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Down on the 'farm,' Genesis gears up for the rigors of staging a world tour

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Chiddingfold, England -- Like most properties in this part of Surrey, Fisher Lane Farm looks wonderfully rustic from the road. Pull up the drive, and there's a quiet cottage to the left and a large barn-like building to the right, along with a well-kept lawn, orderly hedgerows and just enough garden to justify the "farm" part of the address.

But that's just for show. What they really grow here are hits, for Fisher Lane Farm is where the members of Genesis -- singer-drummer Phil Collins, keyboardist Tony Banks and guitarist-bassist Mike Rutherford -- write and record. Its "barn" is in fact a state-of-the-art digital studio, packed with instruments and recording equipment, while the tool sheds are full not of seeders and spreaders but amplifiers and drum stands. Even the cottage has its share of musical flotsam, like the aged electronic organ enshrined in a living room alcove.

Even more amazing is the fact that the instrumental inventory is unusually low on this cloudy March morning. Genesis has just begun rehearsals for its coming world tour (the group plays RFK Stadium in Washington on Tuesday), and much of the group's gear is either set up for rehearsal elsewhere in Chiddingfold, or being packed for use later on.

It all seems quite low-key, but the pressures behind this undertaking are enormous. Genesis may be enormously successful -- "We Can't Dance," its latest album, has spent almost six months ensconced in the Billboard Top 20 -- but mounting a tour on this scale is a back-breaking task, involving months of effort and millions of dollars before even a single note of music is played.

Yet despite the obviously high stakes, the group seems less concerned with turning a profit than with properly presenting itself.

Or, at the very least, choosing what to present. "We Can't Dance" is Genesis' 17th album to date, and while it's obvious that the group wants to emphasize those songs for this tour, it's equally clear that the three have agonized over what to do about the back catalog.

Although the bulk of the band's audience is strictly interested in the pop material -- singles like "Land of Confusion," "Invisible Touch," and "That's All" -- some have been faithfully following Genesis since the early '70s. And what they lack in numbers is more than made up by enthusiasm.

"A lot of the old fans will make themselves heard more," says Collins. "We do get letters from people saying how great they thought the tour, but we tend to get more letters from people complaining that we didn't play enough older material."

"But it is a problem if you do the whole of 'Supper's Ready,' " says Banks, referring to one of the most-requested selections from the band's early days. "It's half an hour of music, you know. The new album is 70 minutes long, and we wanted to play a large section of that, at least an hour of music. That's an hour and a half taken up already.

"This is why you end up doing a medley, so you can at least do something from all those eras. I mean, you're never going to please everybody, because everyone has different old favorites. But if you can make certain it does come balanced, I think it's good."

Banks admits, by the way, that the band can be a bit "bloody-minded" about some things, refusing to adjust its set regardless of how an audience reacts. "We used to play a song called 'Who Dunnit?' and some places in Europe it would just get booed," he says. "But we kind of enjoyed that, really.

"You don't want to make it all, 'Ooh, they don't like that,' and go changing things," he adds. "Then it's like being a politician, adapting your policies so that they fit what the public wants. We don't like that at all."

On the other hand, it's rather more difficult for the band to as easily shrug off the carping of critics. Collins in particular finds himself irritated by reviews -- not because they're nasty or negative, he says, but because "a lot of them just get it wrong."

How so? "Like how 'Driving the Last Spike' is being looked upon as being far more political than it actually was," he says. "All it was meant to be was a look at something which I had overlooked, and that is the railways. When you go on a train, you don't think of how it got there. You just think, it's here. It's always been here.

"But in fact, I happened to have a book when I wrote that lyric that had been sent to me by Dennis Waterman, who's an actor. He wanted to make a film based on this story. I didn't read it at the time; it was only later I read it, and thought, 'Wow, all these people were dying and no one really cared, there were no safety procedures. . . . This would be an interesting story to tell, from one person's perspective.'

"That's why it was written. It wasn't putting myself on this pedestal and saying, 'The workers of the world must unite.' And that's what starts to get to me -- that hundreds of thousands of people will read these reviews, and think that this is what you meant. When in fact it isn't what you meant at all. This person has got it wrong, and he's spreading his misconception."

This carping about critics, by the way, is unusual for Collins; most of the time, he's upbeat and personable, a born charmer. Indeed, Rutherford thinks that a large part of Genesis' success on the concert circuit stems from Collins' affability.

"Those three or four moments in the set where you get that humorous conversation that Phil does with the audience help a lot," he says. "I went to see Michael Jackson at Wembley, and there was no communication with the audience. You just need a few moments when the singer makes contact. It makes the whole audience get involved in the way that the Michael Jackson show just didn't."

"Some people just do it differently, and maybe it's better for other people than it is for you," adds Banks, ever the diplomat. "But I do think Phil is very good at communicating with large crowds."

4 "It's my evangelical background," quips Collins.

Eventually, the group's tour manager turns up, indicating that the band must go. Collins and Banks have sequencing work to do, while Rutherford still needs to sort out which of his many guitars he'll need to pack for the road. But before the three depart, there's time for one last question: Can they dance, and if so, will they?

"I'll probably end up dancing," laughs Collins. "Well, 'I Can't Dance' will probably end up being a very strong stage song, actually. I'm sure that we'll have our uncoordinated walk, and I'll be dancing at some point.

"Plus, I think he'll be dancing," he adds, pointing at Banks.

"Not behind the keyboards!" says Banks in mock horror. "Although this is the first tour where you'll be able to see my legs."

& "Ooh!" laughs Collins.

Genesis

Where: RFK Stadium, Washington.

When: May 19 at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $25.

Call: (401) 481-SEAT.

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