October 21, 2023
Most people's recollections of Peter Gabriel, if I had to bet, come from either John Cusack playing "In Your Eyes" on a boombox in the not at all retrospectively creepy Say Anything
, or the video for "Sledgehammer," which aired on MTV approximately 800 times a day in the mid-80s.
I'm not excluding myself from that equation, mind you. My last contemporaneous purchase of a Gabriel CD was 1992's Us
, and being young and still ... let's be charitable and call it "unsophisticated" in my musical tastes, I gave it a few plays and promptly forgot about it.
To be fair, it was hard to dislodge Pearl Jam's Ten
from my Discman for a while there.
Fans of Gabriel, on the other hand, have always been cognizant of the importance of world music to his sound (that's Senegalese superstar Youssou N'dour singing back up on "In Your Eyes"), and how he's worked tirelessly to introduce quote-unquote Western audiences to artists from Africa, South Asia, Tibet, and many other places.
Those influences, and Gabriel's own humanistic views, were on display Saturday night as Gabriel and a jaw-dropping selection of musicians played the Toyota Center in support of his newest album, i/o
. It was also the last show of the tour, he told us. The announcement was both amusing (the album doesn't officially get released until December) and rather sad. Gabriel is 73, and considering he's been working on i/o
since the early '90s, albeit releasing other albums in the interim, so it's not too much of a stretch to think the man might actually be hanging it up.
Gabriel walked out with literally no fanfare, emerging from stage right without even a spotlight. He introduced the first song ("Washing of the Water" from Us
) with, "Come with me back four billion years, when the planet was a dead planet." If you aren't familiar with the song, it's very subdued, until it's not, and as he played the piano and sang, a veritable murderer's row of musicians joined him on stage.
Who? Glad you asked. Legendary drummer Manu Katché, for starters. Gabriel stalwarts (as in, playing with him over 40 years) bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes, violinist Marina Moore, trumpet/French horn player Josh Shpak, cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson (who also provided the duet vocals for "Don't Give Up"), keyboardist Don McLean (not that one
), and guitarist Richard Evans.
That's no moon..oh wait, yeah it is.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
He seemed to have a story for every song, from the perhaps unrealistically optimistic "Panopticom," which invoked A.I. as a potential unifying force, to the childhood memories that inspired "Solsbury Hill." It was funny to see how deliberately he didn't engage with people in the audience yelling that they'd "loved you all my life." Or the lummox in front of me who kept bellowing for "Shock the Monkey."
Spoiler: he didn't play "Shock the Monkey."
And while i/o
made up the meat of the show, some crowd favorites were sprinkled in as well. "Digging in the Dirt" was the first to get everybody off their butts, followed by the likes of "Sledgehammer," "Big Time" and "Red Rain."
Gabriel's vocal style has always been best described as "plaintively evocative." It still rang out on songs like "Playing for Time" and "The Tower That Ate People," an encore cut that hit hard enough you could imagine it opening the show. "What Lies Ahead," dedicated to workers like his father, made only it's sixth appearance of the tour, while "Live and Let Live" was mostly a miss. "Lay the weapons down?" That time has passed, my brother.
And I can't say enough about the visual presentation. Gabriel showcased works from artists across the world, playing on a giant circular screen as well as stage backdrops. It was like going to a gallery opening with an octet ensemble.
Gabriel was also overtly generous in his praise, thanking the featured musicians after each song and singling out the entire concert crew for praise at the end of the show. I've been covering concerts for almost 20 years and last night was the first time I think I've ever heard an artist thanking everyone in the crew from the riggers to the truck drivers.
If this truly is Peter Gabriel's last concert performance (and I'm basing this on a gut feeling and not any empirical evidence), he went out with a bang. The i/o
stuff was impressive: haunting yet still propulsive. And Gabriel proved himself a consummate showman. At the end, he thanked his "extraordinary band" and us for being an "extraordinary audience."
I hope we get a chance to prove that to him again.
Yes, I know "Panopticom" is misspelled.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Respect. But "Sledgehammer" is my least favorite of his songs, so at least the line at the venue bar was short.
I don't know how many times I can tell you idiots that turning on the flashlight on your iPhone doesn't do any good.
Overheard In The Crowd:
"His new stuff sucks."
Followed By My Response:
"Go the fuck home, then."
Random Notebook Dump:
"He talks almost as much as Adele."
Washing of the Water
Four Kinds of Horses
Digging in the Dirt
Playing for Time
This Is Home
Love Can Heal
Road to Joy
Don't Give Up
What Lies Ahead
Live and Let Live
The Tower That Ate People
In Your Eyes