More than 8 years since last tour, finally Peter Gabriel made his return to present songs of the new (and quite old already) UP record.
It is always very special to attend a Peter Gabriel concert. The reason is simple: Gabriel is one of those artists that allow our mix with normal audiences (I never saw Genesis but I guess the feeling was the same during the eighties and also in some way the U2 Elevation tour last year).
To be honest, we all love Dream Theater, IQ, Marillion and Spock's Beard. We follow them everywhere we can and when are wallets will not suffer too much, but the audiences are and remain basically the same. With Gabriel we welcome (because we feel local) other people to the progressive rock fraternity.
In my personal case, it is one of the few concerts that my wife will consider to go with me. If I ask her to accompany me to Dream Theater she would rather stay at home watching the French version of Big Brother or if I told her that Fish will be touring France, she will just shout: 'Fish? Once again? Haven't you seen him already 25 times?'
So last Saturday arrived, and we were both there in the line of the 'La Mutualité' theatre in Paris. It is a great place for concerts, with a capacity of 2 000 people. I felt very lucky to experience this type of concert in a 'small' place. First and last time I have seen Peter Gabriel was in a 10 000 people small stadium for the Secret World tour. In 'La Mutualité' it was different. With an audience averaging their thirties, everything was fine and out of tension. The mood was perfect for the show we were going to live.
This was considered to be a warm-up show. The new record UP was still not in the shops and Gabriel was testing the power of his new band (only Tony Levin and Dave Rhodes survived from the old troupe) and the reception of the new songs by the audience. And I think he was very right. The new songs are rather dark, and slow. In some way, I see them as a coming back to old times. I had read some critics before arriving to the concert, and this feeling started to be confirmed as the lights went off and the band came into scene.
'He looks like Sinter Klaas' (that's what my Dutch wife said as he came in the stage). With a long white 'grunge' beard (but not as long as the bass player of System of the Down) and followed by a group of totally bold musicians (I only missed the Dalai Lama….) Gabriel came on stage. The band consisted of himself in keyboards, Tony Levin in all kind of bass guitars (sadly no stick this time), Dave Rhodes in guitar, Rachel Z (a jazz piano player) on keyboards, Richard Evans (Gabriel's partner in OVO) in acoustic guitar and flute, Ged Lynch on drums and Melanie Gabriel on side vocals.
The lights went off, Gabriel and the band looked like in trance, everyone so concentrated with a pre-recorded synthesiser sounding as a pinball. And then, the explosion in our ears: Darkness. Gabriel not moving from his keyboards, the rest of the musicians were very tight following the orders of the boss. And funnily, Gabriel looked very relaxed, in control of the tension. Darkness looked a very difficult song to begin a concert, with aggressive changes, from thunder to ambiance, a bit of King Crimson mixed with Massive Attack. Definitely this song could have been part of Peter Gabriel's 4th album. I don't know why it reminded me of Family Snapshot. Great beginning for the lovers of old Gabriel's stuff, it did not seem to me it was what the audience was looking for.
But some things became clear from the beginning: Gabriel's voice was in great shape but the band was not ready. They looked very tense, as if they were passing a final exam. Of course this was not the case of the outstanding Tony Levin (sorry but he's an idol) and Dave Rhodes, but the rest of the time the young ones looked quite unsecured. And you could feel that, added with Gabriel not moving from his keyboards from the first half hour of the concert, it made it a difficult start.
Gabriel introduced in a very correct French a song he mentioned it was as old as him: Red Rain. Well, It's not that old!!! Red Rain is one of my favourites from Gabriel's career and the version on the Secret World Tour is quite nice, but this time it looked not well preformed, too slow and too dry. It did not take long to realise where the problem was: Ged Lynch, the new drummer of the tour, replacing some monsters as Manu Katche and Jerry Marrota. Surrounded by three panels of glass (never understood why), he was introduced by Gabriel as an 'amazing' percussionist. Well, it did not seem to me that amazing. I felt him as a basic rock drummer, with a quite unsophisticated way of playing the drums. I could not stop thinking on Manu Katche or young guys as Nick d'Virgilio. It was clear, Red Rain sounded quite poor. And this was going to be confirmed later in other songs.
Then Gabriel brought us Growing Up, another tune from Up. Great beginning with Tony Levin playing the electric cello and some nice riffs by Dave Rhodes, it looked like a great start. But then the song followed a very erratic road. I did not feel comfortable with it. The audience could have danced and followed the groove, but the musicians were so static in their places that it seemed the wrong thing to do. I hope the real tour will include all the usual interactive paraphernalia of Gabriel's last tour, and invite you to move a bit and that the musicians will feel more part of the songs. This time it felt out of place.
Growing Up was finished and, after drinking what it looked like tea, Gabriel introduced one of the best songs of the OVO record: Downside Up. I do not want to sound negative, but the result was closer to disaster. Two reasons for this: again Ged Lynch bringing down the level of the drumming in the record, specially at the end before the 'downside up, upside down' chorus, and what was worse, Melanie Gabriel doing the Liz Fraser part of the song without any talent and, worst, any voice. I could not understand it. A man that has worked with the Cocteau Twins, Sinead O'Connor, Paula Cole, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell and Laurie Anderson, brings us his daughter without any experience (as far as I know) and any security to be first voice. I have two daughters and I imagine how proud he must be to share a concert with her, but she was very far from the others in doing this. A sad thing as the song looked very poor compared to the recorded version. But again, the positive part was how good his voice was standing and how relaxed he looked.
