GABRIEL: GROWING UP IN THE ROUND
Manchester Evening News Arena
Sunday 18th May, 2003.
|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
"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!
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 !
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?
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.
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!
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.
|Maybe you have seen Peter Gabriel live in concert and would like to comment on this review. Whatever your thoughts - please leave your FEEDBACK|
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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