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Borgata - The Musical Box brings its astonishing Genesis tribute to . . . The Music Box in Atlantic City

The Canadian group that helped launch the ‘tribute band’ era returns to Borgata with a new program of vintage prog-rock

Chuck Darrow

Chuck Darrow

One of the most surprising music-business developments of the last decade or so is the ascendance of the “tribute band.”

Not just classic-rock “cover” bands — groups that perform songs by a variety of artists from the 1960s and ‘70s-“tribute” acts instead focus exclusively on material by a single act, usually performing it with clone-like accuracy.

Although these bands aren’t the real McCoys, the fees demanded by top earners in the field can land well beyond those of the cover band at your local bar. For instance, the Led Zeppelin-based Get the Led Out reportedly commands a $35,000-per-gig salary.

One of the first of these acts—and still one of the most acclaimed--was The Musical Box, whose choice of subject was most unusual: The superstar British band Genesis.

To be sure, during its late-‘70s-to-late-‘80s heyday, the band fronted by drummer-vocalist Phil Collins was among the world’s biggest musical attractions, filling arenas and stadiums around the world. But from its 1993 founding, The Musical Box—which on June 7 and 8 coincidentally headlines the Music Box at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa—has focused primarily on the band’s earliest years, when Peter Gabriel, not Collins, was the lead singer, and the band dealt not in the peppy pop of its chart-topping era, but in the far more complex and challenging (for musicians and audiences alike) form known as “progressive rock.”

This means that The Musical Box’s repertoire has traditionally consisted not of worldwide hits like “In Too Deep,” “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” and “Invisible Touch,” but far more esoteric pieces like “Watcher of the Skies” and the album-side-length epic “Supper’s Ready” from 1972’s Foxtrot album, “Firth of Fifth” and “Cinema Show” from the following year’s prog masterpiece, Selling England By the Pound and, not surprisingly, “The Musical Box” from 1971’s Tresspass.

However, the current presentation actually extends into the post-Gabriel era as selections from the late-1970s LPs Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering (the first two long-players with Collins at the helm) are on the set list.

Not content to simply provide a note-for-note musical recreation of an early-‘70s Genesis concert, The Musical Box, under the direction of founder/lead singer/Gabriel avatar Denis Gagne, who incorporates Gabriel’s stage banter word-for-word into the concerts, has also showcased its subject’s indelible visual presentation, which included a sophisticated (for its time) multi-screen slide-show presentation and Gabriel’s otherworldly masks and costumes. These aren’t copies, but the actual wardrobe and graphics utilized by Gabriel and Genesis back in the day: The Musical Box is officially sanctioned by Gabriel, Collins et al.

The Musical Box’s fealty to Genesis’ live shows has not escaped those to whom tribute is paid. Collins has claimed the unit’s “tribute band” appellation is misguided, instead insisting that “They have taken a period and are faithfully reproducing it in the same way that someone would do a theatrical production.”

And bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford has simply proclaimed it, “Better than the real thing.”

According to the tour itinerary found on the Montreal-based band’s website, this weekend’s brace of shows represents the only multi-night stop of the year. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with Genesis’ history: The Philadelphia region has long been acknowledged by the group as its North American launching pad. Their Tower Theater shows in November, 1972 and March ’74 are still celebrated as monumental by those fortunate enough to have attended them. And when they headlined the old Spectrum in June, 1980, Collins opened the program by telling the sold-out crowd how great it was to “be back in our home town of Philadelphia.”

Borgata, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City; 8 p.m. June 7 and 8; $52 and $42; www.theborgata.com/shows/events/concerts