This man has worn silly costumes and indulged in backwards crowd dives. He has also spent over 40 years challenging the confines of rock music, consistently pushing at it's boundaries, and utilizing the latest technology in both his studio albums and live shows. He doesn't need to find ways to challenge his audience further, and yet he does. This is just part of his make up as a creative musician. Such is the high and sometimes fanatical esteem that he is held in by his fans, that he is able to coax them into new unfamiliar territories without it being noticed. Tonight is no exception.
From the moment that Peter Gabriel saunters casually onto the stage to introduce duduk player Levon Minassian, you understand that this is a man with huge integrity and someone at ease with both the formality and the informality of the performance ritual. We sit in quiet respect through about five minutes of evocative music extemporized over a low drone. This is simple and uncomplicated, yet powerful and symbolic. It is also our musical aperitif.
After this aperitif, Gabriel returns to the stage to explain that the show will be in three parts rather like the courses of a meal. We realize that the desert is to be the much publicized 'complete' version of his 1986 album So. It's Gabriel's most popular album and the one that brought him a few years of pop-star fame, but unlike other artists on the circuit who are returning to their respective classic albums, Gabriel only gives us this at the end of the evening, after we have earned it. What precedes is his way of challenging us.
The starter contains the embryo of a half-written song, perhaps a little self-consciously revealing his working methods of extemporizing a melody first whilst the lyrics gradually form themselves around his vocals nuances. Also in this section he exhibits the notion of reworking material. Come Talk to Me and Shock the Monkey are both given a semi-acoustic and slightly jazz/folk treatment. The latter track, (very much of the 80's with its Fairlight samples and hard-edged compressed beats) is nimbly rejuvenated. All this of course is very much in the spirit of Gabriel's current Scratch My Back project. Throughout this starter part of the concert the houselights are on full, and you are left questioning why Gabriel has planned it like this. But you need not have worried.
All is soon literally 'revealed', but what I wasn't expecting was the way that each course would move dramatically and without announcement into the next. Halfway through Family Snapshot as the music suddenly shoots up a gear, ("the bikers at the front"), the houselights go down and we are catapulted dramatically in a dark, metallic world. Where the stage had been traditional and unthreatening, it suddenly becomes cold and menacing. We are quite clearly in the main course of the evening. The swooping cranes of lights, worked by his usual team of boiler-suited workers takes on a new significance for each song. This is gritty, meaty, tough and filling. The lighting, like every other facet of Gabriel's work, is planned meticulously, and intended to maximize the dramatic impact of his words and music. From here we are treated to extremely powerful versions of songs from Gabriel 3, Gabriel 4, and Us (with the exception of Solsbury Hill from 1). The highlights have to be No Self Control with the pulsing backing vocals from his new team of Jennie Abrahamson and Linnea Olsson, and the fascinatingly dark Family and the Fishing Net. He even throws in a new song called Why Don't You Show Yourself?, a poised ballad, careful arranged featuring solo cello. Again, another bold move.
When Red Rain (the start of Gabriel's So album) finally kicks in, the stage explodes with colour and we are in no doubt that the desert has arrived. Of course, the delayed gratification of the colour makes it all the more vivid when it happens, and from here Gabriel's team of lighting designers is not afraid to pull out all the stops. The audience laps up every drop from the unfolding So album, made all the more enticing as you anticipate each track to come. Musical taste-buds are on overload. For Mercy Street he played with camera close ups, and (as he does in key parts of all albums and live performances) a level of intimacy laid bare. I particularly enjoyed We Do What We're Told, as this has rarely (if ever) been played live. Big Time, which can sound slightly dated and overpowering on the album was treated to a subtle groove reworking and was dramatically driven home with Gabriel at his most masculine and brash. As you would expect, In Your Eyes concluded the evening's feast, with Gabriel's band letting their hair down. Keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Manu KatcheŽ add a wonderful touch of lightness to proceedings, but his anchormen, David Rhodes and Tony Levin are impeccable at all times.
There are many levels at work in this carefully-crafted show, and like any good play or film, you understand some elements as they are happening, and some only later, as you reflect upon your experience. As well as the lighting moving from house light into black and white and then full colour, there was a parallel filmic aesthetic unfolding. Always a constant theme in Gabriel's lyrics, ("I see pictures of people"), ideas about 'points of view' and 'ways of seeing' are explored with the backdrop of huge and powerful visuals. Of course this is now a given for all arena concerts, but here it is subtle in the sense that it change, like all other aspects of the stage show, throughout the course of the evening. We have close, and strange angles of drummer Manu Katche, and a full range of visual treatments which allow us to not only get inside the action of the performance, but provide textural substance to each song.
The point about any great artist is, that they entertain, surprise and challenge you, all at the same time. Peter Gabriel continues to do this, as he has done throughout his whole career. There are not many like him.
Concert review byColin Riley
Photo courtesy of the Peter Gabriel Facebook page
The Feeling Begins
Come Talk to Me
Shock the Monkey
Digging in the Dirt
The Family and the Fishing Net
No Self Control
Why Don't You Show Yourself
Don't Give Up
That Voice Again
We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)
This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
In Your Eyes
The Tower That Ate People