"Travelling In Hope" - Peter Gabriel's Amnesty gig at the Palais Omnisports De Bercy, Paris, December 10, 1998. Review by Ted Sayers.
Paris is an awfully long way to go. Especially if the trip is made just to see a twenty five minute set by someone who has been out of the public eye for a good few years now. Peter Gabriel shows are usually well worth the effort. The Amnesty Concert in Paris on December 10 was one which promised new material (hopefully) and a chance to see Peter live for the first time since 1993.
I was under no illusion that this was going to be a Gabriel gig of huge proportions but twenty five minutes was just a little too short. Having said that, I certainly would not have bothered if the show in aid of Amnesty International and in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the signing (in Paris) of the Declaration Of Human Rights had been solely of interest for Peter's contribution. There were two other acts on the bill that made the trip more than worthwhile: Alanis Morissette and Radiohead.
These gigs are always one long technical cock-up. This is primarily due to the need for speed; the acts have to get on and off as quickly as possible and roadcrews have to work at light speed. Consequently, equipment rarely works first time. The show was already running an hour late when unexpectedly Bruce Springsteen walked on to virtually deserted arena. The equipment failed immediately and "Born In The USA" was subject to two false starts. This set the pattern for the evening.
Eventually, Peter walked on preceded by a short introduction in French from the aforementioned Mr. Springsteen. Possibly because people were constantly walking in and out of the auditorium the house lights were left on for almost all of the evening and this didn't help. Peter took the stage solo and began with the piano introduction to "Red Rain". Eventually the rest of his band arrived but by then Peter was already struggling to find the right key for the song. He seemed to be settling just prior to the end but by then he was almost a third of the way through his set. "Signal To Noise" will be familiar to many Gabriel fans from its performance at the VH1 Honours a couple of years back, when Peter was aided by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Sadly he passed away last year, so Peter had turned to an old ally, Youssou N'Dour. Youssou appeared mid-stage as if by magic part way thorough to rapturous applause.
By now, Peter had regained his composure and the song took on a power and beauty that was required for the short set to take off. Youssou really threw himself into the part vacated by Nusrat and it was a truly spectacular piece. I realise that he has had plenty of time to work on the song, but it really is difficult to convey the feeling of power that issued from the track. Hopefully the rest of the new songs will be at least half as mesmerising.
The all-too-short set finished with "In Your Eyes" which was a shade obvious given Youssou's presence, but no less welcome. Both he and Peter had by now settled in and they worked off each other with the usual feeling of joy and sincerity. Youssou is certainly one of the world's great underestimated singers. I suppose the fact that most of his stuff is in French has not helped him to conquer the UK market, but his collaborations have always been superb. And so it was all over. If I had made the trip purely to see Peter and hear some of his new material then I would have probably been sorely disappointed, but there was plenty more for me that night and I had seen and heard a great version of "Signal To Noise" which surely bodes well for the new album - whenever that may be?