Rock’s Most Embarrassing Moment
by Regis Boff
I was the tour manager for Genesis during the years that Peter Gabriel was with them. I was also largely responsible for what was arguably rock’s most embarrassing moment.
This was how it had been planned and rehearsed so long ago. Peter Gabriel, showman that he was, would be dressed in his “Gods of Magog” outfit , consisting of a long, velvet black cape and a giant triangular headpiece . Through this helmut, only his green iridescent eyes could be seen because of the black light. At the very climax of the set, he was to be made invisible to the audience by a combination of controlled explosions coming from pods on the front lip of the stage. This would temporarily blind the audience. These canisters were filled with a martini of flash and gun powder, which would be criminally outlawed today, whereas back then they were simply banned. This was a working example of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. We never told anyone we were going to do it. One of our roadies , Jeff Banks, filled them a couple of hours before the show and would set them off electrically.
Peter was to be further camouflaged by smoke machines ( they looked like leaf blowers) and an intense fog that bubbled up by dumping blocks of dry ice, by hand (gloved), into huge buckets of water by the crew. They would explode with vapor, filling, if the prevailing winds permitted, the entire stage. Synchronous with this, Peter was to throw off his hat and cape while keeping a grip on his microphone, as he was “shot,” (hoisted) fifteen feet into the air by nearly invisible thin metal wires, “ called flying” in those days. He would finish the song, in a silver jump suit, as the curtain closed. End of show.
This incident took place somewhere between 1973 and 1975 either in Cleveland, Ohio or in Berlin, Germany. Believe me, in my world, this is terrific accuracy. I think had Genesis attempted to do more shows than they did during my years it would have required time travel. I can pin it with such exactness because at that time we would only play proscenium arch stages which allowed for curtains and flash pods, as well as the overhead latticework necessary to hang wires for the flying equipment.
Here’s how the “flying” was to work. I had brought in an “expert” who had flown Elton John and his piano into the air a few months earlier. This guy was harnessed to the wires which were connected to Gabriel and he climbed to the top of a tall ladder on stage left, out of sight and waited. On my cue, he would leap off the ladder and because he was the counter balance, up our artist would go. I did the cueing only because I had no other real job, having finished my very important job of literally running around hallways closing doors so no breeze would alter the course of our stage fog.
I sweated the cue because if I got it wrong, Peter would be mid-song and everything else would fall to shit. Well, I thought I nailed the fucker, but I was maybe a second too soon and all hell broke loose. Peter went up fast and sadly, crookedly. His left shoulder was at least a foot and a half higher than his right. In his surprise, he launched his live microphone forward, onto the stage and into the preternaturally loud explosions of the gunpowder pods, sending the blast sound through the mic and into the giant audience speakers deafening Lord knows how many of the punters. Meanwhile some asshole had clearly opened a door so all my smoke was blowing backward towards the dressing rooms leaving the mayhem clearly visible. The flash pods ( we were later to learn from the fire dept.) had been way over loaded becoming perhaps the first incident of real canon fire ever, during a show, in the history of rock. Peter’s mic sound , as my luck would have it, also went through the band’s stage speakers. Tony Banks, the keyboardist, I saw out of the corner of my now tearing eyes, was hitting Jeff, the explosion roadie, over the head with a tambourine, (of all things) screaming “I am deaf, you made me deaf”. Now all this was happening within a nightmare zone of about ten seconds.
So let me recap, seeing as we both have come this far. I have Gabriel nearly horizontal, fifteen feet in the air, with no microphone and a black cape dangling from his foot. I have the keyboardist in the middle of the stage pounding a roadie as the roadie is desperately trying to extinguish the residue flames pouring from the canisters. I have an audience in a state of mass shock and I have smoke filling up the dressing rooms. So what was the absolute last thing this God could think of to do with me? The front curtain would not close.
In my mind’s eye, even today, this was not a tidy episode. To their credit and my forever resentment, most of the audience hung around to watch us try to get Peter down. It took such a long time.