sat 17/08/2019

Peter Gabriel, O2 Arena | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Gabriel, O2 Arena

Peter Gabriel, O2 Arena

Games without frontiers: songs without guitars

Peter Gabriel: 'A bold leap from the type of musical fare that’s normally served up in arenas. But so grim!'

Well, it wasn’t exactly the most cheerful night of my life. Especially the first half. Peter Gabriel, musical polymath and father of such irresistibly rhythmic and uplifting songs as “Sledgehammer” and “Steam”, had decided that his new world tour would feature no guitars, no electric instruments, no drum kit; instead, there would be a full orchestra, a grand piano, a couple of backing singers, and himself. And you can’t fault him for trying something different: this was certainly a bold leap from the type of musical fare that’s normally served up in arenas such as the cavernous O2. But so grim! Especially the first half.

This was the section of the show that featured Gabriel’s new album, Scratch My Back, on which he and arranger John Metcalfe have radically re-imagined songs such as Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” and Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”. It’s ambitious, but Scratch My Back is in truth a hit-and-miss affair, sometimes beautiful but often turgid. The qualities, for instance, that make David Bowie’s “Heroes” so heroic – especially Brian Eno’s pulsing, swirling, looping riff – are entirely absent on Gabriel’s version.

Anyway, onstage, performed in its entirety, Scratch My Back was a largely downbeat affair, enlivened by some neat visuals on the multiple big screens and by the occasional bursting-into-life of the orchestra, notably on Elbow’s “Mirrorball” and Arcade Fire’s "My Body Is a Cage”. Gabriel’s voice sounded in remarkable shape given that he is now 60, and his pride in the project as a whole was palpable.

But the mood was overwhelmingly dark; the first and only time during this part of the show when I experienced that tell-tale prickly-scalp feeling came during Lou Reed’s “The Power of the Heart”. And it was surely a mistake to send the fans scurrying off to the bars before the interval with Gabriel’s version of “Street Spirit” ringing in their ears and darkening their souls; at least the original, while still a paragon of studenty miserabilism, reaches some kind of resolution with its final refrain of “Immerse yourself in love”, but Gabriel, dressed in baggy, baggy, dark, dark clothes, sounded as though he wanted us to immerse ourselves in a peat bog.

Part two, in which Gabriel delved into his back catalogue, was a big improvement. Part of me hoped that while we were off refreshing ourselves, the orchestra had been swept away and replaced by a full band with brass section. But no: Gabriel’s own songs, too, were being given the orchestral makeover treatment. Nevertheless, there was a new brightness and vibrancy in the air, a greater sense of purpose and urgency and belief. “San Jacinto” was stirring, “Digging in the Dirt” crackled with energy, while “Rhythm of the Heat” was – praise be! – actually rhythmic.

Even so, and despite Gabriel’s emotionally uninhibited singing, I remained largely unmoved. Partly I think this was because, although I truly adore the rich, full sound of a proper orchestra, I never feel quite the same about one that is amplified. This is no reflection on the sound system (excellent) or the O2 Arena’s acoustics (fine); it’s just that the amplification process seems to rob orchestras of their essential orchestra-ness. Chiefly, though, it was because so much of the music was just so downbeat.

Towards the end, finally, came uplift in the shape of “Solsbury Hill”: violins playing that unforgettable riff, fans clapping, and Peter Gabriel actually skipping across the stage. It was a bit late in the evening to decide to start having fun, but at least he showed that he still has it in him.

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Comments

If you'd have actually gone to this event with an open mind and open ears you would have been duly rewarded with some of the most creative, moving and emotional music you'd ever have had the pleasure of experiencing. How do folk like you get jobs reviewing music?

An excellent review, but to nitpick, wasn't that 'pulsing, swirling, looping riff' on Bowie's 'Heroes' played by Robert Fripp rather than Brian Eno?

Having been a lapsed gabriel fan, I was pleaseantly surprsed at how marvelous his voice was - a far cry from his genesis days and the ochestra were fantastic. My body is a cage, San Jacinto and Dont Give were exceptional - not sure if ...in your eyes ...worked. Peter Gabriel deserves a great deal of kudos for this event it was often remarkable and all in all a great experince.

I diasgree with the review here. This was an amazing concert by a very clever Peter Gabriel. Everyone sitting around me thought the performance was fantastic.

Good grief this reviewer should stick to sugar coated bubble gum pop music and X-Factor Z-Listers. I dread to think how depressed David Cheal must become when listening to such classic artist's as Pink Floyd or BB King. I was at the Peter Gabriel O2 show and not only was his vocal performance stunning but the Orchestra were fabulous. The first half of the show was genuinly moving, in my opinion the only song that didnt really work with the orchestration was Solsbury Hill although It's obviously a fan favourite. Dont give up was beautiful with the addition of Ane Brun on vocals, Kate Bush has only ever sang the song live with him once in 24 years so no one was expecting her to be there at all. I just hope David remembered to record 'Britains Got Talent' to cheer himself up after the show.

I entirely disagree with this very poor critcism of the concert. I am a late convert to Gabriel and came to this with a very open mind....unlike the reviewer here. The orchestra was amazing.... I was enthralled by the whole show. The concept, the arrangements, his voice, the backing.....it all came together well. Maybe this reviewer would have been happier to go and see main stream poppy Phil Collins... and get what he deserved. All credit to Gabriel for his insight and his courage in doing somethign different. A brilliant night.

As a Pink Floyd fan I thought I would be able to listen to the most depressing lyrics. I have gone to see Roger Waters play at the big arena'a and have been nearly in tears listening to his music. The only thing I wanted to do at this concert is slash my wrists. I could be arty and say yes it was a profound experience but the only good thing was the orchestra and comming home. Very dissapointing concert, I will not be going to see him again. I would rather watch two episodes of Eastenders.

I must admit that the new album is very different to his previous work but it all came together beautifully on sunday. I thought that this concert was excellent value for money considering such a large orchestra was backing him. All the songs seemed to work with the exception of Fade out which was a poor choice as the end of the first half, a familiar oldie would have been preferable and may have prevented some from leaving the venue at half time. Overall though a fantastic night from a unique artist.

Utter garbage ! My two friends and I who attended this concert thought it was terrible and very morbid in parts ! I don’t know what I was expecting as I have listened to his new album enough and tried to like it but I just don’t think this style suits him. Some of the song covers he does are utter garbage, I cant believe that more people haven’t said the same. Dropping the band in favor of an orchestra has lost some of that Peter Gabriel magic. I have been a fan for many years and it’s the older material that made him famous, I’m not sure if he would have made it if he had started out like this. To top it off I bought an extra ticket for a friend who could not make it and I couldn’t even give it away in the end, probably because people didn’t know what to expect. After the appalling first half and apart from Solsbury Hill and In Your Eyes in the second which were OK at best the gig was a disaster we even thought about leaving before full time. Speaking to people out side the gig opinions where very mixed and some where confused weather they liked it or not. I wish I could have seen him live years ago I definitely would not go out of my way or pay to see him live again. I have watched hundreds of live concerts and I was looking forward to seeing this legend but it was a real let down in the end!

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