Phil Collins finally returned to the stage this week – with an unusual backing band. On Wednesday, the singer-drummer sang two classic tracks (his iconic solo anthem “In the Air Tonight” and the Genesis MTV staple “Land of Confusion”) with young musician-students at the Miami Country Day School.
The above audience video finds the elusive Collins walking onstage to cheers and shocked reactions, as if the crowd’s just witnessed a Bigfoot sighting. But the prog-pop icon quiets the fanfare with a casual “How are you?” and “thank you”s for the invitation. He admits to being nervous for the gig (“I’ve been doing this all my life, but how good could it be? How good could it be tonight?”) before throwing out a joke about his unlikely band of youthful rockers: “Getting kids to play is one thing – getting them to shut up is another thing.”
Then the group eases into a enthusiastic take on “In the Air Tonight,” with Collins tackling his signature vocal phrases over a spread of moody guitar fills and dampened piano chords. After a break, they re-group for a rough-but-charming “Land of Confusion,” with Collins leading a group clap-along during the chorus.
This may not be what fans had in mind for a Collins comeback, but this rare public appearance is good news for a man who, in recent years, seemed to be comfortable outside of the spotlight. It’s been 12 years since his last LP of original material, 2002’s Testify, and his last major live performance was in 2010, promoting his Motown covers album, Going Back.
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“I’ve kind of put that side of my life on hold mainly because I feel like I’ve earned this opportunity to do nothing,” he told Rolling Stone in 2012. “And I have young children, so I don’t feel the drive to go out there and compete . . . I can’t be what I used to be. I can’t play like I used to. And I don’t want to go out there and do it half-assedly.”
But Collins has been gradually re-entering the public eye over the past year. Late last year, while promoting the Tarzan musical in Germany, he surprised fans with a change of heart. “I have started thinking about doing new stuff,” he said. “[Maybe playing] some shows again, even with Genesis. Everything is possible. We could tour in Australia and South America. We haven’t been there yet.”
In January, he told a Florida reporter that he’d begun writing material with chart-topping pop star Adele. “I’ve just started to work with Adele,” he said. “I wasn’t actually too aware…I live in a cave, but she’s achieved an incredible amount. I really love her voice. I love some of this stuff she’s done, too.”
It’s unclear if this material was intended for an Adele project or a Collins project (if either), and no further info about the collaboration has been announced. (If only we knew “Both Sides of the Story.”)