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POP MUSIC REVIEW

One more night of hits from that nice Mr. Collins

August 28, 2004|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

Leo Durocher got it all wrong: Nice guys can finish first. Just ask Phil Collins.

Before starting the U.S. leg of his whimsically titled "First Final Farewell Tour" on Thursday at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, one of rock's most amiable stars had amassed a fortune said to be worth a few hundred million thanks to a string of hit singles and albums in the '80s and hit movie scores more recently.

He'll be adding significantly to that lucre pile with these shows, yet he somehow maintains the regular-Joe image that helped mightily to earn him that fortune.

He's opting out of touring life to spend more time with his third wife, their 3-year-old son and a baby that's due this fall, as well as to avoid risking further hearing loss after suffering what he called "an ear stroke" while on tour four years ago. He says he'll still do "the odd concert" from time to time, he just won't be hitting the road any more for months or years at a stretch.

The 53-year-old Brit has put together a two-hour extravaganza as light on stage flash -- or emotional depth -- as it is heavy on savvy song craft and the nostalgic appeal of hits including "Sussudio," "One More Night," "Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)," and "Two Hearts."

Collins' self-deprecating sense of humor goes a long way toward fleshing out a performance rife with his radio-ready songs that typically hammer home lyrical and melodic hooks with the persistence of a used-car dealer.

He told the near-capacity crowd, "If you've studied your ticket stubs, you'll notice that this is the farewell tour.... Enjoy it while you can." He quickly added: "We're going to take a playful romp through songs we hope will bring back some good memories."

It's practically a given that swan song tours look to the past, and this one, which also stops Tuesday at Staples Center, gazes almost exclusively into the rearview mirror of Collins' career.

Fortunately, periodic injections of adrenaline from his resourceful six-piece band, four-man horn section and six energetic backup singers prevented the night from turning into a somnambulant stroll down adult-rock radio memory lane.

They helped pump up the mix with occasional Afro-Cuban rhythms and Latin funk pulses between the money songs: Collins' signature soft-rock ballads.

Collins' strengths as a vocalist are his crisp timing and emotional earnestness rather than any intense expressiveness. His attempt at gospel-tinged phrase-building during an extended version of the Genesis-era "Misunderstanding" became simply repetitive rather than energy inducing. But when he dropped to his knees and offered solace in "Come With Me," singing, "It's gonna be all right ... hold my hand," there was no missing his sincerity or the response it engendered among the Collins faithful.

He further underscored his essentially paternal role in the proceedings when one of the male singers added some mildly provocative pelvic thrusts in one number. Collins looked sheepishly at some parents with kids in the rows immediately in front of the stage and mouthed a mock-apology for the PG-13 antics.

The show's only real drama came with a taut version of "In the Air Tonight," with its aura of impending doom, while "Another Day in Paradise," his take on homelessness, represented one of the evening's few forays outside the cocoon of love and romance.

Though he's not been the ubiquitous presence on pop radio he once was -- he hasn't charted a Top 10 single since 1990 -- and has been most successful in recent years with his scores for Disney films such as "Tarzan," from which he sang "You'll Be in My Heart," and the film "Brother Bear," he's managed to sell almost 10 million albums in the ensuing 13 years of the Nielsen SoundScan era.

Not bad for a man who made the unlikely transition from serious-minded drummer in the progressive-rock band Genesis to elfin pop star of the MTV era.

He bid fans a heartfelt adieu Thursday with "Take Me Home," during which he dismissed each of his cohorts from the stage individually before taking his own humble homeward bow.

What a nice guy.

*

Phil Collins

*

Where: Staples Center,

1111 S. Figueroa St., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Price: $50 to $95

Contact: (213) 742-7340

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