November 28th 2002, Montreal, Canada
December 2nd 2002, Toronto, Canada
By Michael McLaughlin
The first time I was touched by Peter Gabriel was during the So tour. I didn't know any of his songs except Red Rain and Sledgehammer because they'd been on the radio. I went because it was sold out and on the day of the show, they printed up 500 more tickets. I had a feeling it was going to be good. Soon after that, I owned all his albums and then went backwards into Genesis.
By the time the US tour and album came, I was extremely excited now that I knew all of his music. I was lucky enough to see that tour three times, including the last two nights of the tour in Paris.
Then - 10 years go by! Finally - at long last - there is an album and a tour. The album: In my opinion one of his best and worth the wait. While some feel it's a little quiet and doesn't have any really "big" songs on it, I find Peter being himself and sharing his apprehension on death and dying, life and living and I would have expected nothing less from him. This is a truly great album.
Thus, I've been excited for this tour. I had seats on the floor 15 rows back. The opening band, The Blind Boys of Alabama was typical Peter in that he always chooses interesting musicians that strike him, rather than some young, boring band trying to "make it". The Blind Boys of Alabama delivered a kind of blues/gospel thing that reminded one of the more exciting music one's parents listened too. The lead singer is 73 and it was his birthday. He really is blind, as he had to be led around the stage and taken away from the edge so as not to walk off of it! They do great harmonies too, which is why Peter used them on his new album in the moving Sky Blue. The audience was very attentive and receptive to them rather than talking through their set. They were a great opening.
Then, Peter himself came out and announced the next couple of musicians. I can't remember their names and I'm not sure where they came from, but they were basically two African(?) people who looked like they'd just been plucked from their tribe with their strange instruments and then planted in front of thousands of people. They did two numbers - one with a wooden kind of flute and the other with what I can only call wooden boxes that made tinkling, flute/piano sounds. Very interesting!
Not much time passed and then Peter emerged to thunderous applause. He came out and did the piano version of Here Comes the Flood. It was incredibly moving and just seeing him there after all this time, dressed in black with a bald head and a white goatee, was magical. The round stage set in the middle of the floor - making every seat a winner - turned as he sang, so all could see him a little closer at some point. With the very raspy sounding vocals on US, you would have expected his voice to be very worn by now. But on UP and indeed, live, his voice sounds just like circa Security or even before. It's perfect. It literally sounds better than the last tour.
Then, the entire band came out and they started Darkness. Bad sound can really ruin a concert and so often, that is the case. But as soon as the band came in, it was obvious that the sound was EXCELLENT and it remained that way for the entire show.
There were no surprises or theatrics for Darkness, just the drummer submerged in the stage a bit under the "house in the woods". The lights that went directly with the music were absolutely spectacular and again, were perfect for the entire show.
Red Rain was beautiful and sounded excellent and was very well greeted. Again, no special theatrics. Then I realized something. I kept myself in the dark for this show, not knowing anything of what was to happen to keep it as a surprise. Now I realized that my thoughts were drifting to the idea of 'what if he doesn't do any theatrics? What if this is just a normal show? How could be do anything as interesting as last time?" Indeed there was only one stage this time. I decided that it didn't matter to me and that the songs would be more than great - but it made me realize the pressure he must be under due to everyone's expectations.
He brought the Blind Boys of Alabama out to do Sky Blue. A giant egg-like structure came down from above and was washed in sky and clouds. Beautiful. This song moved me as it does on the album. The Blind Boys ended the song perfectly and Peter sang it louder & more soulfully than on the album. A highlight of the show for me.
Secret World was an interesting selection. I hadn't expected it. It really brought the audience to it's feet with Peter twirling and jumping so ethusiastically. The lights getting so bright with the music during the intense sections intensified everything. Wonderful.
Downside Up, something from Ovo was played. I was annoyed at myself for not having gotten Ovo yet. I think since around the time Ovo came out, we'd heard Up was supposed to appear. Then Ovo does and UP take another year! So I think I avoided Ovo out of temporary disappointment! Now I wished I hadn't.
A second stage came down from above. Peter and I believe Melanie both were fastened to the bottom in such a way that they could walk upside down while singing the song. Maybe this WAS going to be theatrical! For a first listen, I enjoyed the song. It was a good time to have the theatrical element since most likely, much of the audience didn't know this song either.
The Barry Williams Show was fun.The beat was funkier than on the album. My least favorite on the album, I still enjoy it and the band did it much more justice live. Peter getting onto the second stage and dragging a movie camera around that transmitted images of the audience to giant screens for all to see was fun. Very bright lights, as in stadium lights shone so the audience was more lit up than the stage, thus showing us as the 'show' in "what a show!" Definitely fun & the audience enjoyed that one.
More Than This from Up was played. As stated, I was happy with anything he chose to play from the new album or any other album for that matter. But for trying to get the audience into tracks from Up, this was not the best choice. I Grieve might have sufficed much better. Still, for me, it was enjoyable - in fact, I wished he'd play the entire new album myself. But the audience's lukewarm enjoyment of this More Than This was disappointing.
Growing Up, a great song from Up saw the use of what had already come down - a giant 'beachball' that previously had been used to flash images on. Now it came down to the stage completely and Peter got inside it to sing the song, rolling it perilously all over the stage. Again, lights were very effective to the weirder "computer" sounds that go with this song. A delight.
