The two-DVD set Live at Montreux 2004 actually contains two very different Phil Collins concerts. As the release’s title suggests, the main attraction is his Montreux Jazz Festival performance from 2004, during his “First Final Farewell Tour.” This show runs two hours and 17 minutes and includes two dozen songs spanning Collins’ solo career. While most of the show features Collins front and center on vocals, the opening “Drums, Drums & More Drums” finds him behind the kit for a percussive workout. He kicks off with a solo, soon joined by the show’s primary drummer, Chester Thompson. Percussionist Luis Conte also joins in, topping off an exciting instrumental performance.
The show is a crowd pleaser all the way, with most (though by no means all) of his hits appearing in the set. Collins is in strong voice, from the opening song (following the three-way drum duel) “Something Happened on the Way to Heaven” to the closing “Take Me Home.” Talented backing vocalists Amy Keys and Arnold McCuller step up to fill in for Marilyn Martin on “Separate Lives” and Philip Bailey on “Easy Lover.” In addition to his biggest ‘80s hits, Collins includes tunes from his less commercially successful ‘90s and ‘00s albums. The title track of 1996’s Dance Into the Light is a jaunty late-set entry. A restrained “Can’t Stop Lovin’ You,” from 2002’s Testify, appears early in the show.
The second disc contains another Montreux concert, this time from 1996. The 90 minute performance is a revelation. Rather than a routine set of hits, this mainly instrumental set recasts some of Collins’ and Genesis’ biggest hits as big band jazz numbers. The band was conducted by none other than Quincy Jones. Collins plays drums almost exclusively, only stepping out front to sing Irving Berlin’s “Always” and Duke Ellington and Bob Russell’s “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me.” Tony Bennett makes a guest appearance to sing a terrific version of the Benton Overstreet and Billy Higgins standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.”
“In the Air Tonight” is carried by an impassioned saxophone solo by guest artist David Sanborn. “Sussudio” is transformed into kind of a fusion number, with Collins really breaking a sweat on drums. The Genesis hit “Invisible Touch” becomes a piano-driven, swinging jazz number. While the absence of vocals on most numbers might limit the show’s mainstream appeal, hearing the material in this setting is a real kick. Andrew Woolfolk II gives Sanborn a run for his money with his sax work on “Against All Odds.” Even though it’s technically a bonus, the 1996 concert is at least the equal of the 2004 show.
With three hours and 50 minutes of music on two DVDs, Live at Montreux 2004 is a great bargain for Phil Collins fans. The 2004 show is a conventional greatest hits presentation, while the 1996 show is the more adventurous set. In a nice touch, the booklet features liner notes penned by Collins himself.