At 8pm tonight Pater Gabriel walks onto an otherwise unmanned stage looking like a roadie. Head bowed, he walks to the mic a the front of the stage and one person at a time the crowd realise that this is the man they’ve paid to see rather than a tech. Slowly and forcibly the applause creeps across the audience as only the handful of hardcore fans at the front – “I recognise a few of these faces, this feels like a warm hug” – have actually been privy to Gabriel’s appearance until he speaks. He is here to introduce two members of his band to a half empty arena, the frighteningly talented Jennie Abrahamson & Linnea Olsson. Strictly speaking they’re not a duo, just two solo performers – a cellist and a xylophonist – with remarkable voices and their own individual songs to match. They’re Gabriel’s backing singers but fully deserve their 15 minutes.
By the time Gabriel is back for his own show, which is in three parts, the arena is full and there is a middle-aged giddiness as the audience swap stories about what they saw, when they saw it, and the odds of seeing it again. One punter gets into full on “this one time, at band camp…” mode about each band member and their respective side projects. Such is the depth of their fandom, these people are genuinely ecstatic to see the former Genesis frontman and have no problem showing it. “The appetiser”, as Gabriel calls the first part of the show, “will be played with the lights on, I want people to feel like it’s a rehearsal”. Which it is, to some extent. So new is the opening song ‘What Lies Ahead’ that the lyrics are only half finished. ‘Come Talk to Me’, a thrilling version of ‘Shock The Monkey’ and ‘Family Snapshot’ complete part one of the set and it’s only now does the famously innovative Peter Gabriel make use of his army of lighting technicians.
“The entrée” starts with ‘Digging the Dirt’ and a rousing performance of ‘Secret World’. His band, featuring Manu Katché, Tony Levin, David Sancious and the ever present David Rhodes, sound every bit as crisp and punchy as you might imagine after years of playing together. They join in with Gabriel’s dancing and displays of showmanship but not until ‘Solsbury Hill’ do we really see them shine. The song is an uplifting miracle at the best of times but here, now, it is absolutely wonderous. The band smile and thrive on the response from the crowd, as does the man himself. Next course, “the pudding” – Gabriel’s 1986 classic album So in its entirety.
‘Red Rain’ sounds incredible and the stage lighting is a highlight of the show, but the kicker is the undeniable classic ‘Sledgehammer’. Gabriel struts from one side of the stage to the other and his tongue-in-cheek ode to sex sounds formidable. The famous chugging rhythms and cascading horns are reminders of how massive this song was and it is no wonder that it resonates so much with the crowd. The ecstatic joy, once confined to the die-hards at the front, is now rippling around the old Point Depot like an electric Mexican wave. For ‘Don’t Give Up’ we get to hear Jennie Abrahamson take the place of the hitherto irreplaceable Kate Bush. Abrahamson sounds every bit a good live as Bush did on the track and her and Gabriel’s choreographed ‘dance’ is as beautiful as it is respectful to the video. So, So, still sounding great and it’s maker still in fine form. As tonight wraps up the tour, and ‘Biko’ wraps up tonight, Peter Gabriel has served up a veritable feast for the ages.
Peter Gabriel photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko.