A few months ago, I wrote an article about Peter Gabriel’s Back to Front tour and the 25th anniversary of his groundbreaking album So. On October 6, Gabriel performed at the Hollywood Bowl, where I sat in section L2, completely dumbstruck. At 62 years of age, he’s still got it. Not quite like he had it when he was in his 20s, 30s, and even 40s, but rather in a more subdued manner. Maybe he wasn’t rolling around the stage in a hamster ball, or prancing about the stage as a flower, but he was skipping, running around, and even dancing, which is a real feat considering he kept his voice unwavering throughout the performance.
Gabriel performed the concert in three stages. The first, he said, was to be as if they were rehearsing, and experimenting with new sounds. True to his word, the lights throughout the arena remained on, and he sat before the piano. A hush spread throughout the packed arena. Gabriel began to play, singing a beautiful little song, that is, as of now, still unfinished. As he finished, the crowd was getting excited for what he had in store for them. In this rehearsal stage, he (and of course the magnificent Tony Levin, Manu Katché, David Rhodes, David Sancious, Jennie Abrahamson, and Linnea Olsson) played “Come Talk To Me,” “Shock the Monkey,” and “Family Snapshot.” They were not played like the studio versions. Rather, he jazzed them up, making them into completely new acoustic versions of these songs.
Stage two was to be the second course, before the dessert, namely So in its entirety. At this point, the crowd was on its feet, so ready to sing our hearts out. Peter Gabriel performed powerful electronic versions of several of Gabriel’s classic songs, starting with “Digging in the Dirt,” “Secret World,” and “The Family and the Fishing Net,” and finishing with “No Self Control,” “Solsbury Hill,” and “Washing of the Water.” At this point, the concert became a show, with spectacular lights moving about the stage like great living creatures, amazing cinematography displayed on massive screens spaced throughout the arena, and Gabriel and the band executing some synchronized dance moves. For “Solsbury Hill,” Gabriel began skipping about the stage, involving the audience in his obvious joy, and eventually leading the rest of the band around the stage in a happy, skipping procession. The second stage concluded with an extremely powerful and beautiful rendition of “Washing of the Water,” one that literally brought tears to my eyes.
And for stage three, Peter softly announced that dessert had finally arrived. A thrum of anticipation swept throughout the crowd as we waited, breathless, for him to begin. Everything began to glow red, marking the beginning of the opening track from So, “Red Rain.” For “Sledgehammer,” the audience leapt to its feet once again, singing uproariously. At the conclusion, Abrahamson joined Gabriel in the forefront as they began to sing “Don’t Give Up.” The crowd grew silent, everyone holding their breath in anticipation. The haunting lyrics resonated throughout the Bowl, sounding inspirational at the same time.
Next thing I knew, I was hearing “That Voice Again.” The people all around me became friends, comrades, and we all sang in unison, remembering the first time we heard that voice. Then we watched Peter sink to his knees, slowly falling backwards until he lay flat on his back, staring up into the lights. The first notes of “Mercy Street” rose up from the stage, evoking images of water, rowing a boat, and family. I looked over at my father, tears welling up in his eyes as he sang along to the lyrics, “…in your daddy’s arms…” His obvious joy at all the memories the song brought back made me so thankful to Peter Gabriel for giving such a gift. Truly, only Peter could sing an entire song lying on the ground and make it a work of pure art. From there, the tone changed dramatically as he transitioned into the satirical “Big Time.” The audience laughed and sang, chanting the last 17 ‘big’s enthusiastically. Then came the dark “We Do What We’re Told,” referring to the Milgrim 37 social experiment. The lights turned red, and Peter sang with such regret and anger as to invoke the same feelings in us. He transitioned into the strange and whimsical “This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds),” and finally to the iconic “In Your Eyes.”
Before he began, however, a surprise was waiting in the wings. A man, dressed in black, wearing a baseball cap, ran out onto the stage and handed Peter a large bulky object. Peter announced gleefully, “Mr. John Cusack!” whereupon the man gave a bow and the crowd erupted in tumultuous cheering as Peter raised the boombox above his head, grinning wildly at the reaction. After the song concluded, the members left the stage one by one. We all kept cheering, eager for the encore. It came, as promised, beginning with “The Tower That Ate People.” And, for the final song, Peter sang his eulogy to Steven Biko. As each band member left the stage, we sat, enraptured, chanting the last echoes of that haunting song as Manu Katché kept the beat going. We left in a daze, without that feeling of bereavement we’re usually left with after an amazing concert. It was the perfect ending to a perfect night.
There’s nothing better than going to see your favorite artist in concert. It might be better even than listening to their studio versions with your vFree, which is saying something!
Here’s John Cusack handing Peter Gabriel the boombox:
And here’s a look at some of Peter’s elaborate costumes from his Genesis days:
Finally, here he is in one of his complex creations—a human hamster ball: