…was a good year for Genesis. The commercial success of their 1981 album Abacab cemented the world-wide fame of the band. At the same time Phil Collins’ solo career took off with the smashing success of In The Air Tonight that made him a household name.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the Abacab tour was substantially more successful than all of Genesis’ previous tours. Things had changed since the days in which people noticed Genesis mainly because of Peter Gabriel’s threatrical mask plays. Now the band got famous for their bombastic stage shows that were supported by powerful light effects.
At the end of the 70s Genesis used mirrors to position the light effects in even more precise and varied ways. 1982, however, became a true revolution of light that would literally overthrow how things were done throughout the whole show business. Together with Showco Genesis supported the development of lights that could change their colour and focus by means of dichromatic lenses in split seconds. It is not surprising that the interior of the Three Sides Live album shows a stage photo that illustrates the impressive power of those lights.
The album came out in June 1982 in two versions. One was the eponymous release geared towards the American market. The fourth side is taken up by five studio songs that were written during the Duke and Abacab sessions. Vertigo also distributed the album in Europe so that this version was released here, too. In the UK it was decided not to have the studio songs and published another four live songs they recorded between 1976 and 1980. The UK version was much sought after in Germany, and a “Four Sides Live” label on the album cover indicated that the records were worth their steep price.
The songs do not follow the order of the setlist. This is a kind of tribute to the space constraints of an LP release. Back then people tried to make sure that the songs were distributed evenly across the four LP sides – just like on Seconds Out.
Three Sides Live differs distinctly from Seconds Out because of its harder sound. The drums have more oomph, the guitars are rougher and Collins’ vocals has an aggressive edge it has never had before. A certain lack of transparency is the price one has to pay for it. The album sounds more compressed and less detailed than Seconds Out.
The album begins with Turn It On Again played slightly faster than the original, an exciting and effective opener. After the quiet guitar intro Collins counts them in and off they go. And it is fun to listen to because of the joy they have in playing the music so consummately. When the applause fades a giant rears its head, the intro to Genesis’ only prog classic from Abacab, Dodo. The song is even richer than the original. Mike’s bass pedals thunder while Daryl makes his guitar scream; together they show off the strengths of the band. Unfortunately these are the moments when one notices the compressed sound of the album. They lack brilliance and transparency. In fact, the recordings from five years before that were used for Seconds Out are superior.
Their 1981 hit Abacab comes across very strong and close to the original. Phil’s aggressive vocals lend their power to the song. The extensive instrumental section in particular profits from the live performance; this song comes into full bloom live compared to the studio version, and it ends very in a very determined way.
The second side of the LP begins with the actual opening piece of the concert, Behind The Lines. It is a masterpiece and a big highlight on Three Sides Live. Luckily the band decided to link this song with Duchess so that both songs excel in a very dignified and self-confident presentation.
Tony Banks claims in Chapter & Verse that Me And Sarah Jane is his last classical composition in the old Genesis style. The band did well to play this sophisticated complex of chords and harmonies live. Though critics frequently complain about the detailed performances that refrain from any interpretation it is precisely this performance that makes the song so strong: The band can really dedicate themselves to the drama and passion of the number.
The second side ends with Follow You Follow Me. In the reviewer’s opinion this song was performed much better in 2007. On Three Sides Live it lacks the necessary calm, and Collins in particular is too impulsive.
Misunderstanding is an easy entrance into the most demanding side of the original album. The emotional vocals at its end are quite fitting and add a touch of soul music to Misunderstanding.
The In The Cage medley is a real treat for prog lovers. No lifeless routine here, but passionate joy of playing. It is ever so exciting so hear the virtuosity with which the band play this strict composition. They light fireworks of arpeggios and melodies accompanied by a rhythm group that makes the audience groove even to these odd signatures. In The Cage does not fall apart, but keeps up the tension throughout. At its end the band move on into the equally gripping Cinema Show. As the number of musicians involved temporarily drops to three the Genesis core find enough space to perform this sumptuous music. The same goes for the third part of this mini suite, The Colony Of Slippermen. After this feast the music moves on into the quiet of Afterglow before it again ascends to a glorious finale. At this point the album proper ends because the fourth side offers something completely different, be it the “studio version” or the live songs from the UK edition.
