“Back to front but bang on the money!” - Peter Gabriel’s Back To Front DVD reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Anyone who was lucky enough to witness any of the shows which Peter performed in 1986/87 as part of the So tour will tell you just what a magnificent spectacle both of sound and vision they were.
Recreating that show some 25 years later might have fallen somewhere between two stools had it not been Peter putting it together and so the current Back To Front tour manages to pull it off with some novel twists along the way.
This DVD, filmed over two nights at the 02 in London was originally screened in edited form in cinemas last year and here we have the unexpurgated show for our delight. Peter has long been one for road testing new material in front of audiences to gauge their reactions and we have another example of this to open the show. Daddy Long Legs (previously referred to as Oh But) gets things off to a very subdued start and this continues with the acoustic renditions of Come Talk To Me and Shock The Monkey both of which are stripped down to the barest components. In fact that is the idea in such a manner giving fans an insider’s view of the creative process from demo to finished article.
The acoustic versions certainly give a new slant on established classics but I for one really miss the “meat “ of the finished article. Things really get going as Peter is joined by the band for the start of the show proper and we are treated to a healthy selection of older and newer material including superb versions of The Family & The Fishing Net, No Self Control in which the lighting gantries recreated the “praying mantis” effect from the 1986/87 show to stunning effect!
Classic follows classic throughout the evening and we are even treated to another as yet unrecorded song: Why Don’t You Show Yourself, which doesn’t really make any impression on this viewer to be honest.
The centrepiece of the show however, is the performance of the So album in its entirety and here it is presented in magnificent form. Augmented by new visuals, Red Rain takes on an even great depth of drama, as does Sledgehammer and although thankfully Peter spares us any “dad dancing” he still puts in some suitably energetic antics!
Don’t Give Up is always a joy to behold and here we have another superb reading of it with Peter accompanied by Jennie Abrahamson ensuring that it still manages to bring shivers to the spine and a tear to the eye. That Voice Again was seldom performed during the So tour itself and now that I have the opportunity to see/hear it in the live context, I can understand why. It doesn’t really have anywhere near the same punch or power as anything else on the album and strangely enough it still sounds like a demo to me but at last I have got to see it live.
Mercy Street redresses the balance with a song replete with drama and bathos in equal measures. Always a favourite, it does not disappoint here and once again, the simple white lights come into their own making this a bona fide highlight of the show. Big Time, surprisingly has not aged that well and sounds somewhat out of place here but it is still a genuine slice of humour a-la-Gabriel which the crowd evidently enjoyed.
We Do What We’re Told (Milgrams’ 37) has a long gestation even by Peter’s standards, first being performed in 1980. This was a strange choice for the So album but a welcome one. A deeply unsettling track and just as unsettling in live performance it still manages to make you shiver.
This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) and In Your Eyes round off the performance of the album in suitably contrasting styles and the latter simply gets better with age and is a delight to behold here.
The encores are not long in coming. The Tower That Ate People roars out of the traps and grabs the audience by the scruff of its collective neck with its sheer power and drama but that is as nothing when compared to the drama of the finale. Peter had long expressed the hope that one day he would be able to retire Biko as it had finally served its purpose. Sadly, that hope remains unfulfilled but that does not diminish the scale and stately magnificence of the song. I defy anyone not to be moved by this amazingly emotional track and even seeing it on the small screen does little to lessen its impact - a fantastic ending to another marvellous performance from Peter and his band.
The accompanying interview with Peter and Rob Sinclair gives a fascinating but all too short look behind the preparations for the show but all in all this is a must have release for all Gabriel fans.
Peter Gabnriel: Back To Front Live In London. Eagle Rock EREDV1024