A couple of months before Phil Collins’ gala fundraiser benefitting his Little Dreams Foundation, the beloved English singer-songwriter released a statement making it clear that he wasn’t performing a full concert, and that his short, semi-acoustic set would be only part of the lineup.
That revelation made it intriguing to guess which four or five songs Collins might choose to play Saturday night at the Fillmore Miami Beach, which would mark the first performance in four years for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, whose impressive body of work includes both solo works and classics from his former band, Genesis.
Would Collins sing “Another Day In Paradise”? “You’ll Be In My Heart?” “Misunderstanding?” “Against All Odds?” Surely, he couldn’t leave out “In the Air Tonight,” if only so that the audience could air-drum that awesome riff.
As it turned out, the answer was: None of the above.
Collins was unable to sing Saturday night, having been overcome by some sort of neurological affliction that he said strikes every now and then. He came out at the evening’s end to greet the crowd, thank them and apologize, saying that he’d been working with doctors for the past two days and that sound checks leading up to the concert went poorly. “Trust me, you wouldn’t enjoy it,” he insisted when the gracious audience, calling out “We love you, Phil!” tried to encourage him to sing anyway.
Fortunately, Collins’ supporting acts were entertaining enough to salvage the night. The Little Dreamer performers – young, underprivileged musicians who have been given a chance to develop their talents through the foundation – were almost uniformly impressive, starting with 14-year-old guitarist Bobby Lee Bush. His intricate, acoustic classical piece kicked off the show and surprisingly led into a rocking version of the OneRepublic hit “Counting Stars,” featuring the LDF Band.
Collins’ 13-year-old son Nick also featured prominently in the show, drumming quite thunderously (all in the family, right?) with his band The Lost on another OneRepublic hit, “Good Life,” then teaming up with another drummer for a five-minute solo that had the crowd cheering wildly.
Other Little Dreamer highlights included a lively take on Bastille’s majestic pop hit “Pompeii”; Cara Young and Nick Aquilino singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” (two days before the 34th anniversary of the ex-Beatle’s death); Rena Montero belting out Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind”; and a stunning version of Peggy Lee’s blues classic “Why Don’t You Do Right (Get Me Some Money Too)” by Bitty Page, who also rocked the upright bass while she crooned.
Italian pop singer and pianist Gigi D’Alessio teamed up with sultry chanteuse Anna Tatangelo (also the mother of their first son, Andrea, which might explain their smoldering onstage chemistry) for jazzy, stripped-down covers of “Besame Mucho” and Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never.”
Alejandra Guzman, the Hispanic “Queen of Rock” who has performed with James Brown and opened for the Rolling Stones, lived up to her nickname with a lively set powered by her smoky voice and tenacious dance moves.
Lite-rock king Richard Marx was one of the night’s true standouts. The guy hasn’t had a Top 40 hit in 20 years, but his best-loved songs are the kind that live forever on radio, and so to see him perform is an unexpected treat.
Marx was surprisingly witty, breaking the ice by saying, “I wanted to start off with a song you probably know. So if you do know it, please don’t join in, because you’ll ruin it.” He then sang “Endless Summer Nights,” just him and his acoustic guitar, followed by the blazing “Forgot to Remember,” the tender ballad “Eyes On Me,” and the noir-ish, serpentine rocker “Hazard.”
But Marx’s effortlessly raspy voice was best displayed on an extended version of his biggest hit, “Right Here Waiting,” which elicited screams from the crowd throughout, and then a standing ovation at the end.
Grammy-winning Italian singer Laura Pausini was the last big highlight of the night, unbeknownst to an audience looking forward to Collins’ appearance. Her magical voice, whether low and husky or high and soaring, was locked into perfect pitch on the power ballads “Viveme” and “Surrender,” plus the salsa number “Se Fue,” before which she exclaimed, “We’re gonna shake our booties tonight – and mine’s a big one!”
The night was a big one as well, even if the master of ceremonies couldn’t truly join the party.