Peter Gabriel Looking Ahead, Not Returning to London Show: Concert Review

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“It’s getting harder and harder to tell the real from the fake these days,” said Peter Gabriel, smiling indifferently as he took to the stage at London’s O2 Arena. “You might be surprised to learn you’re staring at an avatar. But unlike the awesome ABBA show down the road, my avatar is 20 years old, 20 pounds heavier, and completely bald. Meanwhile, I’m torn and lounging on a beach…”

For some musicians of a certain age, the past is not a foreign land: they are happy to do the same things today as they were then. Not Peter Gabriel. He has always maintained a primary interest in evolution – man, music and technology – and at 73, that hasn’t changed.

All three featured in the Monday night installation of their “I/O” tour, which is due to arrive in North America later this year. As such, Gabriel’s smug sense of humor led some of the set list to state that both he and longtime bassist Tony Levin date back to when his hair was full, while he was also brave enough to include at least 11 new listings. songs, five of which have not yet been released.

Gabriel’s laurels remain unpacked and rested.

All of this made her first real tour in a decade for the former Genesis frontman a harder sell than she would have been if she had gone for easy nostalgia. O2’s tickets weren’t exactly sold out, and Gabriel himself was in determinedly underrated form, constantly greeting his (excellent) group and only taking center stage when he absolutely had to.

Unlike many of his controversially grumpy contemporaries, he remained courteous and genial throughout, even when he spoke about AI in a restrained, professionally curious way, realizing that the technology could make him and many others in the room obsolete.

But Gabriel’s own intelligence is far from artificial. No computer program could simulate the Outlandish makeup and costumes that marked his early solo career, and even his previous work with Genesis. Not that Gabriel would want it: These days, the road crew dressed in orange, Guantanamo Bay-style cauldrons is more glamorous than he is. Gone are his once irrepressible theatrical glitches, now almost as far as taking off his hat and putting it back on.

Thankfully the production has done things a little heavier for him, especially with new songs. At different points various objects—a huge clock, a moon, a Sauron-like all-seeing eye—was hovering over him; in the early hours the group sat around a makeshift campfire; The name checks of the visual artists providing footage for the ever-changing big screens supported his claim that this was his greatest live production ever.

The staging, however, added to the impression that this two-set, 22-song show was something to sit back and admire rather than throw yourself into. Of course, that’s how the crowd took it, only getting up occasionally, when it required both familiarity and pace.

Many of these moments came from material from the once ubiquitous 1986 album “So”. If it’s hard to imagine 2023’s Peter Gabriel as an MTV sensation and a true pop star, the irresistibly funky likes of “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer” – somehow cast aside as the final song of the first set – at least it did. sounds like something that could have easily happened once.

You can’t bet it will happen again anytime soon, though. Fresh material from his long-awaited next album “i/o”, which will be his first album of original material in over 20 years when it was finally released, was trickled out with every new song. – a lunar show that might be admired by werewolves, but unlikely to catch the real wolves of the music industry.

The likes of “Panopticom” and “Four Kinds of Horses” were certainly enjoyable, elegantly played, and progressively experimental, but if that sounds like a polite way of saying they’re a little boring, at least they boasted an “i/o”. The roaring chorus and “Playing for Time” – a song old enough to be released in unfinished form on its last tour – had the soaring, orchestral feel of an epic soundtrack.

It was the second set that really elevated the game. The latest single “Road to Joy” returns to the sparse, cheerful funk of “Sledgehammer”, “Red Rain” brings musical drama and “Don’t Give Up” adds some emotional weight, Ayanna Witter-Johnson replaces Kate Bush with a very soulful vocal.

When the main set ended with “Solsbury Hill,” Gabriel was positively bouncing around the stage in a dad dance bout to rival the – possibly ironic – boy band-style synchronized routine that he and his bandmates had erupted earlier on the show. .

By then, the crowd had also been completely resolute and was shouting for a beat. They were awarded the two longest songs of the night: a cheerful beat with “In Your Eyes” followed by a powerful performance of the 1980 anti-apartheid anthem “Biko,” in which the white middle-aged crowd raised their fists. in solidarity as a huge image of activist Steve Biko rises above them.

“As always, what happens next is up to you,” Gabriel smiled, before leaving the stage with the air of a man happy to still be true to himself in the world of fraud after all these years.

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