Review by Rob Billingham, photos by Lisa Billingham
Peter Gabriel; musician, artist, producer, songwriter, humanitarian, winner of numerous awards and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Oh, and he was a founding member of arguably one of the finest ever prog-rock bands, Genesis. I wouldn’t mind any of that on my CV! With early Genesis tunes high on my current play list at home, this was one gig I was keenly looking forward to, although, I suppose the potential for disappointment was quite real. Nah, that was never gonna happen.
From the moment Peter walked, unannounced, on the stage to introduce the opening act of Swedish pair Linnea Olsson and Jennie Abrahamson, you could sense that tonight would be something special. Taking centre stage with cello and xylophone these two enchanting young ladies played a short, self-penned four song set brimming with seductively haunting vocals, their instruments almost taking a back seat, but so important to providing the perfect complement to those beautiful voices. My first impression was Kate Bush without the mega production, the cello driven ‘Giddy Up’ especially. Was it coincidence, given Peter’s previous collaborations with the creative, sometimes surrealistic Ms Bush? A happy one if it was! The girls would also feature later in the show as part of Peter Gabriel’s band.
After a short break, Peter Gabriel re-appeared some five minutes early to rapturous applause and firstly gave the audience a précis of what was to follow. The tour itself has been running for quite a while, tonight’s show being part of the winter leg, so to a lot of people the announcement that we would be treated to the equivalent of a three course meal was no major surprise. Starter was a short acoustic set, with a savoury course of more electronic and experimental sounds to follow. “If you survive that” joked Peter, “you’ll get the third course, the complete album of So.”
Beginning with what he called a work in progress, ‘What Lies Ahead’ brought to the stage long time bass playing companion Tony Levin along with cellist Linnea Olsson. From song two the rest of the band were introduced. Drummer Manu Katché, multi-instrumentalist David Sancious, the almost ever-present guitarist David Rhodes and finally the other half of the Swedish duo, Jennie Abrahamson. His voice nicely warmed up by the final acoustic piece ‘Family Snapshot’ from his 1980 album Peter Gabriel (Melt), part two burst into life with ‘Digging In The Dirt’ from the Us album. No longer sat at his piano, Peter was moving around the stage with purpose, sometimes having to play hopscotch, choreographed to perfection, around and over the lighting track encircling the front of the stage. With the as yet totally black and white lighting show exploding upon us for the powerful ‘Secret World’, along with the quite superb video effects and animations being projected onto the two big screens the show was becoming a visual statement almost as imposing as the music. Intimidating in their alien like appearance (someone I spoke to likened them to Triffids) were five mobile lighting rigs which patrolled the stage courtesy of the aforementioned track. In true Peter Gabriel style these soon became props for his sense of theatre to shine through, teasing, toying, dancing with and serenading them as though they lived. The crowd was loving this spectacle and the whole of the seated are was now standing and clapping when “boom, boom, boom!” ‘Solsbury Hill’ gave them the chance to exercise their vocal chords. Obviously a firm favourite, this was written about a personal spiritual experience following his departure from Genesis, although the prominent 7/4 time signature was a subtle reminder of those days now passed.
When the lighting suddenly turned a rich vibrant red, some colour in the show for the first time, we knew the performance of So was underway with opening number ‘Red Rain’; a song thought in part to be inspired by a recurring dream involving red wine, experienced by the composer. Eight more songs took us on a musical journey that many in the crowd tonight will not forget in a hurry. The beautiful ‘Don’t Give Up’ was particularly memorable for me, with Jennie Abrahamson’s soft vocals proving to be a fine substitute for Kate Bush (who appears on the original studio cut).
For just over two hours we had been given a glimpse of Peter Gabriel’s world of music, theatre and the unexpected. That distinctive voice has not been affected greatly by the passing years; perhaps it’s a little deeper now, but that has added more richness to his singing. He even throws a bit of dancing into his routine, either solo or with band members (did I see a bit of a conga form during Solsbury Hill?). A couple of high notes may have gone astray every now and then, but that’s just me nit-picking. And so the main show was brought to a close, with Peter taking a couple of minutes to acknowledge his entourage of back room, back stage, lighting, sound and road crews who brought the whole spectacle to life with choreographed timing, precision and great skill.
The end? Not quite as Peter and the band summoned up the energy to round off the night with a couple of extra songs as an encore. And in true Gabriel style we had yet more zany theatre as he got engulfed by the circular tower that had been hanging menacingly over centre stage all evening; the song was ‘The Tower That Ate People’! The closing song was regular show ender ‘Biko’, written about and dedicated to anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. As the song neared its end Peter Gabriel left the stage without fuss, followed in turn by other band members, leaving just Manu Katché to play out the final few beats on his drums.
So that was it. Peter Gabriel doing what he does best; his own thing, his way and it’s pure magic.
1. What Lies Ahead
2. Come Talk to Me
3. Shock The Monkey
4. Family Snapshot
5. Digging In The Dirt
6. Secret World
7. The Family And The Fishing Net
8. No Self Control
9. Solsbury Hill
10. Why Don’t You Show Yourself
11. Red Rain
13. Don’t Give Up
14. That Voice Again
15. Mercy Street
16. Big Time
17. We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)
18. This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
19. In Your Eyes
20. The Tower That Ate People