The “fourth side”
The studio tracks have a very dry, direct sound. The first three songs were written during the Abacab sessions while the other two were originally planned for Duke. This surplus of really good material proves just how great their output was in those years. The concept of placing a chart success on the fourth album side proved successful; though Paperlate became a hit only in the UK it was nevertheless played frequently on the radio. That may have been because of Phil’s solo success since the brass section makes the song sound like a typical Collins product. It is, however, a joint composition.
You Might Recall is still quite relaxed, but Me And Virgil develops the impressive drama that distinguished Genesis’ pop music from all others. Evidence Of Autumn is a typical Banks composition that would have fit well on his first solo album A Curious Feeling and its melancholy mood.
Three Sides Live ends with a thoughtful sad song by Mike Rutherford, Open Door. It is an unusual ending for a lively, stirring live record.
The UK version seems a bit more harmonic, though the recordings do not really fit the first three sides, either. Prog listeners have field day, of course. It is, however, beyond the reviewer’s comprehension why the ID markers (track divisions) were not fixed.
One For The Vine takes us back to the epic songs of the 70s. When played live this song seems less weird than on Wind & Wuthering, but far more coherent. Again the supremely good performance and the passion of all the musicians are remarkable. They always perform with a view to the song, as one notices particularly with Daryl’s unobtrusive guitar playing. With an epos like this you do not want any meandering jams but pay close attention to the story.
The Fountain Of Salmacis rises very lively, a highlight of the fourth side live. Collins’ interpretation of Gabriel’s original works very well, and the band have a ball playing this song. You would be hard-pressed to find a better live version of this song!
The collection of old live recordings ends with another medley. It would have fit better on Seconds Out, though, because it was recorded back in 1976.
It is played very ambitiously, but it cannot get close to the drive the studio version has. Ending the album with a symphonic piece like Watcher Of The Skies is a good choice. It is, of course, regrettable that it is not the full version, but this finale is a big bang that brings the live set to a wonderful ending.
All in all…
Three Sides Live is worth getting, though using the original setlist might have been even more exciting. Prog lovers may want to buy the UK edition. If you prefer Genesis during their period of change and you like Abacab you are better off with the eponymous version. The only thing to consider is the circumstance that there is no version so far that combines the acoustic improvements of the remaster version with the five studio recordings.
The rating for this album may not be that much higher than the one for Seconds’ Out, but this is a case where numbers can be deceptive. This is a far superior live album to its predecessor – the song selection may not be as theoretically strong, as it relies heavily on the pop-oriented material of the last few albums rather than the classic Gabriel-era material, but the performances are far better as a whole. Rather than butcher classic songs because Phil and Co. felt an obligation to play them (even though Phil just couldn’t handle many of those tracks), the band was able to work with material it had come up with itself and as such felt comfortable performing.
As expected, the first portion draws completely from the last three albums. Moreover, as though the band knew themselves that Three wasn’t so hot, the band relies mostly on Duke (Turn it on Again, Behind the Lines, Duchess, Misunderstanding) and Abacab (Dodo/Lurker, Abacab, Me and Sarah Jane – good boys!). As a result, this portion functions decently as a best-of collection of the recent material. For the most part everything is done equivalently and thus equally well as before, with only Turn it on Again as a little worse (thanks to Phil’s blubbering) and Abacab as a little better (an even more convincing coda). This makes this portion a bit superfluous, sure, but it’s ok.
Ah ha, but just when you thought you’d be in the land of early 80’s pop forever, the band goes back to its prog roots, and in the process creates one of its greatest live calling cards. For whatever reason, In the Cage seems PERFECTLY suited to Phil’s vocal style here, as he gives a heated delivery that retains all the firey emotion of the original and then some. The band then expands the song into a medley, bringing out the ending portion of Cinema Show (which sounds much less annoying here than on Second’s Out) mixed with parts of THE COLONY OF SLIPPERMEN, and even with a quote from Riding the Scree. And then it all ends with a fine rendition of Afterglow, which is far better than the studio version, thanks to a vocal workout that actually shows some real passion. It sounds so good here, honestly, that my mind has settled on the idea that the rightful place for Afterglow was always at the end of this medley, and not as the Wind closer.
