Peter Gabriel Ends His i/o Tour At The Toyota Center

Peter Gabriel is definitely Big Time.
Peter Gabriel is definitely Big Time. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Peter Gabriel
Toyota Center
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.
click to enlarge
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.
click to enlarge
Yes, I know "Panopticom" is misspelled.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Personal Bias: Respect. But "Sledgehammer" is my least favorite of his songs, so at least the line at the venue bar was short.

The Crowd: 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
Growing Up
Four Kinds of Horses
Digging in the Dirt
Playing for Time
Olive Tree
This Is Home

Love Can Heal
Road to Joy
Don't Give Up
The Court
Red Rain
So Much
What Lies Ahead
Big Time
Live and Let Live
Solsbury Hill

The Tower That Ate People
In Your Eyes

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar