“It is accomplished” - Peter Gabriel in concert at Earls Court Arena, London 31st May 1993. Concert reviewed by Mark “Rottweiler” Horner. Photos by Pauline Thorpe and Shirley Powell.
Have I come to the right place? This was the question one asked on entering Earls Court Arena and encountering a stage with a catwalk! Was this going to be A Peter Gabriel show, a fashion show or even a motor show? There were in fact, two stages. The first positioned at one end in time-honoured fashion, and the second was a circular stage with domed lighting above it situated sixty yards in front of the former and connected to it by the catwalk, which included a built-in conveyor belt. Having gratefully “negotiated” my way to near the circular stage, I prepared myself for an evening of either “whine”, women or song.
After a commendable gap of only twenty minutes after the last support act left the stage, “the feeling begins” as a lone doudouk player stepped into the spotlight on the front of the stage and played an extended intro from the track. From behind a drape of the two American continents on the other stage, lights and dry ice sparked into life and the drape was slowly lowered to reveal Peter singing Come Talk To Me from inside an old fashioned red telephone box! As the song continued he moved from the box with the receiver still in hand and proceeded in an act of mindless vandalism, up the catwalk towards the other stage where the figure of Sinead O’Connor was now revealed singing along with him. Here just before contact between the two of them was achieved, Gabriel was dragged back along the walkway by the telephone receiver (now that’s what I call vandal proof! - BT take note) and the song ended with him trapped once again in the box. Quite astonishing stuff and this was only the beginning!
The band then eased into Quiet Steam which took the audience some time to recognise, but as soon as they snapped into the familiar fast version, the audience jumped to life. The video screen also came to life with images of steam engines but that aside, Peter used this one as an opportunity to loosen up and mug up to the audience on the circular stage at the front. This song has the feel of a “son of Sledgehammer” in many ways but it worked so well that it makes points like that seem rather churlish. Games Without Frontiers followed, another one very much played to the crowd, complete with Gabriel’s goose-stepping routine and a sing-song partnership with the crowd on the chorus and “jeux sans frontieres”.
In one of Gabriel’s very few remarks to the audience (what a change from the days of his weird rambling monologues) he explained how Across The River was created and then introduced Shankar on violin, as the two men built up tape loops through some “old German technology” (Gabriel’s phrase) this became one of the most sublime moments of the evening, the synths, violins and vocals blended superbly ending in a great cacophony of sound as the rhythm section joined in. As the mood calmed down once more, Peter took up and brandished a large bamboo pole in a scene reminiscent of the luminous rod at the end of Supper’s Ready. The screen shimmered with images of rippling water and there were splashing noises as Gabriel “rowed” with the pole towards the front stage (actually on the conveyor belt) with the band gliding behind to the soundtrack of Slow Marimbas. As they got closer to the other stage, a new set of equipment rose through the floor and when they arrived they were able to take up their positions as they had been on the rear stage. Again it was amazingly well done, with no fuss and the musicians were all straight faced as if this thing happens all the time.
As the band faded into Shaking The Tree, a tropical looking tree rises up on the stage giving the appearance of a desert island. This was a fine performance, more laid back than the record and featured some great vocals from keyboardist Joy Askew. It was as if having endured the tension of the “crossing” from the other stage, the band were now unwinding. Also as the two stages represent among other things, “male” and “female” then the inclusion of this track at this point helped indicate the liberation of women and the breaking down of barriers.
This was certainly the case with the next song; Blood Of Eden, which was a superb duet between Gabriel and O’Connor. There was real empathy between the two of them which was self evident and which was dramatised all the more by Peter singing to Sinead from behind the tree. Meanwhile, in the distance the screen relayed animated images of figures being freed and intertwined with each other, symbolising the simultaneous need for freedom and companionship. San Jacinto now positioned half way through the set was a stripped down performance, lit by narrow beams of whiter light. At its climax, Peter disappeared completely into a cloud of white light and dry ice and then the screen was lowered to trap him behind it. He sang the concluding “we will walk…2 section silhouetted behind the screen, his shadow growing from a small hump to a large spectre in time to the music.
Solsbury Hill is now the only song surviving from the 1970’s left in the set but it was given such an exuberant treatment by the band and crowd alike that one cannot imagine it being dropped. Messrs Gabriel, Levin and Rhodes roamed the stage in formation, each encouraging the audience to join in. The knock-about fun was in contrast to the plaintive Washing Of The Water, which followed. With the stages and screen lit simply in red, the focus was on Gabriel alone and he gave the vocal performance of the evening and probably the tour with this soulful, lonely lament, which is clearly close to his own heart. This was worth coming for on its own. Shock The Monkey remains in the set being virtually indistinguishable from the way it was played on the This Way Up tour, right down to Gabriel’s mime and gestures. It’s fun however, when you are only ten yards from him to have Peter leering down at you, thumbing his nose! Digging In The Dirt was notable for a new invention in visual presentation; with Gabriel lounging around on a large horizontal sculpture of a human face and sporting a flexible stalk on his forehead which had a minute video camera mounted on it and pictures of his face were relayed to the video screen. So, to accompany the refrain, “digging in the dirt/to find the places we got hurt…” were close-ups of nostrils, forehead, hair follicles, ears, eyes and teeth and not to mention the closest examination of Gabriel’s tonsils that the puboic could reasonably have expected. As is so often the case with Peter Gabriel, it was bizarre but a surprisingly successful experiment.
The band teased the crowd with the introduction to the next song, getting everyone clapping along to a drumbeat that led straight into Sledgehammer, surprisingly the first song from So to be played and only one of two that were played by the end of the evening. Again, played unashamedly as a crowd pleaser, and probably by Gabriel as the pay off to those of his audience who may only know his work in terms of So, or the compilation album. The set proper ended with a number simply introduced by Peter - “everyone has a Secret World”. This was a fantastic performance with the band really cutting loose on an extremely extended instrumental workout in the middle and at the end. The video screen rotated 360 degrees continually throughout the song giving fleeting glimpses of the many images being projected on to it including shots of the band. As the song grew to its close, the band were carried along the conveyor belt and down into Gabriel’s open suitcase. When they had all disappeared, Peter closed it, picked it up and walked to the front of the stage where he was engulfed in a semi circular globe lowered from the lighting rig overhead. It was a powerful bit rather comical moment since it did illustrate the idea of the secret world that each of us carries with us, but the sight of each of the band members disappearing into the giant suitcase prevented it from being turned into a heavy pompous theatrical climax that would probably not have worked.
After a few minutes, the globe was raised revealing the band and instruments ready to play. They began with a sparkling In Your Eyes, featuring members of Papa Wemba and Ayoub Ogada’s band on vocals in addition to Gabriel, Shankar and Joy Askew. This was the extended version from the last tour and it remains a relaxed and joyful celebration with each musician on stage clearly enjoying themselves, which clearly infected the audience in the same way. The last number was, of course, Biko. This time there was no introduction by Gabriel, or dedication during the closing section. Everyone now knows what the song is about and what is still going on in so many parts of the world thanks to campaigns such as Amnesty’s Human Rights Now! Tour.
Eighteen years after he last performed The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Peter Gabriel has reintroduced a significant theatrical element back into his live shows. From whatever angle one views it, the show was a triumph for all concerned and it could signpost the way forward for arena concerts in the same pioneering spirit as The Lamb…