After the fadeout from Afterglow, the album splits in two, between the American and British releases. The American version was true to the title – the first three sides of the album are live, while the fourth contains five studio tracks. The British version, on the other hand, eschews the studio numbers for two live tracks from a ’78 show and even one from the ’76 tour (with Hackett on guitar! Alright!). The British version made it onto CD, but that doesn’t matter here – thanks to the miracle of mp3’s, I’m able to have BOTH fourth sides at my disposal. Hence both sides will get some thoughts.
The live side is of mixed quality. On the one hand, it opens with the full ten minutes of One for the Vine, which sickens me as I imagine all sorts of idiotic people who think they’re intelligent and deep swaying back and forth in a psuedo-meditative fashion as if they’ve been somehow been touched by this grand performance. Kinda like all the hicks I saw around when Kansas opened for Yes at a show I saw in 2000 … But anyway. The other two live tracks rule something fierce. Simply based on clarity of production, one could easily argue that this runthrough of Fountain of Salmacis surpasses the original – the mix isn’t so annoyingly bass-heavy, after all. And again, SHOCKINGLY good vocals from Phil – I guess he had worked hard at making himself not so unbearable on the older stuff.
The absolute peak of it all, though, comes at the end. it is done fabulously, at a faster clip than originally and Hackett obviously enjoying his slight release from studio bondage. But then as you expect the song to just fade out normally with Phil improvising over the “it’s only knock and know all” coda, out of nowhere comes the majestic organs of Watcher of the Skies and some cries of Hackett guitar. The applause that pops up from this is fully justified, I think – the effect is amazingly seamless, and it’s just so nice to hear the ending chunk of Watcher again.
The studio side, on the other hand, is kinda mediocre. Paperlate is in the vein of No Reply at All (mostly because of the horns), and while it’s nowhere near as idiosyncratic, it has some clear power, and overall it’s a good song. You Might Recall shows a BIT of promise here and there, but doesn’t fulfill it, Me and Virgil is just clumsy as hell, and Open Door is another in Rutherford’s row of guitar-based ballads, but not one that suggests his gift was still there. Evidence of Autumn, however, is AWESOME, though I overlooked it at first. I initially thought it had a pleasant enough atmosphere but no hooks, but I wouldn’t dream of it: the hooks are definitely there, just a little hard to dig up, and in addition to the gorgeous atmosphere it also has a totally unexpected upbeat piano part in the middle as a contrast.
But again, the studio side is irrelevant to today’s consumer, as the only available version is the one with the fourth live side. And that version is a good little album – not one you really need, and certainly not worth the more than $20 charged for it, but a good album nonetheless.
This has gotta be the world’s most deceptive album title – double deceptive, actually. Originally, Three Sides Live in its American issue was just as it billed itself – three sides of the album were recorded live on the band’s 1981 tour, and the fourth side was comprised of five contemporary studio cuts. I’ve never heard these, although Genesis fans usually don’t think much of them, except for the single ‘Paperlate’. However, the British version of the album had all four sides live, with the fourth side dumping the studio cuts and replacing them with some more ‘archive’ live recordings, taken from the band’s performance at Knebworth in 1978 and at a gig recorded as early as 1976 (which means you have Steve Hackett on one cut!!). Since then we stepped into the CD age, and it was the British release that made it onto the CD. Now we have a double deception, heh heh: not only are there four sides live, there aren’t even any sides. They should have renamed it Two Discs Live! Next time, choose your album title more carefully and with regards to the future, guys.
[Sidenote: I still don’t quite understand why it wasn’t possible, given the CD format, to put both the American and the British side onto the re-issue. Even if the band themselves thinks that the studio cuts were crappy, completists would still want ’em. Why give the bootleggers a chance? Sheez.]
Anyway, onwards to the music. Three Sides Live clearly can’t be anywhere near as disappointing as Seconds Out, as by now the band had stepped firmly into their synth-pop era and what with all the material from their last three albums piling up behind them, Phil wasn’t forced any more to sing as much old Gabriel material as he used to. While that might have seriously disappointed the fans (there are, in fact, hilarious tales about Phil being nearly booed off stage several times for singing ‘pop crap’, when he bravely confronted the audience telling ’em to fuck off if they didn’t like the new material), this certainly guarantees you a safe and sound listening process. No clenched fists and yells about how you’d like to wring Collins’ neck for displacing the ‘Rael Imperial Aerosol Kid!’ line or for ruining the whole atmosphere of ‘I Know What I Like’.
