The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A frail but in command Phil Collins guides Genesis in a potential farewell

Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins and Tony Banks of Genesis perform at Capital One Arena. (Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

Genesis has reached its exodus. One of the most successful rock bands ever is on the road for what may very well be its last tour. And everything about Thursday’s stop at Capital One Arena sure looked and sounded like sayonara. From a chair at the center of the stage, a frail and all but immobile Phil Collins, looking older than his 70 years, led his childhood mates and the fans who packed the arena on a sad, sweet and oh-so-melodic trip through a catalogue of songs whose earliest pages date back 50 years to a snooty English boarding school.

Every era of the band’s history, including a surprising and wonderful helping of material from the early artsy days when Peter Gabriel fronted Genesis, was represented during a nearly 2½ -hour show that went by in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Among the most mature nuggets featured in the main set were a gorgeous instrumental-only “The Cinema Show,” an acoustic “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” and a marvelously elongated “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe).”

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Genesis started out as a prog rock band that recorded double-disc concept albums and wrote songs so lengthy that just one tune might take up a whole LP side. But the show was also full of material crafted after the group morphed into a singles factory that cranked out radio smashes and ready-for-beer-commercials tunes.

The sea change for Genesis came in 1975, when bizarre and bombastic Gabriel left, and Collins came out from behind the drum kit to take over. Collins was a less ambitious lyricist than Gabriel, but with the new frontman’s incredible pop chops, the same band that drew a few hundred prog cultists for a 1974 Warner Theatre gig during Gabriel’s reign would be packing RFK Stadium in 1992.

The irresistible pop nuggets from Collins-era Genesis came in waves at Capital One.

Among the most crowd-pleasing: 1980s keyboard-heavy “Turn It On Again,” 1986’s “Tonight Tonight Tonight” (the soundtrack for a Michelob beer ad campaign back in the day) and “Throwing It All Away,” another 1986 tune that ended with Collins screaming “I don’t wanna go!” as best he could.

Collins has earned the right to decide when it’s time to go. To say he’s had a good run in rock-and-roll is to wildly understate his accomplishments. He played a schoolboy in the Beatles’ 1964 feature film “A Hard Day’s Night.” He’s one of just three pop artists credited with selling at least 100 million records as a member of a band and another 100 million as a solo act.

Collins was arguably the biggest rock star in the world in the mid-1980s, as the only musician invited to play both 1985 Live Aid shows, first at London’s Wembley Stadium and later the same day at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, drumming for a reconstituted Led Zeppelin.

Genesis’s other remaining founding members, bassist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks, were content to spend the show in the background — possibly a result of having been dumped twice by charismatic lead singers who recorded platinum records after leaving them behind.

Collins performed none of his solo smashes during this latest D.C. stop. Gabriel has almost never sung a Genesis tune since choosing to leave the band — he didn’t even bother showing up for Genesis’s 2010 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So for Collins to spend so much time on this apparently final road jaunt covering the same songs that fans strongly associate with Gabriel makes Collins seem like the more selfless of the two Genesis frontmen.

But it probably is time for Genesis to call it a night. While Collins’s vocals got stronger as the night went on, his voice seemed reedy and thin at the beginning of the show. He did not look well, either. He had to be helped by roadies up the stairs just to reach the stage and walked very slowly with a cane to a comfy chair, where he spent the rest of the night.

Collins has said a spinal injury and a long roster of other physical ailments have left him barely able to even hold a drumstick. But before 1991’s “No Son of Mine,” he smiled maybe his biggest smile of the night while introducing his 20-year-old son, Nic Collins, as probably the last Genesis drummer. (Collins’ daughter, Lily Collins, plays the title role in the Netflix series “Emily in Paris.”)

He poked fun at his frailties by opening the encore with 1991’s hit “I Can’t Dance.” The night ended with a glorious full-on version of “The Carpet Crawlers.” The latter’s a Gabriel-era cut with a melody and pace fit for a slow dance at a high school prom, even with lyrics as weird as any in the Genesis canon.

If this really is it for the band, closing with a song about bugs and lizards back from when it all began makes for a fine and courageous way to go out.

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