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Chris High reviews Peter Gabriel live in concert 2003 on this page

Manchester Evening News Arena
Sunday 18th May, 2003.

Peter Gabriel live in concert
There are four elements that are vital to the life of mankind; food, water, consistency of temperature and oxygen. Similarly there are four elements necessary to the putting on of a Rock show that will live longer in the memory than your last decent kebab; atmosphere, a talented artist, fantastic music and effects or imagery or both, to blow your socks off.

Peter Gabriel did his bit in providing the essentials of musical entertainment, as doth the sun in shining down from above provide for the essentials of life. To say that this was a Rock concert is, in the extreme, an under statement. As he took the stage dressed head to foot in black tunic and trousers, looking for all the world like some bemused alien, shorn of hair and white of goatee, one man in the sell out 21,000 audience summed the singer up nicely. "Genius" he called and few could disagree.

This was Gabriel's first tour since 1992, the record breaking Secret World outing which went with his multi-selling 'Us' album, and the first night of the British leg of the World Tour that has been underway since Autumn 2002. The release of his new album - and first studio outing in its own right since 'Us' - 'Up' in September of 2002 had caused the faithful to gather for this lone date in England's industrial heartland.

"I don't believe it, I don't believe it, I don't believe it! I am actually going to see HIM tonight!" Gushed one lady in the queue for the bar prior to the start. A débutante of the singer in such circumstances I discovered later, but a fan for years. Why wait until now if she's such a fan? "I'm only 21 and my Mum and Dad wouldn't let me come to the last gigs."

God I felt old !

Anyway, I digress! During this hiatus in recorded offerings, Peter Gabriel has been far from idle. There have been film soundtracks ('Long Walk Home' from the Kenneth Brannagh movie 'Rabbit Proof Fence'), supply of the music for the Millennium Dome (released as OVO in recorded form), unceasing charity and human rights projects (Gabriel is co-founder and organiser in chief of WOMAD - the World Organisation for Music, Art and Dance - as well as a key contributor and supporter of both the WITNESS organisation that provides voiced arguments for those denuded of their basic human rights and also of Amnesty International) and has taken time out to teach Apes how to play Jazz - no, honestly - but more of that later.

"I try to make music better. I enjoy the process much more than being a glorified salesman." He says "There are far too many roads down which to travel and all of them have detours." Though he does admit to having written hundreds of songs in the interim period between 'Us' and 'Up', some of which appear on the later album. Apparently, like busses, a new album is likely to be forthcoming in the very near future. "To me, music needs to be both spontaneous and analytical. You milk the creative energy of performance and then instil the capacity to hone it down in the studio."

With 'Up' being concerned with the space which we call life - from conception to death in 10 tracks - it is easy to see how some are put off by that which is not merely 'A' level music. This is Phd. Stuff made easy for those who wish to discover it. Deep, emotive, classy, stylish, immensely well crafted, the album is thought provoking in the extreme and certainly worthy of its plaudits, though possibly only after a few listens.

Often disturbing but, nonetheless, breathtakingly beautiful with Gabriel at his dramatic and provocative best, 'Up' was released quietly and boasted just 2 singles, though still went Platinum!! So, the outlay for the show bodes well. The oldies will be played and mixed with the new kids on the block, waiting to be analysed.

The lights go down around the circular stage, with what appears to be a cold frame fit for growing champion sized vegetables at its centre, and from stage right the man himself appears smiling and waving as he walks around, stopping every ten feet or so to bow to an audience - with his hands clasped together, prayer-like - who have just gone decidedly berserk!
"Thank you, it's been a long time. So long in fact, this place wasn't even built the last time I played Manchester. But it's great to be back." He said from his place at the keyboards, away at the far side of the circle.

