Life in this old dog as Phil Collins returns to the Australian stage.

Phil Collins last toured Australia in 1995 but here we are, almost 24 years later, and he’s back, packing out Sydney’s Qudos Arena for the first of his Sydney shows despite releasing virtually no new material since 2010 (and even that was an album of cover versions of Motown classics).

Perhaps reflecting his age and current physical health (and maybe reflecting his target audience), the show is scheduled to start at the relatively early time of 8pm. And as it gets underway, the spotlight falls on a small, obviously older and frailer Collins emerging stage right, as he shuffles awkwardly, with the aid of a cane, to a seat positioned centre-stage, where he will remain for most of the show. This is the 67-year-old Collins’ “Not Dead Yet” tour – but on the early evidence it could go either way. The vision of the man onstage is strikingly at odds with the black and white photos of a younger Collins projected on the back of the stage pre-show.

Collins settles into his seat. “Back surgery, the foot’s fucked, getting old sucks,” he says, and launches bravely into the opening number, the decidedly downbeat Against All Odds. The voice is unmistakable, if a little uneven in the opening number, and difficult to pick out in a disappointingly muddy mix. Long-time Collins sideman Daryl Steurmer’s lead guitar is just about inaudible and Lee Sklar’s bass is just a rumbling mess. It’s one of the hazards of playing venues like Qudos that are really just large concrete boxes.

But by the time Collins launches into the sixth song of the night, Follow You Follow Me, from the 1978 Genesis album …And Then There Were Three…, the band has clicked, the sound has improved and the show takes off. From here there’s no looking back. There’s life in this old dog and Collins visibly feeds off the show as it progresses, buoyed by the energy of the 10-piece band (fourteen, when the horn section is on-stage) he’s assembled for the tour.

Any worries about his physical frailty are proven to be unfounded as he rips through performances of his solo work, tracks by Genesis, and some written by other people, notably Separate Lives, by Stephen Bishop. This is no nostalgia show designed to cash in on some hoary old back-catalogue: the songs are delivered with energy and with Collins’ trademark cheek and slight sneeriness intact.

Collins’ health means he no longer plays drums. But there’s a reasonably handy stand-in on this tour: 17-year-old son, Nick, whose own skills are highlighted mid-show in an extended drum duet with percussionist Ritchie Garcia and then – delightfully – in a percussion trio with Garcia and Collins senior. The kid can play and the chemistry is obvious. That’s reinforced when Nick takes to the piano to accompany the old man on You Know What I Mean, from the Face Value album, and gives him a hug before returning to the kit for that same album’s landmark track, In the Air Tonight. Collins’ vocals are assured and strong, and Nick’s performance of his dad’s iconic drum part is absolutely spot on.

As he leaves the stage at the end of the night, after a 20-song set and an encore consisting of an extended singalong version of Take Me Home, Collins looks 10 – no, 20 – years younger. Most definitely not dead yet.


Phil Collins tour dates

Sydney: Qudos Arena – January 23

Adelaide: Adelaide Oval – January 25

Perth: RAC Arena – January 28 & January 29

Melbourne: AAMI Park – February 1 & February 2

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