The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway


Band: Genesis
Album: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Best song: The title track is amazing
Worst song: Much of the second disc is mediocre to just OK.

In college, I went through a progressive rock period. It was largely due to my love of post-rock and the influences progressive rock and jazz had on the genre. I was also not immune to the fact that the differences between progressive and psychedelic rock are not vast and the greatest band of those two genres just happened to Pink Floyd (a band I’d already loved).

This period came around in some odd ways; progressive rock is not an unpopulated genre of music. I got mostly into the top-level bands which most people know — Rush, King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes were the ones to which I first attached myself. I later got into some of the more disparate and lesser-known bands — Orange Alabaster Mushroom, ELP, Dream Theater, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull’s folk-prog, etc. — but I mostly stuck with the famous ones.

For a few reasons, I fell in particular love with Genesis. Part of it, I’m sure, is simply my having a contrarian streak; I loved the idea of identifying with a band that featured Phil Collins as frontman in the 1980s (though, I would always correct people, saying “I like Gabriel-era Genesis.”). King Crimson’s albums were uneven, too many Yes records were more about the album covers than the music, Gentle Giant went too far into the English countryside and, ultimately, Rush’s libertarian nonsense is just that.

Mostly, though, Genesis had the wonderful combination of very weird, musically talented, complex and catchy. All too many prog bands forego any possible hook for technical proficiency (hello, Dream Theater!). The Gabriel-era Genesis records have excellent melodies — “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” is a wonderfully catchy record — but also tackle complex fantastical storylines and incorporate wildly strange lyrics. I have to think the band took a lot of drugs. This, in progressive rock, is a plus for me.

Part of it, too, is the very ethos of underground/indie rock, as I see it. The underground exists largely to push against the status quo; it is, by nature, contrarian. In order to progress, theoretically, the current status quo must be challenged, the theory goes. This is a theory to which I subscribe. I tend to be believe that change is absolutely necessary in all things and boundaries must be pushed.

(The other side, of course, is the fact that all too many indie rock/underground folks are, generally, trying to one-up one another and trying to be different. So, anything that the whole of the community enjoys will receive a backlash, even before it hits mainstream.)

Because of the cycles of culture, that makes the underground culture turn on itself very quickly once something becomes popular. Which is to say that punk rock’s pure anti-authority received a fair amount of backlash upon its popularity in the later 1990s/early 2000s. It’s hard to consider Green Day anything but mainstream when the band is putting on broadway shows or to when these bands are on the Rock Band series of video games or when football players are sporting mohawks.

Long considered the domain of weirdoes, nerds and people who play D&D (possibly redundant), progressive rock still isn’t mainstream. There is a loyal following — Rush still sells out arenas, certainly — but it’s hardly something that one could make into a Broadway show. It’s just too weird.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is weird. There’s little question about that. The main character in the piece is Rael — coincidentally (or maybe not) also the name of a cult leader — a man working through his own identity issues. Not unlike the seminal Fight Club, there is a question of his split personality. This is all fine and well, except the concept album’s concept, basically, is that Rael needs to find himself among weird creatures, all of which are veiled allusions to aspects of the culture of the time. Some kind of amphibians (“The Colony of Slippermen”), Carpet Crawlers (live favorite “The Carpet Crawlers”), caged animals (“In the Cage”) all dot the subterranean New York that Rael has to traverse. he eventually finds peace in “it.,” the album ender, but, it is certainly a weird journey. As our friend Wikipedia describes, the live show was… something:

For the first half of the show, Gabriel dressed as Rael in leather jacket, T-shirt and jeans, while relying on lighting and dramatic expression without the use of props or costumes. In the second half, the costumes and other visuals became much more elaborate. During “The Lamia”, for instance, Gabriel was surrounded by a spinning cone-like structure decorated with images of snakes. For the last verse of the song, the cone would collapse to reveal Gabriel wearing a body suit that glowed under the stage’s black lights. However, the most notorious of Gabriel’s costumes was the Slipperman, a naked monster with inflatable genitalia and covered in lumps, who emerged onto the stage by crawling out of a phallus-shaped tube. At the intro to the final song “It,” a huge explosion set off twin strobes, and the audience was faced with both Gabriel and a dummy dressed identically, clueless as to which was real. “It” also featured an alternate ending with Gabriel vanishing from the stage in a flash of light and a puff of smoke.

There are weird records that have no value outside of weirdness; they are weird for the simple sake of being weird. I don’t know that The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway isn’t that. But, it nevertheless takes you on a journey that’s untouched by most other progressive rock records. Gabriel’s voice has a tremendous combination of passion and tension, echoing Rael’s journey.

Like everyone else, I only have a certain amount of space in my life for music. Sadly, my progressive rock period has been over for a bit. But, I still pick up The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and the other Gabriel-era Genesis records and love them. Outside of Pink Floyd, Genesis was the best progressive rock band.

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