The downside of this is that I seriously doubt if I’ll ever get a need to put on the first disc of this package again. The seven songs on there just replay the studio originals note-for-note, with differences so minor that I don’t want to even waste my time on comparisons. The only thing I noticed was Phil’s stupid near-scat singing on ‘Turn It On Again’ which finally proved to me that one thing Mr Collins has to always steer away from is improvisation. He’s really a humble, insecure, not tremendously expressive bald chap who has enough trouble as it is to sound nice and pleasing on the studio recordings; every time he tries to sing something different in a live setting, he just falls flat. That said, the rest of the song is played perfectly. And the selection ain’t at all bad – I could definitely do without the boring ‘Duchess’, but ‘Dodo’, ‘Abacab’, and ‘Me & Sarah Jane’ are three of the best cuts from Abacab, right? ‘Behind The Lines’ makes a nice interlude, and ‘Follow You Follow Me’ brings the album to a nice close. And that’s it. You’ll never want to listen to these two sides again.
Disc 2 is significantly different, though, and makes the purchase well worth owning. The “Third Side”, also comprised of 1981 recordings, gives all of you your favourite pop song (‘Misunderstanding’, of course! What other pop song are you ready to kill your mother for?) with some more idiotic blubbering from Phil in the end, and your favourite Lump of Emotion in ‘Afterglow’. However, it also has an excellent rendition of ‘In The Cage’, preserving all the tension and all the subtle mood shifts, with a complex and engaging instrumental coda borrowing elements from ‘The Cinema Show’.
Finally, the infamous “fourth side” is the grand prize you’ve all been waiting for. Er… then again, maybe not quite the grand prize – you’ll have to sit through the entire ten minutes of ‘One For The Vine’. Yep, you’ll have to tolerate that one, or maybe just skip through it. But pay some attention to the fast instrumental mid-section: instead of the complex drum pattern found on the studio original, Banks replaces it with cute ‘popping’ synth-noises that are quite hilarious in their own way. And then comes the really cool stuff: a grand live version of the immortal classic ‘Fountain Of Salmacis’. Gabriel or no Gabriel on vocals, this is a beautiful version; actually, don’t forget that the original, found on Nursery Cryme, boasted piss-poor production, and if you weren’t aware that the song has beautiful vocal and instrumental melodies and some actual hooks, here’s the place to prove it.
Finally, the band fizzles out with a 1976 recording of ‘It’. Real Hackett on real guitar! Total ecstasy and, like, rock nirvana. You know. ‘It is here, it is now…’. And in a fit of geniality, the band merges it with an instrumental section of ‘Watcher Of The Skies’, as Tony gets on the Mellotron and seamlessly leads the band from the closing glorious chords of ‘It’ into the ethereal vastness of ‘Watcher Of The Skies’. This is grand, and reason enough to own the album if you’re not overpaying. As superfluous as Three Sides Live essentially is, there’s no question that out of all the Collins-era live albums from Genesis, this is the one to own.
Oh! And what’s with the Who/Rory Gallagher reference of the album cover? Not only were these guys befuddling the customers’ brains with double releases of the same album, they were also trying to make it look like a bootleg! Probably so that the customers would blame all the confusion on poor innocent bootleggers. Hear, hear. What a cruel scheme to take revenge on a bunch of nice people
How often have music fans uttered the phrase “I prefer the live version”? This maxim applies in particular to Genesis’s hard-to-find US version of 1982’s Three Sides Live, which chronicles their transformation from art rock to more mainstream pop. The story behind the album, however, is just as interesting as the music itself.
