Concert Review: Phil Collins, 'Not Dead Yet Live,' Target Center, October 21st

Shortly before 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening, I should be in bed—it’s a school night; I have to be up at 5:15, providing my wife with a wake up call when I leave the house at 6:30.

However, I am not in bed. I am near the back of the Target Center—I hesitate to say the ‘cheap seats,’ because these were anything but, and I am on the verge of tears. In the distance, across a sea of, like, 13,000 people, on the other side of the arena sits Phil Collins, fronting a 14-piece band, delivering a cathartic, near-jubilant version of “Take Me Home.”

Because when Collins sings, “I can’t come out to find you—I don’t like to go outside/They can’t turn off my feelings like they’re turning off a light,” I want you to know, in that moment, I really fucking felt that.


We rarely, if ever, go to concerts—there are a number of reasons why, including, but not limited to the fact that they are usually on a school night, they often start rather late, they’re at venues that are problematic, and they can be costly.

I, also, have what I would call crippling concert anxiety, which has been extensively documented. 

Phil Collins is not well—at 67, he has myriad health problems, all of which, much like my anxiety, have been extensively documented, including his post-retirement depression and alcoholism, a spinal injury, and something called ‘drop foot.’

Following the release of his 2016 memoir, Not Dead Yet, Collins developed a live show with the same name—touring it throughout Europe in 2017, bringing it to Central and South America at the start of this year, then to North America at the start of October; his stop in Minneapolis, as noted by local press coverage of the show, was his first time performing as a solo artist in the Twin Cities in 35 years, and his first time back in the area since performing with Genesis in support of We Can’t Dance, in 1992.

Collins’ music has, more or less, always been a part of my life. I was two years old when his third solo album, No Jacket Required, was released; the following year, Invisible Touch, his second to final album with Genesis, arrived—both of which I still have on vinyl, stolen from my parent’s record collection many, many years ago.

The day after the concert, as I attempted to make it through my shift at work on, like, five hours of sleep and a minor case of ‘concert ear,’ one of my co-workers was surprised that I liked Phil Collins at all, let alone enough to go see him in concert—“Didn’t his music skip your generation?,” she asked. I would argue that he didn’t—not if your parents raised you on contemporary popular music, or if you had cable and had access to seeing Collins’ music videos on VH-1.

I’d say that there was never a point in my life when I didn’t like the music of Phil Collins, or at least, appreciated it, though I believe there was a renewed interest in him, for some reason, when I started working in radio in 2010; much to the chagrin of the station manager, and the newscaster at the station at the time, I played a lot of Collins and Genesis during the nearly three years I had a daily, hour long program—once dedicating my entire show to him and his vast body of work.

I’d venture to that, in 2018, with Collins already in shaky condition and pushing 70, seeing him live is more than likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. So, in the spring, when the North American dates of the Not Dead Yet tour were announced, with a Minneapolis stop surprisingly included among them, I knew that I would need to spend the next five months mentally preparing myself to overcome my concert anxiety.


In my limited experiences with live performances at the Target Center—Stevie Wonder’s Songs in The Key of Life tour in 2015 being the only other one—events never really seem to start on time. With Phil Collins, perhaps it was because there was some kind of medical emergency happening in the crowd shortly before the advertised 8 p.m. show time—a situation that involve event staff, medical personnel, and a stretcher to be carried up the arena’s steps and out of the venue.

Or, it’s simply that an hour (doors opened at 7 p.m.) is not enough time to get 13,000 people into their seats.

With the stage obscured by a scrim that was elevated after the first song concluded, the lights dimmed and a short introductory track was played before Collins hobbled out on stage at roughly 8:20 p.m., basking in the warm welcome Minneapolis was paying.

Collins quickly took a seat in the swiveling chair placed front and center stage—explaining to those who were not aware of his health, that his “foot is fucked,” as he put it, and that because of that, and his spinal injury from years prior, he needs to remain seated while performing—only standing during one of the show’s 20 songs.

After thanking the Target Center audience for attending the show, he launched into the slow burning and dramatic first song of the night—with the band still obscured by the scrim, Collins belted out “Against All Odds,” one of three non-album, though incredibly successful singles, included in the Not Dead Yet repertoire.

Originally written during the sessions for his debut solo album, 1981’s Face Value, “Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now),” was left off the album (he thought there were too many piano-driven ballads on it) and resurrected three years later when Collins was approached to write a song for the film Against All Odds.

From there, Collins and his incredibly sharp 14-piece band, including musicians he’s worked with throughout his entire career, began to slowly build the momentum of the show’s first half—sliding into Collins’ homelessness awareness ballad from But Seriously…, “Another Day in Paradise,” fitting I guess, because like many of the songs selected for Not Dead Yet, it was a successful and recognizable single, but also because, in a major city like Minneapolis, I’m fairly certain that on the drive through downtown, toward the Target Center, we passed someone in need of help, holding a sign, at an intersection.