The first song, a solo rendition of 'Here Comes The Flood' from the 1977 untitled debut album is a gentle introduction, I was to discover, to what was to come. As the spotlight fades, so too does the veggie incubator in the middle. The band -Tony Levin, David Rhodes, Rachel Z, Richard Evans, Melanie Gabriel - his daughter - and from the heart of the circle, the emerging Ged Lynch sat behind quite possibly the largest drum kit I've seen that was not inside a musical instruments shop window. It's massive, it's Loud and - best of all - it's Red!!

Being thumped out now are the heart ripping sounds of 'Darkness' the opening track from 'Up' with its switches from jagged edginess to tranquillity of word in easy movements. This is where I learn NOT to take my eyes off the stage. As I looked towards where Gabriel had been, he was no longer there but was instead being revolved around the stage edge, still at his keyboard, to my immediate right where he would rest awhile. 'Darkness' gave way to light, in the shape of 'Red Rain' and the descent of a large dome shaped appendage from the circular lighting rig above the stage. This acted as a cloud eschewing, yes, red rain in lasers. The top of the dome having taken on the images of clouds just to add further to the effect. Next up was one of my "if he doesn't play this, I'll be a bit miffed" choices 'Secret World'. Introducing it Gabriel says "Sometimes, we think we know people. But when we look closer, we can see little spaces forming - little pockets of air - that sometime slowly push people apart from within."

What a song this is! Song? No, a statement to musicians the world over would be more accurate, of how it should be done. Strobe lights, lasers, gut wrenching guitar and bass, thumping drums, sublime lyrics - heaven !
And so the stage was set. Next came 'Sky Blue' with the introduction of his 'warm up band' the deeply toned Blind Boys From Alabama, who supplied superb vocals and harmonies for the end of the song. These five ageing - and blind - artists have been setting America and award shows alight recently, as had Lady Smith Black Mambazo with Paul Simon in the early eighty's. "Some songs just fall in your lap with a plop! This isn't one of those songs. It's taken ten years to get it how I wanted it. Without the legendary talent of these guys, it may well have never been finished." Gabriel informs us.

For his first contribution from the OVO album we are given 'Downside Up' a pleasant enough song in its own right, but when added to by the descent of the upper lighting rig to around seven feet above the musician's heads and the attachment of both Peter and Melanie by ropes so that they could walk around the rim upside down whilst still singing, with a myriad of lights and effects going off, we're entering the 'Bloody Hell' stage of awe here.

So now we're at the stage of it's not going to get any better than this, right? Wrong! Next up is 'The Barry Williams Show' again from 'Up'. A tale concerning the depravity of TV discussion shows such as Jerry Springer. "First of all we were told we are what we eat. Then in the Renaissance we were told we are what we wear. Now days, I believe, we are what we watch!" He tells us as the drums are moved to the outer rim of the stage, the upper rig comes down completely to reveal a second stage upon which are mounted TV cameras to be operated by Gabriel himself, so that the audience can be filmed and shown on the two massive screens at either end of the theatre. Unconfined joy as my ugly mush appears for around five seconds, before being whipped away to some other undeserving fans. He also turns the camera, unnervingly at times, upon himself in dramatic close up to be reflected upon the hovering tube behind him.

Band introductions are carried out and the moving 'Mercy Street' is played with Melanie sitting in a little wooden boat as it circles around. With the effect of water running along beneath at the stage edge, the song has the added serenity and poignancy of the lyrics based on a poem written by Anne Sexton. The dome in the centre, acting now as a reflector for varying images throughout, was now stripped to reveal a small clear ball. "Excuse me" Gabriel announces "but I have a little growing up to do!" and the band breaks into the happy sounding 'Growing Up' track. A great tune, Pete leaves the keyboards to stand centre stage, arms up, so that a vast, see through rubber ball can engulf him entirely. Then, again from above, comes a second much larger rubber ball that looks a little like those things kids stick hamsters in, with indentations all over its surface. This enshrines the first ball and with Peter and the band singing "My ghosts like to travel, so deep into your space" over and over, Peter proceeds to roll the balls from inside, to the outer rim of the stage. He then rolls it around slowly at first, but picking up speed gradually as he goes on singing. He only pauses at intervals to BOUNCE the ball at all four 'corners' of the stage, about three feet in the air, with him STILL inside the damn things. How the hell he never fell off the edge I just don't understand. Outstanding.

