I’ve loved him since about 1975.
My love for others has waxed and waned, but Peter has stayed.
As a teenager in the seventies I seemed to move without a hiccup from Bowie to Genesis and Pink Floyd to punk and to dancing frenetically to ska and began the eighties with John Martyn, Ry Cooder, and Joan Armatrading, and all the while Peter Gabriel could do no wrong. I saw him play at the NEC in Birmingham in the early eighties and it stands still as one of the best gigs ever. EVER…
In recent years, I have eschewed the really big gigs… They are enormously expensive, and can be a real let-down.
So it was with more than a little trepidation that I booked tickets to see him again, same place, thirty years on. I worried that I would be disappointed. How could I have doubted him?
The gig was tonight. Just got home and I am completely wired. God knows what time I’ll get to sleep. I make no excuses for my language… He was fucking amazing.
The thing that makes him different from the rest, even now, is the totality of the performance. It is art, theatre, dance, music…. It is deceptively simple, pure, complex when it needs to be. Everything is considered, nothing is spare or unnecessary. It is intelligent, of the highest quality in every respect. You get the impression he might be quite difficult to work with, but you would do it anyway…. Know what I mean? Because he is brilliant. A genius.
I’m not going to describe the whole gig, because I do have enough insight to realise that would be boring for anyone who isn’t as obsessed with the man as I am. But I will give an example of what I mean by the whole-ness of the performance: Lighting…. Is always an essential ingredient of the arena show… Making it the spectacle it needs to be. This show started (on time) with an acoustic set, the house lights still up, with a couple of songs he introduced as works in progress. (He’s that sure of his audience). For the second set, the house lights went down and the stage lights hit, monochrome. Experimental, collages of sound and music and the lights danced, not just the lights, but the rigs too. Levered and pulleyed on rails, each operated by two people, who were part of the dance… The light, the mobile gantry things( I can’t think of the right word.) the rails… They swooped and danced around the stage, an integral part of everything that went on. For a couple of songs, they were the show.
For the third section, and only then we had coloured lights, but only one colour at a time to start with. For Mercy Street Gabriel lay on the stage, over concentric circles, danced lying down while screens showed us the view from above… The lights danced above him, oppressed him… threatened him… Everything was just perfect… The atmosphere intimate, electric, emotional… What was on the screens not always just an enlargement of the on-stage action but film and animation that added to the whole thing….added to the narratives…
Most of the songs he played were old ones. We knew them all, but the things that now might make the original recording seem dated had been stripped back. There was a freshness, an edge to these songs. They are bloody good songs. He has an astonishing voice. It gets me in weird places… The pit of my stomach, the back of my neck, my thighs clench, a catch in my throat. Sledgehammer made me laugh and cheer, Mercy Street made me cry, Milgrams 37 (We Do What We’re Told) made me shiver… Menacing…
I bloody love menacing!
I am drawn to musicians that are artists, that show consideration, that are willing to blow the formulas out of the water and take risks for the sake of creativity. I love music that feels as if everything in it has a role to play. I love a live performance that just clicks. It doesn’t matter if the audience is three people or thirty thousand. Tonight showed that intimacy can be achieved… But you have to be bloody good!