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.