Throughout his solo career, Collins has released eight studio albums—the Not Dead Yet set list rarely varies from night to night, and it pulled material Face Value, No Jacket Required, and But Seriously…, as well as three songs from his tenure with Genesis, his Supremes cover of “Can’t Hurry Love,” a deep cut from his 1994 effort Both Sides, and his two other non-album singles, “Separate Lives,” a very, very slow ballad from the film “White Nights,” and the energetic “Easy Lover,” originally a duet with Phillip Bailey of Earth, Wind, and Fire.

He also played that song from Disney’s Tarzan, “You Will Be in My Heart,” which was when I wisely chose to go visit the restroom.

The first half of the set, following “Another Day in Paradise” kept the energy high with “I Missed Again’ and “Hang in Long Enough.” Following those, Collins and the band went into back to back Genesis songs—two from the more accessible material he contributed to the band: ‘Throwing it All Away” from Invisible Touch, and “Follow You, Follow Me.”

After two very deep cuts (“Can’t Turn Back The Years” from Both Sides and “Who Said I Would” from No Jacket Required), Collins brought the pacing of the show to a halt with the very lengthy band introduction—necessary, but thinking of something witty to quip about 14 people takes a minute; launching right into “Separate Lives,” also didn’t help the lag in energy. The audience, at least in section 206, became very antsy, with many people choosing to get another drink, go buy a t-shirt without waiting in a half hour line, or visit the restroom.

The show regained its energy after a lengthy instrumental dual between Nic Collins, Phil’s 17 year old son (from his third marriage) manning an enormous drum kit, and accessory percussionist, Richie Garcia; it eventually crests with the two of them coming out to the center of the stage pounding out a rhythm on hand percussion instruments, with Collins himself joining in.

From there, the rest of the band returns for a rousing version of “Something Happened on The Way to Heaven.”

As Collins and his band prepared for the unrelenting energy of the show’s final seven songs, he wandered over to a grand piano on stage, and was joined by Nic, who had taught himself how to play the Face Value ballad “You Know What I Mean,” allegedly one of two songs his son actually ‘likes’ according to his father’s joke prior to the two working through the relatively short, somber piece.

Arguably Collins’ best-known song as a solo artist, “In The Air Tonight” begins the final descent through his lengthy catalog of hits. The only song that he stands up to sing—with the band creating a massive amount of tension behind him, complete with moody synths, swirling vocoded vocal accents, and dissonant, distended electric guitar noodling, it was the evening’s most visceral song. While Collins has not lost the ability to sing, or hit the notes the way he used to, he no longer heads into the song’s conclusion with the larynx shredding anguish like he did in 1981; the delivery now is much more deliberate and tempered.

That drum fill though.

It is disappointing that time has rendered Collins unable to play drums—even if only for what is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic drum fills ever committed to tape. Still powerful and surprising, even after 37 years, and even without the gated reverb effect on the drums themselves, Nic Collins knows the importance of hitting his mark during “In The Air Tonight”’s climax, and he doesn’t miss. Assisted by the additional rhythmic pounding from Garcia’s massive array of toms and congas, as well as incredibly theatrical lighting cues—you know the moment is coming, but somehow, it is absolutely thrilling to see and hear it all happen in person.

The late inclusion—or rather, the inclusion at all, of “Dance Into The Light,” what is probably one of Collins’ last recognizable singles, isn’t a misfire, but there are certainly other songs that I would prefer to have heard instead; it did, however, keep the energy level very, very high, as the band slid into raucous versions of “Invisible Touch” and “Easy Lover,” before wrapping up the main set with a bombastic, exciting take on “Sussudio,” complete with cannons raining streamers and confetti on the band.

Following the obligatory “thank you and goodnight,” the band departed and Collins hobbled away, only to return a few moments later, for the show’s encore of “Take Me Home.”

For me, “Take Me Home” has always been an poignant, frisson-inducing experience—a song that, despite  what it apparently is actually aboutis still quite powerful; the kind of song that pushes you right to the edge of emotional breaking point, and occasionally finding you toppling over that line. In its 2018 form, performed by Collins’ large band (his brass section does not participate in this one), it relies a lot less on the skittering synthesizer beeps and boops that make the album version so iconic to hear. However, that does not diminish the feeling and the release that the song is able to, almost effortlessly, conjure as it builds and builds until the ending.


A venue like the Target Center wasn’t built with the real intent of housing concerts—it’s just where marquee name artists wind up playing when they can bank on selling that many tickets. While its counterpart in St. Paul, the Xcel Energy Center, is more awful in a number of ways, the sound during Collins’ over two hour performance was pretty good—mixing live sound is a tough job, and mixing for a room like that doesn’t make the job any easier.

