sun 21/07/2024

Peter Gabriel, OVO Hydro, Glasgow review - beaming with optimism and creativity | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Gabriel, OVO Hydro, Glasgow review - beaming with optimism and creativity

Peter Gabriel, OVO Hydro, Glasgow review - beaming with optimism and creativity

The 73-year-old shunned nostalgia in favour of the future

Gabriel is still having a ball as an onstage performerYork Tillyer

Even when Peter Gabriel is bleak, he has reasons to be cheerful. Early on in his set he opined that soon enough “none of us will have jobs anymore”, referring to the ongoing rise of artificial intelligence, although this was followed by him stressing the positives that can be found in such new technology. It seemed fitting, because Gabriel himself, now 73, showed on this evening that optimistic possibilities of the future occupy his thoughts as much as ever.

That meant that despite the arena setting he shied away from any sort of easy nostalgia trip and instead half the setlist was comprised of material from an album he hasn’t actually released yet, i/o. On top of that the dynamic, creative stage show featured a variety of art from several collaborators, including Ai Weiwei, ensuring there was a rich, diverse visual element that twisted and turned, from a backdrop of homely items and foods such as baked beans on “This Is Home” to an outstanding segment where Gabriel illustrated splashes of colour on a screen in front of him.

A greatest hits jaunt it was not then, though there were enough of them to bring the Glasgow masses to their feet when needed – a funky, rolling “Sledgehammer” with Gabriel cutting choreographed shapes, the joyful pop of “Solsbury Hill” and the unquestionable impact of the closing “Biko”, with the band raising fists as the audience chanted back at them and the image of late South African activist Steve Biko was shown.

The opening was the opposite of such power though, with just the singer and bassist Tony Levin onstage delivering a “Washing of the Water” so hushed that it had to fight for attention with apologetic murmurings of latecomers and the clink of cutlery from the corporate boxes and bars at the back. Far greater force soon arrived though, both in material and in the presence of his varied, multi instrumentalist eight piece backing band. 

There was a looseness there, and an excitable pop spirit, which gave “Panopticon” a rousing vibe, a skittish playfulness to the rhythms of “Olive Tree” (a track inspired, in vintage Gabriel style, by a science fiction concept) and a giddy day glo texture to “Live and Let Live”. Such optimism seemed to beam through the material, and the night.

At points it shone almost too much, with “Road to Joy” featuring both a keytar and some awkward dad dancing, while the rocky climax of “Playing For Time” was cumbersome compared to the more sedate tune leading up to it. Gabriel’s habit of delivering introductions to each song also broke the set up to a mildly frustrating degree, delivering the same tales and occasional jokes that you suspect are told every night.

However there was a freshness to the music, and to the set, that was inescapable, whether on old or new songs. On “Don’t Give Up”, the evening’s stand-out, Gabriel duetted with cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson, who took the part Kate Bush had on record. The stage was strikingly split between red and green, and her pleading vocals rippled with such emotion you wondered if artificial intelligence could ever reach, for it is pop that strikes so clearly for the heart, and lingers long afterwards in the head.

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