“A book of memories” - Peter Gabriel in concert at the Echo Arena Liverpool on Sunday 7th December 2014. Review by Alan Hewitt. Photographs by Ted Sayers.

I admit that I had reservations about the entire Back To Front concept. After all, Peter has consistently steered clear of revisiting (pun intended) his past. The recently released DVD and cinematic film of the 2012 shows in London did not really do what unfolded on stage justice.

Anyway, arriving in plenty of time to catch the evening’s support act, Jennie and Linnea who gave us a half hour of extremely enjoyable music and we would see more of them during the main event. Eventually at just after 8PM, Peter arrived on stage for the start of the evening’s show. Accompanied by Tony Levin and David Rhodes, the show opened with another “new” and as yet unfinished track: What Lies Beneath, it has to be said that this is not quite the way to start a gig as far as I am concerned and it didn’t really gel but it is, after all, a work in progress so that is a minor quibble. Acoustic readings of Come Talk To Me and Shock the Monkey worked much better, but with the house lights still on they lost a lot in terms of impact.
However, Peter is nothing if not a crafty old bugger and continuing the acoustic theme for the beginning of Family Snapshot, the audience (me included) had been lulled into a false sense of security which was soon shattered as the rest of the band came on stage and the house lights dropped and the rest of the song heralded the start of what Peter had referred to as “the main course”. Once again, restricting lighting to basic white lights with the occasional splashes of others, here was Gabriel at his most emphatically brilliant.

Digging In The Dirt, Secret World and No Self Control were equally impressive with the latter seeing the Praying Mantis mobile lighting gantries really coming into their own. This was simply superlative stuff plain and simple. The furthest back that Peter delved was for Solsbury Hill which brought back so many memories, as indeed did just about every song throughout the set.

Another new song, Why Don’t You Show Yourself, calmed everything down slightly and as a more or less finished track, this was much more enjoyable than the show opener. Peter congratulated us on reaching the “dessert” part of the show with the entire So album which got under way with a blistering Red Rain, where the monochromatic lighting gave way to vivid blood red in keeping with the song which simply gets better with age.

Sledgehammer’s meaty bass riff from Tony Levin got the usual response from the crowd who were instantly their feet for what had now become a celebration and once again, my mind took me back to the heady days of 1987 and a trip to Paris which is where I first saw these classic tracks performed. Peter was joined by Jennie Abrahamson for an absolutely stunning performance of Don’t Give Up, sadly every bit as relevant today as it was when it was written. I’m not ashamed to say that I watched this one through a haze of tears, it is one of the most powerful and emotional songs that Peter has ever penned.

That Voice Again was seldom performed during the original So tour and now that I have had the opportunity to see it in the live context, I can understand Peter’s reluctance to play it. That said, Peter and the band managed to bring some real emotion to it tonight and I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Mercy Street doesn’t really need any other superlatives thrown at it, does it? Well sorry but this was simply amazing, astounding, and brilliant anyone who wasn’t experiencing goose bumps during this has serious problems in my opinion and seldom have I heard a better performance either. Big Time featured what was probably the only technical f*ck up as Peter, evidently carried away with himself, forgot some of the lyrics! Never mind, the audience knew them all anyway!

The two tracks which to my mind don’t really fit in with the more commercial ethos of the So album were next. We Do What We’re Told (Milgrams’ 37) has been in Peter’s live set on and off since 1980 and it still manages to evoke a suitably sinister and dramatic atmosphere even after all these years. This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) too is a strange track but once again, it works supremely well.

In Your Eyes is always a joy to hear and tonight was no exception. The entire band and audience were united as one here with this glorious celebration and re-affirmation of life. It never fails to bring the best out of everyone involved and it was superb - nuff said!

And that was it? Oh no, of course after the band took their bows and left the stage we all knew that an encore was in store and it wasn’t very long before the band returned for a truly remarkable The Tower That Ate People - visually and musically one of the most impressive parts of the evening and that is saying something! With the “tower” vaguely resembling the “tourbillion” which had been one of the most stroking visual aspects of The Lamb… all those years ago but even so, unless you have seen the show for yourself, you won’t really understand exactly how effective this was.

And so the end was near and of course we were left with Biko, without doubt the most potent anthem ever written. The only evidence of the recent vocal problems which had led to the cancellation of a show in Brussels came here when Peter dropped the key of the song - it didn’t spoil the effect though I can tell you! Sadly, Biko is still every bit as relevant today as it was when it was written and dedicated tonight to all those still struggling for basic rights which we take for granted the crowd joined Peter, arms raised, fists clenched and singing for our very lives.

That was it. Time flies when you are having fun and this went by in what felt like the blink of an eye. I’ve never come away from a Peter Gabriel show disappointed and this one surpassed my expectations - the man is definitely BACK!

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