“An infusion of New Blood” - Peter Gabriel’s new live DVD reviewed by Alan Hewitt. Photos by Ted Sayers.
Intruder at Hammersmith shock! So, the newspaper review headline might have read of Peter Gabriel’s recent concerts which were filmed for this DVD. As I have said elsewhere, I had reservations about this entire project. The original Scratch My Back album was a mixed bag. The recent New Blood album though gave a much more accurate indication of what to expect from this DVD.
To a paranoid string introduction, Gabriel emerges onto a stage bathed in blood red light, quite appropriate for Intruder which has lost nothing of its power to shock and thrill in equal measures. In fact, the orchestra has taken this song to new heights. This is in turn followed by one of Peter’s most underrated songs; Wallflower, every bit as poignant as its more famous counterpart Biko. Here stripped down to the bare essentials of voice and strings and simple piano refrain, the emotion is almost tangible.
The first of the songs from the aforesaid Scratch My Back project to appear in the set is next. Paul Simon’s The Boy In The Bubble, which is followed by Regina Spektor’s Apres Moi. Coming after the two classics which had opened the show, neither of these really matches them for impact or passion here I’m afraid.
The performance here pretty much gives the viewer a visual recapitulation of the two albums which form the basis of the Scratch My Back project. As ever, Peter hasn’t made it easy for fans though. The song selection isn’t a predictable one and both The Drop and Washing Of The Water were not among my first choices for the orchestral treatment but the latter at least has some emotion although the brass section sounds a little bit too Wallace & Gromit for me at times.
Magnetic Fields’ The Book Of Love works so much better mind you , that is helped by the fact that it is a brilliantly written song anyway and Peter gives it just the right and respectful treatment that it deserves. The mood takes on almost Hitchcockesque proportions next as the orchestra introduce Darkness, before Peter’s plaintive vocals take over and his delivery still has the power to shock. An emotive song and one which has gained an entirely new lease of life with this performance.
The Power of The Heart was one of the few tracks which I genuinely enjoyed from the Scratch My Back album on first hearing, and it has grown immensely since then. Juxtaposing this with Biko which comes next in the set only goes to show that Peter isn’t prepared to pander to conventions. Received wisdom would have had this one as an encore but from the heartbeat intro to the last angst ridden vocal, this song still has all the power and impact of an atomic bomb and I will never tire of hearing it - wherever Peter chooses to place it in the set!
A simple piano intro heralds another classic slice of Gabriel in the shape of San Jacinto. Deceptively simple, the song builds, layer upon layer of emotional impact and sheer drama a three act play in five or so minutes. A slightly funkified version of Digging In The Dirt shows that on occasions an orchestra can swing. The drama builds aided by the vocals of Ane Brun and Melanie Gabriel but it is Peter’s sheer presence which carries this one off.
Signal To Noise was a classic from its first appearance on the Up album where it was the astonishing contribution by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan which lifted it above the ordinary. Here , musically this superb piece of music is given an overhaul guaranteed to keep it in the canon of favourites in Peter’s live set. The tension is positively tangible here and shivers went up and down my spine when I heard it and I wasn’t even at the gig!
The mood lightens a bit with Downside Up before the drama is reinforced once again by Mercy Street, moodily lit in black and white for extra effect which isn’t really necessary, the song is definitely the message here. The Rhythm Of The Heat brings us back to an earlier era and to a song which any Gabriel fan will tell you is one of Peter’s best ever. That opinion is only reinforced by an incredible performance here. Peter looks as if he has finally got into his stride here and when he lets rip with the vocal, I for one was transported back almost thirty years to the first time I heard it - magnificent stuff!
Blood Of Eden is a much more sedate offering on this performance, restrained and magnificent in its sheer scale, the orchestra open up entirely new vistas here before they put their feet to the metal with a full blooded (pun intended) version of Red Rain in which even the marimba sounds dramatic.
Peter’s only concession to the vintage era of his career comes next with a celebratory version of Solsbury Hill which the orchestra seem to have swallowed with a whole heap of collective glee. Even Peter seems to have realised just how special this one is to his fans and he acts up to the cameras and audience in fine style and the smile on his face gives the game away really.
The celebratory mood continues with a swinging version of In Your Eyes. I have to admit that the female vocals detract from rather than add to this one. Maybe the song just doesn’t suit the vocalists but don’t that put you off, the end result is as magical as always and the audience show their appreciation long before the song ends. Don’t Give Up really needs no introduction but sadly once again Ane Brun’s vocals really don’t suit this song. It takes someone with the vocal passion and commitment of Kate Bush or Sinead O’Connor to really pull this one off - sorry, Ane!
The concert aspect of the DVD concludes with The Nest That Sailed Away from Ovo, never a favourite of mine and probably the only disappointment in an otherwise impeccable performance but hey, you can’t please everyone and this one hits more spots than it misses.
Visually restrained throughout, the musicianship and orchestration is simply breathtaking and I for one regret my decision not to take in one of these shows now and I envy those fans who were present at such an incredible event - the man is certainly back!
Sadly, for those of us without Blu Ray technology, the only bonus on the DVD
is the disappointingly short Blood Donors documentary about the making of the
album and DVD but with such an amazing performance by all concerned that is
a minor quibble really. Well done to all everyone involved!