Tonight was my first trip to the Arena since seeing Neil Young & Crazy Horse back in July, and despite being a much bigger Shakey fan than of Peter Gabriel, I’d say this one just about pipped the curmudgeonly Canuck.
I’ve long had a small but certainly soft spot for Mr Gabriel, whose third album was amongst the five CD’s I got from my parents for my eighteenth birthday, the day I got my first CD player. I know that three of the others were two of The Smiths’ compilations (the sublime, timeless “Hatful Of Hollow, and the American comp “Louder Than Bombs”) and, quite bizarrely, Sinéad O’Connor’s debut album “The Lion And The Cobra” that I was suckered into buying by some radio DJ proclaiming that “Mandinka” was the least impressive track on the album – a patent lie.
Suffice to say, I no longer own that (or any other) O’Connor album, while the others remain key touchstones in my collection, even if some have been upgraded to remastered versions due to be a sucker for record company marketing at times! Sadly, I cannot recall the missing fifth album, but I can tell from my records that I don’t still own it. For anyone remotely interested (i.e. me), the only other CDs I still own that I acquired that year (1988) are The Jesus And Mary Chain’s “Psychocandy”, Joy Division’s “Closer”, Half Man Half Biscuit’s “Back In The D.H.S.S.”, an import version of The Sugarcubes’ “Lifes Too Good” with six bonus tracks and somewhat more obscurely Colin Newman of Wire’s “A-Z” and the “Hardcore Holocaust (87-88 Sessions) – The Peel Sessions” comp. Pretty much all classics.
Anyway, back to PG. He gets a lot of kudos from me for the bravery, bloody-mindedness or just outright ballsiness of each of his first four albums being eponymous. It’s hard to imagine a major musical figure (and he was back in February 1977 when the first album, aka ‘Car’ came out, having fronted the increasingly successful Genesis for six albums) doing anything like that these days. He’s hardly gone overboard in naming albums since then (or even putting them out), with each of the next three albums just having two-letter titles. As a side note, I’ve tried to get into Genesis over the years (by which I mean the Gabriel-fronted era. I’ve never tried to get into the later periods, having heard enough of it on the radio to know it’s just not for me), but neither of the two albums of theirs I’ve bought remain in my collection (though I do have an album by an L.A. band of the same name from 1967).
Well, this is a long preamble to the gig. I was meeting three friends in the Arena for this one, but due to train times I just had enough time to squeeze a quick drink in at the Lion. I’d have had a pint of the reliable Lion Returns but was swayed by the presence of Mallinsons on the bar. Having recently had a couple of theirs in bottles, I was happy to try another, which was up to scratch.
The gig was due to start at 8pm, and advance warning from two of my gig compadres, Lee and Ali (the other being Raj), had led me to know what to expect (with the concert based around his biggest album, 1986’s “So”), which is what panned out. PG stepped out onto the stage on his own shortly after 8pm to introduce his support act, two Swedish performers, Linnea Olsson and Jennie Abrahamson, who performed together as a pseudo duo. An interesting way of Gabriel ensuring that the audience was in for the support act – as the place was almost full for them, a pleasant change compared with many gigs when people just pitch up for the main band. I’ve certainly been guilty of that many times myself over the years, with this blog (and then writing reviews for Getintothis) encouraging me to get in early to check out the supporting cast more often.
They were an unusual duo of Abrahamson on glockenspiel and Olsson playing the ‘cello. They alternated songs, with the most memorable being Olsson’s “Giddy Up!”, with its repeated refrain and her waving bow. They made an intriguing intro, with the first song from Abrahamson really sounding like a PG tune.
The roadies then came out in pink hospital-style gear, with one person spending a long time mopping the floor – something I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone doing on stage before. Peter soon came out on stage, very quickly introducing his bandmates, rather than waiting to the end of the gig as many bands do. They included Tony Levin on bass (who’s played on stone cold classics like Lou Reed’s “Berlin” and the first album by The Roches, as well as lots of PG’s output), David Rhodes, David Sancious (who played on Springsteen’s first three albums) and Manu Katché on drums, mostly from the original band that toured “So” back in 1986. They were all in matching black, zipped dungarees.
