"Bringing The Lamb... To Wembley" - more in a continuing series of reminiscences of "The Lamb..." album and tour. Article by Andy Wilkinson.We had certainly seen the band come a long way. Here they were playing the entire "Lamb..." at Wembley Arena in London. Certainly the biggest night of the group's career, playing in front of thousands of people in their own backyard. It was April 1975 and the band were winding down the tour which had originally started in North America late the previous year. We had already heard reports from previous gigs that the set was spectacular not to say controversial, but we were ready for it; the evening was pent up with high tension and a sense of eagerly awaited anticipation and expectation.
The now familiar solo piano opening, and out bounces our hero in a guise so totally foreign - was this really Peter Gabriel? Short cropped hair; harsh, threatening face makeup; open leather jacket; denim and white trainers. It sure was! A total transformation and we were being taken to the urban streets of NYC and the world of Rael. The rear of the stage housed three enormous wide screens that flashed a bewildering array of images, sometimes in unison and more effectively when the three together depicted a single scene. The opening back projection perfectly set the scene, the stark Manhattan skyline at dawn.
Peter acted out the part as if he were born to it. Furiously flailing the tambourine to an earthy musical accompaniment that positively charged the dead air of the drab concrete complex of Wembley. "Fly On A Windshield" saw Hackett's guitar soar razor-edged against the pulsating back beat of heavy percussion and Mellotron. First surprise - this song was much longer and drawn out than the now familiar vinyl version. What was becoming painfully evident was that anyone sitting further back than halfway could not recognise or appreciate the majority of the back projection images that filled just a single screen. It was very noticeable that the faithful Genesis crowd did not quite know how or when to react between each number. This probably goes way back to the college gig days when the audience sat in reverential like silence, applauding politely at the end of each song.
As "The Lamb..." was basically four long sides of music, with intermediate songs cleverly laced together, applause was self-conscious and uncertain whether it was right to clap while the music was still being played. "In The Cage" saw the band fully extended for the first time with Banks' fine synthesiser playing and only at the close of "The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging" did the crowd finally erupt into spontaneous and sustained applause.
Peter spoke to the hall for the first time and related the following sequence of Rael's journey which would take him through his first sexual encounter (hilarious!) to encounters with all manner of strange and surreal situations. "Back In NYC" was the return to the music. Next came one of those high points that you just can't adequately put into words. One of those rare moments when sound and visuals melt succinctly together in perfect harmony. The screens portrayed a beating crimson heart gently being shaved by a scalpel like instrument. This combined with the awesome instrumental of "Hairless Heart" was spellbindingly dramatic.
Peter continued to tease and provoke with more chat and the impending assignation with "Lilywhite Lilith" and the insatiable snake-like "Lamia". But before this, the band moved into a musical area never really before touched or attempted by them, like it or detest it, "The Waiting Room" proved a fascinating insight to the band experimenting with (within boundaries) the art of improvisation. A real cacophony of every imaginable sound from birds calling to howling synth; frantic twenty second guitar licks and even a brief vibes solo somewhere in the middle of all this. After seven or eight minutes of what sounds like sheer musical pandemonium, a drum and bass pattern emerges to carry along the experiment to further guitar and keyboard flourishes. After approaching thirteen minutes, the music dies down to the more ordered "Anyway".
The first truly real moment of theatre begins as the strains of "The Lamia" commence. A haunting piece that sees Peter bathed in a cool blue neon with a swirling gauze of garish coloured "Lamia" spinning apparently invisibly around his body - stunning! The audience just stare in disbelief at this startling apparition. Hackett's sombre moody guitar closes this section. Next up comes the simple but ethereal "Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats" again, seemingly extended from the vinyl to create a mood of celestial openness.
What happened next, no one was quite ready for. The strange quirky opening phrase of "The Arrival" revealed along transparent plastic tunnel worming its way across the stage. Something was crawling along it. Gasps of sheer astonishment then laughter as the strangest, ugliest, lumpiest thing you could ever imagine, emerges as if out of a cocoon. The beast (or Slipperman) proceeds to inflate a giant pair of testicles - surreal! Not content with this, the figure dances remarkably ably bellowing out "You're in the Colony of Slippermen"... the only slight problem with all this, the guise was so elaborate and obviously cumbersome that much of the vocal was either muffled or not very audible. Nevertheless the crowd loved it.
The three screens continued to fire a myriad of strange and wondrous images in quick fire succession. Much of the pace of the music was now winding down deliberately before the finale and end of the album. We had "The Light Does Down On Broadway" before "Riding The Scree" and "In The Rapids" signalled a more upbeat and instrumental interlude. And finally, it, Peter now back in the leather jacket was here , there and everywhere on stage. A blinding explosion and wait... there were two Peter Gabriels on stage! Which one was the real one? I couldn't tell.
Over two hours of new music never played before his audience before but they carried it out with a performance of power, subtlety and dynamism. We were all very much overwhelmed at the complexity of the show which blitzed the senses at all levels. There was just too much to take in. We knew we had witnessed something special, Genesis had reached a pinnacle of genuine rock theatre that had yet to be matched by anyone for audio visual content to date, and indeed, perhaps never again to be surpassed.
The best was yet to come, just twenty four hours to wait before the second show at Wembley the following evening - but that's another story!