I grew up on the US release, which accurately reflected the album’s title. A double-LP, three sides featured ten live cuts from 1981 Germany dates, with Daryl Stuermer (guitar) and Chester Thompson (drums) (both eventual mainstays on Phil Collins’s solo releases as well) rounding out the trio of Collins, Tony Banks, and Mike Rutherford. Side four contained new studio material, most notably the hit “Paperlate.” However, the UK version of Three Sides Live should have actually been titled Four Sides Live, as it omitted the new studio cuts. The 1994 remaster restored the album to its UK version; in addition to the Germany recordings, this most-recent edition features three songs from the group’s 1979 tour, which featured Steve Hackett (guitar) and Bill Bruford (drums) in the lineup. In my opinion, it’s regrettable that the US version no longer exists, although copies can probably be had through eBay and the Internet.
Three Sides Live represents a crossroads in Genesis’s career, as it straddles the line between their art rock past—headed by original member Peter Gabriel—and their new pop-rock direction, led by drummer Collins. Drawing heavily from their albums Abacab and Duke (also worth checking out), the band displays their cohesiveness, punctuating well-known hits like “Abacab” and “Turn It On Again” with drawn-out, rocking jams. Banks’s keyboards deserve just as much credit as Collins’s forceful drumming in driving the band’s high-energy sound.
Genesis builds upon the album versions of various cuts, re-energizing them with Collins’s enthusiastic vocals. “Turn It On Again,” the LP’s opener, benefits greatly from this makeover, with Collins’s voice directly interacting with the drums and guitar. Like this cut, the live version of “Abacab” vastly improves upon the stiff-sounding original, with the band jamming after all the verses and chorus are finished. Pay special attention to Banks’s keyboard skills on this track, as they really shine on its lengthy instrumental section.
While Three Sides Live largely focuses on Genesis’s more mainstream tone, it does not neglect their progressive rock roots. “Dodo/Lurker,” off Abacab, nods to their artsy, darker sound, similar to 1984’s “Mama.” “Duchess,” a Duke cut, gets a spacey treatment, anchored by Collins’s strong vocals. Perhaps no other cut illustrates the progressive rock and pop duality, though, than “Me and Sarah Jane.” While the opening notes sound like something straight off of Collins’s Face Value or Hello I Must Be Going, they soon dissolve into an arena rock jam, with an almost psychedelic bridge.
Still riding off the success of his first solo release, Face Value, Collins leads the band in a slowed-down, less jazzy version of “Behind the Lines,” combining it with the Duke rendition of the same title. While quite different from the original track, this version sounds more in keeping with the Genesis sound rather than Collins’s overtly pop one.
Where does the “it’s better live” maxim really come into play? Genesis’s spirited performances on “Misunderstanding” and “Follow You, Follow Me” vastly improve upon the originals. While the studio cuts are catchy, the punchier drums and Collins’s extended vocal riffs transform the stiff originals into something more. Another truism of live recordings is that crowd noise can add to the song’s atmosphere, and this particularly applies to “Follow You, Follow Me,” with the audience eagerly clapping along to the beat. Banks also gets an extended keyboard solo, which further increases the song’s overall energy. The crowd also positively reacts to Collins’s extended vocal riffing on “Misunderstanding,” further demonstrating his gift for connecting with an audience. Not surprisingly, his drumming is also a notable feature on this track.
In a final bow to their past, the group delights the audience by performing “In the Cage Medley,” which includes “Cinema Show” from Selling England By the Pound. The US edition ends with “Afterglow,” which demonstrates Collins’s considerable percussion skills. Side four, as previously mentioned, features all new songs, including “Me and Virgil,” “You Might Recall,” “Evidence of Autumn,” and “Open Door;” while interesting, “Paperlate” remains the real standout.
The UK edition of Three Sides Live includes three 1979 tour tracks: “One for the Vine” (from 1976’s Wind and Wuthering), “Fountain of Salmacis” (from 1971’s Nursery Cryme), and “It/Watcher of the Skies” (from 1972’s Foxtrot). Obviously the UK edition—and currently the only version available through iTunes and other music outlets—focuses more on the band’s eccentric but highly inventive past.
No matter which version you prefer, Three Sides Live is still an enjoyable live album, spanning the legendary group’s varied sounds. After listening to these versions of well-known hits, however, you may hardly listen to the studio recordings again. Genesis’s superior musicianship, along with Collins’s enthusiastic singing, comprise the perfect album to crank up when you just want to rock.