Lights off and No Way Out came into scene. And best of all, Tony Levin bringing again the basis for the sound and the great ambiance of his electric cello, showing why he is one of the best players in his field. And No Way Out became for me a turning point of the concert. The band was getting in the mood, the sound was improving and the song went very powerful. You could see Gabriel feeling in control and giving life to this song. Even the normally difficult to hear Dave Rhodes was sounding heavy and the shy Rachel Z started to dance on her keyboards, inviting the old man to do the same. Great song, and it sounded perfectly live.
Mercy Street was the next one. And the French audience went mad. I had never heard it live, not even on a bootleg CD as I used to collect them before Napster and Kaaza came to our lives. Mercy Street is a song for Gabriel's pleasure, to enjoy the plentitude of his voice. And he did not fail. Beautiful presentation. Another nice moment during the song was the very absent Richard Evans (because you could not hear him) playing the flute in the normally synthesised little solo of Mercy Street. Everyone became crazy and happy, that helped a lot the musicians to feel secure on what they were doing.
A new song was the next one: My Head Sounds Like That. It was same style as Darkness: a difficult song, changing rhythm and ambiances. From a soft piano (reminded me The Beatles) to a kind of Fripp's craziness, the song was played with a lot of energy and heart. It sounded perfect and in the right moment. Well, maybe not for the majority of the audience, but definitely to the die hard Gabriel's fans. My Head Sounds Like That could also have been part of Gabriel's 4th album. His voice continued to be in great shape and he started to risk more with it. And that was very welcomed by the audience.
And then the party started: The Barry Williams Show. The people started to dance and sing it loudly as this song has been in his repertory for the last 15 years!!! Incredible, the record has not been published yet!!! As Marillion says: thank god for the Internet.
Finally Peter Gabriel left his place in the corner and started his performance in the first row. Specially when saying the 'showtime' words, he demonstrated an impressive control of the show, even being more than 50 and having a quite good belly. You cannot avoid reminding the seventies videos, Gabriel dressed as a flower or as an old crazy man, or the eighties videos with him throwing himself to the audience during the 'Lay your hands on me' chorus. This is Gabriel's best. He is the main part of the 'showtime'. He got to get out of the keyboards and make the audience vibrate. The musicians also looked very excited, it was a good insurance for the last part of the concert.
The band followed with More Than This. The people loved it, especially after the energy provided during The Barry Williams Show. For me, it was not that great. I felt it quite a simple song with a chorus very much as a typical Phil Collins song. Anyhow, the party had already started.
Digging in the dirt was chosen to continue (Finally a song from Us, one of my favourites from Peter Gabriel. Sadly, it was going to be the only one). Great version, full of energy and played quite aggressively. Tony Levin really looked enjoying himself and Dave Rhodes increased the volume of his distorted guitar. The result was quite heavy and Gabriel acted during the totality of the song, to the best pleasure of the audience. Finally Ged Lynch was more sensitive to the changes in drumming and also looked more relax, but he seemed to me very far from the past Gabriel's companions on drums.
Then Gabriel brought us a new surprise: Animal Nation, a song not belonging to Up. He said in French that it is a song he is thinking incorporating in a future record. I thought it was a joke. He travelled to Paris to practice the songs from Up but he came up with a very new stuff. I did not get (and I still don't). That it is the reason why I have the felling that even Up is a new record, it is already old in his head and also in our ears. Strange no?
The song had a very sticky chorus that remained in our heads for some time. It was OK, a bit simple, but nice for the occasion.
And then it was a full party again: Sledgehammer, break and In Your Eyes as first encore. What can be written about these songs? They have been played 1 000 times with a guaranteed full success. Everyone likes them and they sound great live. The bass line in Sledgehammer is like a Tony Levin trademark and the lyrics in In Your Eyes are one of the best of Peter Gabriel's latest records. There is nothing to add, these songs are part of any of his concerts and will remain like this for a long time.
After the second break, we received a gift from Gabriel. The last song, performed only by him and Tony Levin on cello: Father, Son, from the OVO record. For me the most beautiful song performed during the concert. The best two musicians and the hearts of the band, giving the best of themselves to do a fantastic version of a great song. For me, this song was worth the concert. The feeling was great and I guess the audience was astonished by the purity of the play. The song was dedicated to his father, who was at the Theatre. It has to be a beautiful thing. Even though his daughter does not have the level to sing in his band, it has to be a great moment for him to bring three Gabriel generations in one night, in one concert. And for us, we had the chance to get that feeling, to experience his emotion.
A great night, a good concert with downs and ups, but as always we got the best from Gabriel: a great voice, emotion and a unique performance. I am just looking forward to see the surprises the full tour will bring us.