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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Phil Collins: Ever the Everyguy of Pop

August 10, 1994|CHUCK CRISAFULLI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Over the last 25 years, Phil Collins has undergone one of the odder transformations in pop music. He began his music career drumming with Genesis, when that band was led by Peter Gabriel and was considered one of the headier British art-rock outfits. He's become a mega-successful mainstream crooner.

With more than 35 million records sold and a half-dozen Grammys collected for his solo work, Collins doesn't have many pop summits left to conquer. He does, however, have plenty of fans to entertain, and on Monday at the Forum, dependable entertainment value is what the affable singer offered them.

It's been four years since his last solo tour, but in a pair of sets that added up to nearly three hours of sturdily constructed, energetically delivered pop tunes, Collins demonstrated that he's still a consummate crowd-pleaser.

On a stage resembling a kind of quaint urban wasteland--complete with blazing trash can, changeable billboard and sparking elevated train--Collins ambled about and led his four-piece band through all the hits and a good deal of new material. Though his muse has long been anchored in the mainstream, and predictable showmanship has superseded any spontaneity in the music, Collins' cheerful stage presence kept the show rolling forward.

The singer played a couple of songs on the piano, and sat down at an extra set of drums just in time to play the thundering, signature fill during "In the Air Tonight." He belted out heartfelt confessionals such as "Take a Look at Me Now" with straightforward intensity, but between songs he was like a cheeky music-hall comedian, winning the crowd over with slightly risque monologues.

Collins' band was perfectly polished, entirely competent and almost completely without soul. The singer alone gave the music some heart. His voice is not commanding, but he pulled emotional nuances out of his tales of fractured romance and unrequited love, and added pep to the upbeat numbers in the second set.

Collins is the pop star as Everyguy. His guileless approach to his craft, his willingness to poke fun at himself and his non-matinee idol looks combine to make him one of the more likable and less lordly of pop luminaries. His down-to-earth manner prevails when his material nears mawkishness, and even his clunky version of "You Can't Hurry Love" becomes easier to take when you see what a good time he has singing it.

* Collins plays Thursday at the Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood, 8 p.m. $30 . (310) 419-3100 . Also Friday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, 8 p.m. $26-$53.50. (714) 855-4515.

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