“Back To Front And Wrong Way Round” - Peter Gabriel in concert at the Phones 4 You Arena Manchester on Friday 25th October 2013. Review by John Wilkinson. Photographs by Ted Sayers.
Having missed the So tour back in 1987 (probably due to concentrating on the Genesis tour around the same time), I was pleased to see that Peter was performing the whole of my favourite album of his on a new tour. This “whole of one album” seems to be a concept that is catching on with many artists and bands and indeed is one that Mama (John’s very own Genesis tribute band for those of you unfamiliar with the name - AH) are looking at in 2014. I can see the attraction both for artists and fans alike. A structured chunk of the set list for artist and fans to get to experience songs that perhaps have never been played live before.
I must admit I was a little concerned about the rigours of such a tour on his voice, which let’s face it, is 27 years older now than when So was recorded. Those songs are not easy to sing live I would imagine. That aside, I was really looking forward to the show. The MEN Arena (Phones 4 You Arena sounds daft - sorry!) is a cavernous building which I have visited several times now and not been impressed at all every time I have been there. Sound usually poor and silly charges for drinks and food, but needs must I suppose. I took my wife Lisa and daughter May with me and also managed to get my mate David Broome (part-time Mama roadie) a ticket. We arrived in good time and Lisa and May took their seats while Dave and I had a beer (at MORE than extortionate prices I might add) and met up with some friends for a chat.
Suddenly I heard Peter introduce two ladies who were supporting him so I left Dave chatting and took my seat with Lisa and May. The ladies both sang two songs each which I really enjoyed. Cello and Xylophone are so underused in “rock” music and it was great to hear something a bit different. I managed an all too brief chat with some more friends about the show in the interval before a group of people walked on stage and signed Peter’s song Blood Of Eden. I later learned that this was the Warrington Sign Choir.
A few minutes later and Peter walked on stage. This was a little surprising as the main house lights had not been switched off. He sat at his piano stage left and explained that the show was to be “served” in three courses, like a good meal.
Starter: Acoustic set including a song that he was still “working out”.
Main Course: Some of the more “experimental songs” played with acoustic instruments.
Dessert: The whole of the So album
All fine and dandy except….
It is my opinion that a show must start with an explosion o music, colour and sound if you think back to Genesis starting with Watcher of The Skies, Behind The Lines or Steve starting with Slogans, you will understand what I mean here. To start a show by sitting at a piano with all the house lights lit and busking a new song with the great Tony Levin on bass… Well, let me just say it didn’t work for me and leave it at that. Was this a hangover from his New Blood shows? Possibly, but I don’t agree with his thinking on this issue. I didn’t even catch the title of the new song (O But perhaps?) however it was all a little Cole Porter-ish for me. The band were introduced for the next song which was a great version of Come Talk To Me which really did benefit from the treatment given to it by Peter here, well after a funny false start… Shock The Monkey came next and again a great version which Peter sang superbly. I would love to hear Peter do a full set of songs in this vein as it was very interesting to hear the adaptations required to make them work.
Family Snapshot was announced as being a “song inspired by an old book found in the mud”, another superb version of one of my favourite PG songs followed which again impressed me with the quality of Peter’s vocals. Half way through the song and the full electric band kicked in and the hall went dark with the lights coming on in force and what a great light show he had! All white lights were used for the “main course” and if you think that would make for a very dull show… Not a bit of it! Some of the best and most effective use of lighting I have ever seen. Manually operated lighting towers stalked the stage and gave an added value dimension to the show.
The next song was Digging In The Dirt which was not a huge favourite of mine but was played and sung very well indeed with the crowd joining in at the appropriate places. Once again the lights were stunning here. My favourite song from Us came next, and indeed one of my all time favourite PG songs; Secret World is a masterpiece in my opinion. One of the songs to benefit from the live treatment. Great guitar and bass work from Messrs Rhodes and Levin and the sight of Tony prowling the stage menacingly is always a joy to behold. I was really surprised to see The Family & The Fishing Net in the set but again, the song is not one of my “must haves” in a PG setlist. I would rather have had Growing Up here to be honest. Better news for me followed with the inclusion of No Self Control which allowed drummer Manu Katche to shine. A great version of a disturbing song from his third album. Crowd pleaser and of course, his first “hit” Solsbury Hill followed at which point the whole crowd rose to its feet. I think the song has been dropped a tone from its original key but it still sounded great.
Another new song followed which was much better to my ears called Why Don’t You Show Yourself? Again, it featured Peter seated at his piano and the crowd seemed to enjoy it as well. It did remind me of a 10CC song although I can’t remember which one.
After the song finished, suddenly the stage exploded in a vibrant red for (of course) Red Rain. The whole change from white lights somehow reminded me of The Wizard of Oz film. Very clever use of visuals here yet again, and a powerful version of the song followed which had the crowd up on their feet dancing and singing again. I did miss the “light coat” but the lights more than made up for that. One of my favourite songs from the album followed and having seen and heard versions of Don’t Give Up live over the years , I was wondering how this would hold up on this tour. I need not have worried., Jennie Abrahamson sang the Kate Bush part better than anyone I have heard. The song was superbly played and Peter sang his heart out. Sticking by the running order of the album That Voice Again was the next serving of music. Another great version that followed and then it was the song I had been looking forward to all night, namely Mercy Street. The lighting towers came in all around Peter as he lay down on the floor to deliver the song. Musically this was superb but visually for me a disappointment as all that the crowd could was what was relayed on the big screen, and even then for a gig that size, they were not that big.
My sense of disappointment remained with a quite frankly pedestrian version of Big Time and this is where Peter’s voice failed to match what he did on the album. This was of course, excusable as the man is over sixty but the backing singers did most of the singing, quite frankly. We Do What We’re Told came next with Peter again returning to the piano and this was the surprise of the night. A song that sort of passes me by on the album was transformed into a tour de force of menace and foreboding by a powerful version of the song. The lighting towers were brought to the front of the stage and for some reason the whole effect reminded me of Orwell’s 1984.
This Is The Picture followed and again this was a pleasant surprise as once again the song was transformed for me by hearing it live. The final song of the So album was In Your Eyes and a joyous version of the song followed with the crowd again on its feet and clapping along.
All too soon the musicians left the stage but after a very short pause they returned to blast out The Tower That Ate People, and what an energetic and strong performance of the song it was. The lighting exploded around the band and Peter growled the vocals with menace. There were echoes of The Lamia when Peter move to the centre of the stage and a large red curtain descended around him. I am not sure of the relevance to the song, but it was to good effect. After a short speech from Peter the familiar drum pattern of Biko started . Peter sang the first sections of the song an octave down from the album version as he had done on his New Blood tour. The song still sounded powerful and of course, the crowd sang their hearts out. Peter left the stage and one by one so did the rest of the band until only Manu remained and then suddenly it was all over.
All in all, the concert was superb and I really enjoyed it along with the people I went with, except for the beginning of the concert for the reasons I have already explained. Peter wa sin fine voice and the band were superb. It was some of the best concert lighting and use of visual effects I have ever seen. I had a great view of the whole stage and despite the usual MEN arena poor sound (I have never seen a gig there where the sound has been right), Peter’s sound was probably the best I have ever heard there.
Thanks for the review, John. Sounds like I missed another cracking night! Must catch up with Peter’s new live show next year - AH.