There were moments when the whole thing got a little ‘boom-y,’ as they say, and occasionally, Collins’ four very capable back-up vocalists got a little lost and drowned in the mix, but the instrumentation never turned into a massive wall of indistinguishable sound—something that can happen pretty easily. Much like when we saw Songs in The Key of Life performed at the Target Center, the room is not very forgiving to thing that register in a higher frequency—during that show, Wonder’s pre-recorded dialogue snippets from “Black Man” were incredibly piercing; during Collins’ set, there was a specific synthesizer Brad Cole would play that rang out in such a way that it sliced its way through the songs.

With a show of this size, with every song having elaborate lighting cues, as well as custom created video overlays, edited with live footage of the night’s crowd (the whole thing is filmed with a professional crew on and in front of the stage), and a curved LED screen featuring ever changing backgrounds for the band to perform in front of, the set list does not really change from night to night, and there’s really little room for improvisation from Collins’ very capable stable of musicians. The songs selected, for the most part, play to the crowd—play the songs they want to hear—with a small amount of lesser known songs or non-singles to cater to the ‘real’ fans in attendance.

Playing for over two hours at Collins’ age (and in his health) is pretty impressive, but I think people would have gladly sat for longer and enjoyed a more robust show—I, personally, was sad that a straight banger like “I Don’t Care Anymore” was nowhere to be found; the same could be said for the proto-space rock vibes of “Do You Know? Do You Care?”—both of which are from his second solo effort, Hello, I Must Be Going! My wife was pretty disappointed at the lack of Genesis material from his final album with the group, We Can’t Dance—the titular track, while mostly a joke, would have been a fun inclusion, and that album’s opening track, “No Son of Mine,” is still incredibly poignant, and still slays.

It also seems like a crime to have not included the theatrical “I Wish it Would Rain,” the powerhouse single from But Seriously….


From the name of his memoir, and the tour itself, it should be pretty clear that Collins has a knack for self-deprecation. There was a moment, just before he introduced “Separate Lives,” when he said something to the extent of, “We’re going to do one now that was a huge hit back in the ‘80s.” He paused then—whether or not this was all rehearsed patter or not, I don’t know—and laughed a little, adding, “That’s pretty much when all my hits were from.”

Collins never found away to reinvent himself and keep evolving with popular music; he left Genesis after taking them from progressive rock innovators to pop superstars, and his own solo material began stalling in the mid-1990s as the landscape started to shift dramatically. His final studio album of original material, Testify, was released in 2002, and it was a commercial disaster; he returned with Going Back in 2010, a collection of Motown covers—confusing to some upon its release, I thought it was an impressive set, and would have actually appreciated hearing some of those during the Not Dead Yet show as well.

When I wrote about the first of his Take A Look at Me Now reissues in 2015, the 35th anniversary edition of Face Value, I talked about how Collins was in need of a ‘Journey moment’ to, for lack of a better description, make him ‘cool’ again in modern times. What I mean by this is that, up until “Don’t Stop Believing” was used in the finale of “The Sopranos,” did people really like Journey, or did they like them in an ironic way?

I realized that Collins’ moment maybe came and went before we were ready—with his mention in a monologue from the film American Psycho, followed by the usage of “Sussudio” during a graphic sex scene.

Does Collins need another moment—or is a moderately successful world tour, perhaps his last, enough to make him ‘cool’ again?

Or does Collins need to be ‘cool’ again? Is he just fine coasting on people’s nostalgia for the songs he wrote upwards of 30 years ago?

There’s a joke from a very old episode of “30 Rock” where Tracy Morgan’s character is talking to Alec Baldwin and says, “I’mma make you a mixtape—you like Phil Collins?”

Baldwin responds, without missing a beat, “I’ve got two ears and a heart, don’t I?”

I mean, most of us have two ears and a heart, right, so why isn’t everyone listening to Phil Collins, and appreciating the contributions he made to an important time in contemporary popular music?

I think people are surprised that I like Phil Collins because my favorite band is Radiohead, and when people ask me what kind of music I listen to, I tell them I primarily only listen to rap music from the early 1990s and ambient droning. But I also appreciate Phil Collins—a flawed figure who made a lot of wildly popular songs that have, give or take, aged surprisingly well.

My love of Phil Collins isn’t even a guilty pleasure—his music is really nothing to be ashamed of (except that song from Tarzan.) His canon is something I appreciate in earnest.

At 67, he’s not dead yet, but he is well aware of his own fragile mortality. And on a Sunday night in Minneapolis, Collins was a charismatic enough performer to keep me from drowning in my own anxiety for a couple of hours, releasing me back into the night after not what I would call a ‘religious experience,’ but an experience never the less—one that relied heavily on spectacle, sure, but also incredible showmanship, creating an atmosphere that, despite the actual hell we are living in right now in 2018, it was okay, for a few hours, to try and have fun.