"The Man Is Back" - Peter Gabriel at the O2 Arena, London, 19th June 2023. Review and photographs by Alan Hewitt.
Where to start? It has been almost a decade since I last saw Peter in concert and was beginning to believe that the day would never dawn when I would see him again. Same goes for the new album, which has now FINALLY been released in a fashion as multiple downloads. Now, as an old school sort of guy, this means that the bulk of it I had yet to hear as I took my seat in the cavernous O2 Arena.
Showtime arrived at 8pm prompt with a cloth capped Peter arriving on stage to be joined by several other members of his band around what looked like a simulated camp fire to begin the evening with a stripped down Washing Of The Water and Growing Up, the latter being one of the most effective tracks from the UP album and it lost none of its power in this new setting.
So, this is the New Stuff. Let's look at the new material in the set next if I may? The last time I went to a Gabriel gig without having heard the new album first was in the heady days of 1980. So, I was pleasantly surprised at just how strong the new tracks stood up to the test of being performed. Not all worked perfectly but that's the nature of the beast but of the new tracks three really stood out: Panopticom, Peter's wryly observant look at social media and how it pervades every aspect of our lives. Four Kinds Of Horses and The Court were equally impressive and I am sure will become firm favourites when/if the album is released properly.
The rest although interesting and musically sound, did not really catch my attention and Peter's insistence on giving us a miniature "lecture" about each of the artists whose works were forming the visual element of tonight's show was in danger of turning a rock gig into an artistic thesis and there were moments when I honestly thought Peter would lose the grip he normally has on an audience.
That said, visually the show was very impressive with leaves evidently taken out of Genesis' light show from the preceding year. The overhanging disc which projected images was very shades of Pink Floyd too! Lighting was minimal but always effective as has always been the case with Peter's shows.
It was the older material which shone through for this listener however beginning with an astonishing performance of Digging In The Dirt which still.has the power to thrill. Highlights of the show however came in the second half, beginning with a truly astonishing and emotional Don't Give Up. It was here that Ayanna-Witter Johnson who had already been superb all evening upped the ante by putting on a vocal performance which for my money ousted the original by Kate Bush. Yes, it really was THAT good!
Big Time was given a fresh lick of paint too with equally enjoyable results. The final trio of songs however were worth the admission price alone and no Peter Gabriel gig should be without them
Solsbury Hill was a joy pure and simple whilst In Your Eyes featured a truly remarkable ensemble performance with vocals by Peter and Ms Johnson again with many onstage smiles from a band who were evidently enjoying the gig as much as we were.
That leaves… Biko. What can I say about this which hasn't been said already? The most emotive and emotional song in Peter's canon, it never fails to raise emotions and tonight was no exception. Biko may be long gone but this cry against injustice lives on and it brought tonight's performance to a truly wonderful end.
I admit before the gig I was not expecting the show to be as good as it turned out to be and so was therefore very pleasantly surprised. The new additions to the band injected a new leavening of talent to an already awesome assemblage. Visually too, the show was stunning, effective but never overpowering.
The Man is back indeed and I for one am delighted!