Phil Collins played the musical equivalent of a security blanket Monday night at Capital Centre. The evocative, feel-good music was stitched together with journeyman bass player Leland Sklar's unsurpassed melodic and rhythmic lines, fluffed up with perfect harmonies by three backup singers (Bridgette Bryant was phenomenal) and given splashes of color by the four Phoenix Horns. This was all backed, more often than not, by Phil Collins's trademark drum machine programs; you know the ones -- they sound like a Casio rhythm box when you hear them on the radio: thin and a little cheesy, but somehow perfect for the music.
The use of prerecorded drums was ironic since Collins is one of the best drummers in the business, and also onstage was Chester Thompson, late of Power Station and Chic, himself a brilliant drummer. They showed what they could do together at the end of the song "Courage," a three-part look at the troubles of South Africa. It started small, with just Collins at the piano, developed into a full-scale African funk romp, and ended up with Collins and Thompson doing an intricately coordinated drum duet on two full drum kits. The power of two drummers was also exploited to the fullest on Collins's best-known song, "In the Air Tonight," and on a funky jazz fusion instrumental, reminiscent of Collins's work with the band Brand X.
Between numbers, Collins was the congenial host, telling amusing little tales, reminding us to help the homeless, to vote, and in general telling us we should all be as swell as he is. The music was crisp and clear, especially on the punchy dance numbers like "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Sussudio," and the lighting design was particularly impressive without being garish. While his lyrics are almost all one cliche after another, his reedy tenor delivers them with warmth, and his impeccable sense of melody keeps them running through your head long after the meaning has faded, back in the jammed parking lot.