Mercy Street clearly pleased the audience. All the band members lay down to play this song as Melanie, Peter's daughter, seemed to row a boat around the stage. The theatrics here were fine, but the beauty of this song is what got us all I believe. "Riding the water - riding the waves - on the sea" ended the song to loud applause.
Digging in the Dirt from US brought everyone up to their feet and was truly staggering in its volume and intensity. One more time, I must emphasize that the intelligent use of lighting really emphasized passages like "this time you've gone too far". Explosion of light! Very powerful.
Animal Nation, another song I'd never heard was played and Peter got the audience into this one by playing the song up, hand clapping, etc. A fine song, but too close to the end to inspire most who had never heard it. It could be thought of as a slightly less successful Shaking the Tree, which I would have preferred.
Solsbury Hill is always a treat and Peter road a bicycle around the stage while singing it. Wonderful and moving as always. I did wonder for awhile: why the bicycle? But I suppose it's more a symbol of freedom and 'riding away'. The audience loved it for all its oddity.
In Your Eyes was pure magic as always. No need for any theatrics. Just a lot of happiness and dancing. Everyone loved it. It was as always, extremely inspiring.
Sledgehammer got everyone to their feet (as did In Your Eyes and most of the songs). Peter wore a jacket ablaze with lights and this was very effective. Wonderful performance of this song which helped emphasize just how great his voice has remained.
Ending the set was was Signal to Noise, easily the best song on UP and one I'd really been preying he play.
The stage was turned into a giant transmitter with lights serving as the 'signal ray' going to the transmitter, which consisted of a giant tube coming from above and going to the center of the stage, covering the drummer - (hmm...well you have to see it yourself...). It's obvious that the audience isn't as warm to Up as it was to US or to the huge So. But for me, this was THE song. The subtlety was of the studio version's African drum rhthym was lost on an all out loud drum beat, but the power was still there. The darkness everywhere with just the "signal" lights was great. If there had ever been a time in this show to bring the theatrics to a crescendo, this was it. They were good, but they could have been better. This song deserved the full treatment and was just a bit less than I'd hoped for - not musically but theatric-wise. The haunting and building string section from the album was sampled and played back at the end. I wished that they'd been able to play it themselves since it's so amazing, but - an orchestra on tour for one song?
The first encore was Come Talk to Me, with Melanie singing the daughter's part. I like it, but while the audience likes this song, it's not one of their all time favorites and so not a great show closer.
The second encore was just Peter and Tony for Father/Son from Ovo. Another song most of did not know. I loved it though. It was very moving and any chance to hear mainly just piano and Peter singing along is leapt at from me. Still, I think that the better choice would have been The Drop from UP, the tear jerking closer of the album.
All in all, the band played very well - all top knotch musicians and all enjoying themselves very much, including Peter. It was a wonderful show and didn't disappoint in any real way as the audience's reaction attested to. Very worth the wait.
The shortcomings were few but obvious. Except for one song, Peter ignored his first four albums altogether. That is a lot of ignoring to be sure. Concentrating on three solo albums and Ovo was a bit excessive. Add to this three songs that few people know and ending the show with one of them and you have a very slight disappointment in the minds of the crowd - though any disppointment is overshadowed by the show itself.
Because of the great expectations the US tour left everyone with, he would either have to do few theatrics to perhaps none, or at least equal the intensity from the US tour. Of course it was spectacular, but a little less intense than perhaps some had expected.
All in all, if the rating is out of 10, this is a 9!
Peter Gabriel again just four days later. And I'd see him again in four more days, or tomorrow, or tonight! I enjoyed this show even more than Montreal, not because it was necessarily better, but because seeing a show twice often does that. Once you no longer have preconceptions or expectations of what you're about to see, you can melt into the show a lot easier.
In Montreal, we were 15 rows back from the stage, on the floor and it was hard to believe Peter Gabriel and the band were really there. Now, having gotten over that & armed with the willingness to believe that Peter really was there, I faced the Toronto show. This time, we chose seats farther back, on the third level, albeit front row third level. This was a great choice because the stage is so central, that there are no bad seats at this show. Also, being further away allowed the the spectacle to be witnessed in a way that made it more unified. For such a large production, being farther away is rewarding in a different way. I could now see everything going on at once - great! Some of the props and theatrics that may seem ambiguous to some started to show their significance this time. You have to think a bit, unlike the US tour where it was more obvious.
The sound was even better at this show than in Montreal. I must really applaud the sound system. Tonight, we got the surprise of Shock the Monkey, not replacing anything, but added to the set. Somehow, the show was between 2.5 and 2.75 hours long. It was slightly better receieved than in Montreal for some reason (usually it's the opposite for any show in Montreal - passionate, French music lovers).
Again, the highlights for me were in the new material, although once again, I note that Signal to Noise, would be so much more powerful if properly produced live. The loudness should build - not come in right away.
I also noted this time, that the show could do with some changing around of the song order. After building up to some frenzy near the end - suddenly a lesser song here or there was introduced to a slight thud in the audience. Secret world placed near the end instead of beginning would remedy this.
Although I love Up, even for those who don't, this show is a must see and will be enjoyed. A friend of mine who also saw the show and doesn't like Up, LOVED the show. So go, go go go!
But because I do love Up so much, and because I figured out last night that Peter touches a place in my heart that no one else can, he, his music and his live performance have now risen even further in their already high rankings in my books.
Receive and transmit!.....
Here Comes The Flood
Shock the Monkey (Toronto Only)
The Barry Williams Show
More Than This
Digging In The Dirt
In Your Eyes
Signal To Noise
Come Talk To Me