Sales Advisor - OTE 18k-23k

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Ford's leading Parts Who...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders