Sting and Peter Gabriel in concert and the Hollywood Bowl on 17th July 2016. Review by Peter Matuchnial. Photos: various sources.
The last and only time I was ever asked to write a review was for the FAde bootleg liner notes of the Six Of The Best show – that famous gig which reunited Gabriel with Genesis at the muddy Milton Keynes Bowl, I was just a wide-eyed teenager then and although much older when I was asked to provide the liner notes, I opted to recall my memories of that as a giddy fan. Fast-forward a few decades, and Gabriel is touring with Sting, in a new and very different union.
Evidently less of a giddy fan, I decided I would rather buy a new guitar, or invest in my music studio than pay the steep prices they were asking at the Hollywood Bowl. But my wife, bless her cotton socks, knew better and surprised me with tickets for my birthday. I do love the Hollywood Bowl, nestled up in the hills and bathed in the warm southern California sun; such a stark contrast to the Milton Keynes Bowl let me tell you! I was glad I was there. As I waited for the show to start I was reflecting on a few of the many Gabriel gigs I had attended: Hammersmith 1980 (raw and powerful),Los Angeles 1991 (the most creative). I had realized that both were quite some time ago, and I felt that perhaps his best days were now behind him.
I had enjoyed seeing Sting a couple of times in LA too, but in reality I was here to see Gabriel mostly. That sentiment would change as the show unfolded. Gabriel is still a great performer and Sting greatly enhanced the proceedings. It was a better show because of both of them. The serene atmosphere was punctured by the pulsating start of heavy drums as Gabriel opened with Rhythm Of The Heat. I hadn’t heard this live in thirty five years but it was as haunting and powerful as ever. It looked like there were a lot of musicians on stage, as if they had combined both bands. Sure enough, as each song ended, they launched into the next one, appearing to keep as many musicians from both bands on stage, whilst seamlessly changing the lead singer for each song.
This approach caught me by surprise and that was to be a recurring theme all night. Sting waltzed on and sounded fantastic as he opened with If I Ever Lose My Faith In You, then back to Gabriel for Digging In The Dirt and then back to Sting for Invisible Sun. Going back and forth really made for a unique musical experience and they were literally digging in the dirt of their respective careers (and not just the hit singles or the latest album, though for Gabriel that might mean an album from ten years ago!) . I noticed that both of them were sticking around to lend their backing vocals to each others’ songs and it really worked well.
Then I was caught off guard again when Sting took the lead vocal on Shock The Monkey and, dare I say it; I preferred Sting’s version, his voice cut through and it was a revelation! Later Gabriel would return the favour by performing If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, brining new life to a well-worn radio saturated song, transforming it into a slow, ballsy sexy,late night bluesy piece. They shared the vocals on An Englishman In New York and I was impressed by Gabriel’s ability to hold his own vocally here and throughout the show. But I have to say that Sting’s voice seemed effortless and reaching the same high notes as at any time in his career. As such it felt like the right choice to have Sting sing the opening lines from Dancing With The Moonlit Knigh, harking back to his old days with Genesis.
The band were very much of a high calibre and it was nice to hear a bevy of backing singers which added a lovely vocal sheen. I can’t ever recall hearing such a great sound at an open air venue. Technology has come a long way and the whole team of musicians and engineers put it all to great use. The visuals were effective and stunning without being over the top and I was entranced in the music as much as the stage movement, though I was reminded that for audiences on the West Coast it is always party time at gigs so my line of sight was occasionally obstructed by that have to stand and dance in front of you, so I was grateful for the extras viewing screens everywhere! But everyone was having fun and enjoying themselves and I was more than pleasantly surprised. With my faith in these old geezers restored, and their ability to deliver more than just nostalgia, I walked out of the Hollywood Bowl and into a warm lovely summer evening as just a wee bit more of a fan. Perhaps even a slightly giddy one!
The set was as follows; Rhythm Of The Heat/If Ever I Lose My Faith In You/Digging In The Dirt/Invisible Sun/Games Without Frontiers/Shock The Monkey/Secret World/Driven To Tears/Fragile/Red Rain/Dancing With The Moonlit Knight/Message In A Bottle/Don’ Give Up/The Hounds Of Winter/Big Time/An Englishman In New York/Solsbury Hill/Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic/If You Love Somebody Set Them Free/Roxanne/Love Can Heal/Desert Rose/In Your Eyes/Every Breath You Take/Sledgehammer.