Is this man really 53 or is he plugged into the mains so as to get so much energy?
The next highlight is not long in coming. "We are often told that communication knows no bounds. I have spent some time recently in the company of Apes, working on the principal of an infinite number of monkeys can write the complete works of Shakespeare, given an infinite amount of time."
"Somebody should tell George Bush!" Somebody shouts from the audience
"George Bush? That's a bit of an insult don't you think? To our primate friends I mean!" retorts Peter, to much laughter and applause and 'Animal Nation' followed. This set Peter to thinking of how music begins at a single point and evolves. Hence the title of the next song 'Signal To Noise.' I doubt whether anybody other than Gabriel could talk of musical apes and radio waves to a crowd and be treated with nods of approval and looks of "why didn't I think of that?" on their faces. 'Signal', however, is the Magnum Opus of the 'Up' album. A tight, angry melody with tough vocals masking gentler lyrics. The entire auditorium is bathed at intervals in the green light that is usually given off by radio waves from one end to the other, to be met in the middle by similar patterns playing up an down a gossamer curtain that has fallen cylindrically from the once again raised lighting rig. Upside Down, Back to Front, Up And Down, being the apparent themes of the evening. Superb. Just Superb!
So now he must be done with the surprises right? WRONG!

Next up comes 'Solisbury Hill' to a fantastic ovation. But not content with merely singing the song and dancing along with the band members, oh no. Gabriel rides a small bicycle around one way, whilst the band walk in the opposite direction and the drummer and kit turn which ever way they are told to in the middle, courtesy of the revolving stage!

It was all too soon encore time. I've missed a couple of songs off the complete play-list, mainly because there was too much to take in AND remember everything else. Suffice to say that 'Digging In The Dirt' was here too, with much vocal backing from the punters.

The first encore includes 'Sledgehammer'. The stage and the building were in almost total darkness, with a gentle little tune being played, before Pete counts up "1,2,3,4!", the distinctly recognisable onslaught of sax breaks out and not a light comes on but for these largish torches that seem to be moving in time with the music at the heart of the stage. The torches are Peter's suit lit up ! They come on at the 'Sledgehammer' part of the song, to which the crowd respond in raptures, as the main lights are cut out on stage. Such is the song's popularity, its video is still the most requested on MTV.
Next comes 'No Way Out' from 'Up' and a gentle close before the band once more depart to a stunning ovation.

Not done yet, the band return to do the second of my three choices of 'must plays' 'In Your Eyes' again from 'So'. A fantastic song, that says so much without saying a lot. Here, Gabriel was joined by Severa Nazarkhan on the Central Asian Lute who is one of his discoveries for the Real World Records Project, and boy can she play!
A longer departure this time, before just Peter and Tony Levin return, to sing a song that appears on the OVO soundtrack, but which was inspired by a trip to the Devonshire Moors, with his own father of 87 and his father's Yoga instructor. Called 'Father and Son' the song tells of what a special relationship it should be between the generations. A truly moving song upon which to end, which leaves us - as with the album - book-ended between the gentle beginning of 'Here Comes The Flood' and this emotional reposte, with true Rock and Emotion at its middle.

The Secret World Tour, with its telephone boxes, Across The Water boat journeys, somersaulting screens et al, was as fantastic 11 years ago as it would be today. This, however, was surely unbeatable and the four essential elements were blown apart with contempt at the very suggestion that they might not be included.
'Steam' was a sad omission from the set but, hey, I ain't complaining. If it takes a further 11 years for Peter Gabriel to come up with another show like this, then it'll be WELL worth the wait - whether he be sixty four by then or not.
Genius indeed!





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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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