Peter Gabriel set up the concert by explaining that the show would be in three parts, firstly acoustic(ish), then a more electronic set, followed by the whole of “So” played in (allegedly) its original order. He kicked off with an experimental “work in progress” called “What Lies Ahead”, a number apparently inspired by his thirteen-year old son. This brief acoustic-based set continued with “Come Talk To Me” off 1992’s “Us” before he stretched back to songs I actually knew, “Shock The Monkey”, a minor UK (but bigger US) hit off 1982’s (surprise, surprise) self-titled album, aka ‘Security’. It was then possibly the highlight of the night for me, “Family Snapshot” off the third album from 1980, aka ‘Melt’. This is a song about someone shooting an American politician, presumably partly inspired by the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Part two kicked off with another song off “Us” (perhaps an album I ought to investigate further), “Digging In The Dirt” with its “this time you’ve gone too far” chorus. Another track off the same release followed, “Secret World” with what sounded like bagpipes in the backing (but what were clearly just keyboard sounds). The unsurprisingly-dark “Darkness” off 2002’s “Up” (not “Us”!) followed before the second number from ‘Melt’, the obsessive “No Self Control”. Next came “Solsbury Hill”, a top 20 UK hit from ‘Car’ that got much of the crowd up on their feet. This second set concluded with a new song, “Why Don’t You Show Yourself?”.
Then we were into the main event, the full “So” album in its original order. Or in actual fact, in the order of the 2002 remastered release as “In Your Eyes” was moved from where Gabriel wanted it to be placed when it came out originally due to its prominent bass line, as there was more room for the needle to vibrate earlier in the order on vinyl (and that was the order used for the original CD). This was the album that turned him into a big mainstream act, selling more than 5m copies in the USA and going three times platinum in the UK (meaning it has sold at least 900,000).
The lights and setting were unusual for an arena gig, with clever use of camerawork to integrate into the big screen behind the stage and the two smaller screens to the side, although we were close enough not to need those. Some of the cameras were hand-wielded by members of the band, while others were on the end of mini-cranes that sashayed across the stage, kind of like the giants that have roamed the city over recent years.
The album starts with a killer 1,2,3 of “Red Rain”, “Sledgehammer” and then “Don’t Give Up”, all of which were rapturously received (rather too much so by an incredibly loud, annoying group directly behind us who were clearly big fans of the album but never shut up talking or singing badly throughout). Both of the Swedish support acts were important parts of his backing band, with Jennie Abrahamson taking the Kate Bush role in “Don’t Give Up” – not quite as well as the woman herself, but that’s no shame, and she did a fine job.
After “That Voice Again” came “Mercy Street”, with Gabriel singing the song lying flat out on the stage, surrounded by the mini-cranes filming him. Another big UK hit followed, “Big Time” with Gabriel’s voice proving to be in great shape across all the different styles of song he was performing. Another noteworthy aspect was the little synchronised moves that he would make from time to time with members of the band, as they all span round on the spot, marched up and down, or fist-pumped in unison. A little thing, but something that just helped give the show a touch of something different, without getting overblown.
The main set closed with the lovely “In Your Eyes”. Unsurprisingly, he came back on for more, with PG giving a lengthy tribute to the road crew before playing the unknown-to-me “The Tower That Ate People” that was released on “OVO” in 2000, his soundtrack to the Millennium Dome Show. After that less-than-thriller came his final number, the moving “Biko” (again off ‘Melt’), which also had a touch of the bagpipes to the keyboard sound. After a crowd singalong (harrumph), Gabriel left the stage, slowly followed by the members of his band, until only the drummer remained, still keeping the beat.
A fine show that was much more interesting than the usual grandiose arena affair, with PG’s voice still sounding fabulous at the age of 64.
I wore my brown Beatles t-shirt to this gig, which was attended by a huge crowd of course, but there were fairly few other band t-shirts in evidence, which was to be expected from such a largely middle-aged crowd. My mate Lee wore an Alarm t-shirt (that he’d also been wearing at the match only the day before…), while I also spotted a Peter Gabriel tee, and much more unusually Canadian rockers Danko Jones and son-of-Frank, Dweezil Zappa.