Phil Collins melded his long-running stage band with the Roots to perform his signature solo track “In the Air Tonight” Tuesday on The Tonight Show. Daryl Stuermer and “Captain” Kirk Douglas traded off smoldering guitar leads and power chords, while Questlove powered through the distinctive drum-fill-to-end-all-drum-fills as the whole band revved up for a heavier instrumental coda.
The Roots clearly relished the performance. Douglas grinned, eyes closed in ecstasy, during Stuermer’s guitar sections, and Quest nodded in approval throughout behind his kit. In Collins’ interview with Jimmy Fallon, the host admitted the Roots drummer had been “stressed out for months” about nailing the drum parts.
Collins – promoting his new triple-CD Singles collection, upcoming memoir Not Dead Yet and string of nine 2017 European solo dates – also debunked the long-dismissed theory that “In the Air Tonight” was inspired by watching a man let someone else drown, then inviting the survivor to his concert and shining a spotlight on him.
Instead, he repeated the song’s true origins: the anger he felt after divorcing his first wife. “I was pissed off. I was angry,” he said. “Well, you know, you go through a divorce. And sometimes it’s like ‘I love you, I love you. Don’t hang up. And sometimes it’s like, ‘Well, fuck you.’ And that’s where a song like ‘In the Air Tonight’ comes in. There’s obviously a lot of anger in there.”