I can’t dance. I can’t talk. Only thing about me is the way I walk.
For the longest time, I thought I hated Phil Collins. Plenty of reasons: because of that unbelievably annoying “I Can’t Dance” dance, because he looks like a giant human thumb, because of that time he was hosting the Billboard awards and he called Snoop Doggy Dogg “Snoopy Dogg Dogg” (he wasn’t even joking). Plus I had this simplistic idea of the former-Genesis-frontman dichotomy between Collins and Peter Gabriel, with Gabriel as the art guy and Collins as the crass MOR pop guy. The problem with that whole thing is that Collins and Gabriel pretty much sound exactly like each other, except that Collins is a better singer with (mostly) better songs. In fact, Collins is pretty great, or anyway great enough to have four or five absolute monster classic singles. On the surface, it looks pretty weirdly anomalous that every rapper in the universe loves Collins to pieces, but, really, it’s a natural fit. Collins is a powerful singer with a real sweeping range who sings big, cinematic songs over liquid electronic production, and rap always has room for that stuff. And he has a song about letting someone die. And he seems like a nice guy. And really, what more could you ask for? So I’m embarrassed that it took the Paid in Full soundtrack and a DMX sample and that Bone Thugs video where he sings “Stay With Me” to give this guy a chance. He can write ten garbage-ass Tarzan soundtracks; he wrote “Against All Odds,” and that’s enough.
That’s why I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 this morning; Collins was doing one of those free Today Show concerts, and I thought I’d have to be there at 7:00. It turns out that I could’ve gotten an extra hour and a half of sleep; Collins didn’t take the stage until the show’s second hour. I did, however, get to hang out with a huge group of tourists who held up signs and screamed “woo!” while Matt Lauer talked about the Sears Tower terrorist plot and who told me over and over that I must always have the best seat in the house (I’m really tall). Most of the crowd seemed to be college kids with their moms; I saw one guy give $200 to his daughter, and she didn’t even thank him. No rappers made it out, but a few representatives from the Notre Dame swimming and diving team showed up, as did some kindergarten teachers in foam-rubber Statue of Liberty spikes and one guy who enlisted Al Roker’s help to ask his girlfriend to marry him in maybe the least romantic proposal I’ve ever seen. A lot of people left before Collins even came out, and Matt Lauer and the swinging camera-crane got bigger cheers than anything Phil-related, so I guess this wasn’t really a music crowd; it was more of a trying-to-get-on-TV crowd.
In fact, it took me a minute to figure out what was going on when Collins finally came out. His band was set up on a stage at one end of a between-buildings alcove in Rockefeller Plaza, but Collins first came out on a riser in the middle of the crowd, looking totally nondescript in a black T-shirt (I thought he was a stagehand at first). He came out singing “You’ll Be in My Heart” from the aforementioned garbage-ass Tarzan soundtrack, and his vocal tone was just unbelievably rich and buttery. I’d always assumed he had crazy studio effects on his singles, but no, he really sings like that. He had no introduction or anything, and it turned out that he was just sound-checking; he’d do the same song again a few minutes later, after Lauer asked some people from Best Week Ever if they thought Superman was gay. In all, Collins only did four songs: the Tarzan one, “True Colors,” his cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and one other one that I didn’t recognize, a duet with some guy who looked like a soap opera actor. He didn’t do any of his truly great songs; I guess someone thought it was too early for that drowning song to be beamed into televisions across Middle America, though I can’t imagine it would’ve bummed anyone out too hard. He also did an interview with Lauer out that I couldn’t hear because the microphones were turned down really low. Collins is still great, but I’m staying in bed next time.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 23, 2006