The Musical Box perform The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Tribeca Performing Arts Center
Friday, November 25
Better than: Frank Zappa’s 1984 Thing-Fish pictorial for Hustler.
Besides licensing the rights to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway to the cover band The Musical Box, who’ve been touring it recently, the British progressive rockers Genesis went the extra mile and tossed in the costumes, instruments, and slideshow used when they performed their 1974 double-vinyl concept album in concert. The Lamb Lies Down is a mind-boggling concatenation of doublings and mirrorings that takes place underground, in “an almost perfect reconstruction of the streets of New York”—and the Montreal quintet’s commendably detailed recreation adds one more ontological level to composer-lyricist Peter Gabriel’s Joycean house of mirrors. The Musical Box presented a simulacrum of a simulacrum in the form of a nostalgia-free reminder of the sort of artistic ambition foolishly negated by punk rock only a couple of short years later.
Prescient or not, The Lamb Lies Down tells the story of another sort of punk, the half-Puerto Rican gangbanger Rael, who was played by Gabriel back then and by the charismatic Denis Gagné today. The rest of the band—François Gagnon (guitarist “Steve Hackett”), Sébastien Lamothe (bassist “Mike Rutherford”), Marc Laflamme (drummer “Phil Collins”), and Michael Cloutier (keyboardist “Tony Banks”)—takes a backseat to Gagné, who gets to prance and preen and eventually don a colorful costume with enhanced genitalia.
Open to interpretation as a Christian, psychoanalytic, or mythological allegory&30151;or as another sort entirely—The Lamb Lies Down describes what happens to Rael after a dark cloud descends upon Times Square, forming a wall along 47th Street that “becomes a screen showing what had existed in three dimensions, on the other side, just a moment before.” Musical flashbacks describe a culture in decline (“Broadway Melody of 1974”) and outline Rael’s badass past (“Back in N.Y.C.”). Rael eventually descends underground into a mystical realm of his very own Beatrice (“Lilywhite Lilith”) and sexy snakes (“The Lamia”). There he undergoes a ritualistic castration (“The Colony of Slippermen”) but reintegrates after an existential crisis—”it is Real, it is Rael”—with a parodic nod to the Rolling Stones: “Yes, it’s only knock and knowall, but I like it.”
Some 120 slides projected onto three screens initially titillated a sense of local pride while reinforcing the notion that we only reside in New York’s latest, lamest iteration; they became increasingly surreal as Rael descended into his inferno. With its orchestral Mellotron, ever-shifting time signatures, industrial outbursts, Frippertronic interludes, and theatrical disregard for conventional song structure, Genesis’s musical pastiche sounded accessibly modern. And the Musical Box nailed it—or what would be the point?—down to the buried lead vocals of Lamb‘s original mix.
Following Lamb, the Musical Box performed its namesake Genesis number, a multipart saga that concludes with an elderly ghost (Gagné, masked) possibly raping the little girl who’d murdered his childhood self. They ended the evening with “Watcher of the Skies,” with Gagné in Gabriel’s original bat-wing robe. For Genesis’s 2010 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the same song was performed by Phish, whose own oeuvre owes more than a little to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway—an album the Musical Box’s production relieves them from ever having to cover.
Critical bias: I fucking love concept albums.
Random notebook dump: Dystopian visions of New York evoked by The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: Douglas Cheek’s movie C.H.U.D.; Arthur Neresian’s novel The Swing Voter of Staten Island; Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One; John Carpenter’s movie Escape From New York; Donald Fagen’s song “Morph the Cat.”
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974
In the Cage
The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging
Back in N.Y.C.
Counting Out Time
The Carpet Crawlers
The Chamber of 32 Doors
The Waiting Room
The Supernatural Anaesthetist
Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats
Colony of Slippermen
The Light Dies Down on Broadway
Riding the Scree
In the Rapids
The Musical Box
Watcher of the Skies