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Peter Gabriel back on the Up at Wembley Arena


Review: Jack Foley

IT HAS been 10 years since Peter Gabriel last took the stage at Wembley Arena and, although much has changed in that time (most notably, his appearance), the acclaimed singer/songwriter still knows how to put on a show.

The vast Wembley building is not usually the greatest venue to see one of your favourite acts, particularly if you are unlucky enough to be miles away from the stage, but this problem was overcome quite impressively, thanks to a massive circular platform, which was centrally located.

Hence, halfway back turned out to be the perfect location for this concert of technical bravura - and what a show it turned out to be.

Gabriel has long held a keen eye for an impressive visual gimmick (as anyone who remembers his Sledgehammer video will testify), and at Wembley on Wednesday (May 21) the extravagance and flair which makes any of his live dates worth visiting was there in abundance.

There were times when things threatened to become a little too gimmicky, particularly given the fact that the performing artists spent a great deal of their time with their backs to the crowd, but the energy of the occasion, coupled with the quality of the songs, served to ensure that this was a show worth remembering for all the right reasons.

Starting with a minimalist approach, Gabriel took to the stage alone, with only a keyboard and his voice for company, and proceeded to pick things up from exactly the same point things were left off a decade ago.

His distinctive voice remained as commanding as ever and, rather like watching an acclaimed actor delivering a monologue in the theatre, the effect was entrancing.

Then the show began, with three guitarists, a drummer, another keyboard player and a female vocalist, later revealed to be his daughter, joining him for the rest of the evening - frequently served by the ‘orange men’ who were so essential in providing the technical support necessary.

Gabriel announced that the show would be a mixture of the old and the new, before proceeding to deliver two hours and 20 minutes’ worth of material from his latest album, Up, as well as some choice cuts from his back catalogue.

Old classics such as Red Rain, for instance, brought back fond memories of Gabriel in his heyday, while newer material, such as More Than This, showed that he has lost none of his songwriting ability.

The track was even enlivened by the optical illusion of a fireball above the stage, using a plastic ball which later became transformed into a full moon for Mercy Street and then, even more impressively, a bouncing ball, with Gabriel inside.

In what proved to be one of the show’s wilder extravagances, Gabriel then proceeded to pedal the ball around the stage, rather like a hamster in a treadmill, hovering perilously close to the side on several occasions, but never losing sight of the song’s lyrics.

But then this was a show which tantalised the eyeballs, as well as appealing to the ears, and there was a theatrical element to almost all of the tracks.

Downside-Up, a song he had written for the Millennium Dome experience, was a beautiful duet between father and daughter, made all the more memorable by the pair walking, upside down, underneath a raised platform above the stage.

The visual artistry was also present for the spine-tingling version of Mercy Street (a personal favourite), when the stage was dimmed, a moon appeared, and a canoe slowly made its way around the perimeter of the stage on the revolving platform.

The song itself remained as haunting and as poignant as ever, while the imagery was taken further when Gabriel’s daughter stepped inside the boat and watched peacefully as her father walked against the direction of the flow towards her, as if treading water.

Yet it is a tribute to the measure of control that Gabriel exerts over proceedings that the visuals never threaten to detract from the quality of the music, and that his voice never became lost amid the beats and drum loops that are his trademark - even when singing upside down, or riding a bicycle, which he did during the rousing Solisbury Hill.

Other highlights included The Barry Williams Show, from Up, and Secret World, from So, while a blistering version of Sky Blue, from the new album, was made all the more powerful and moving by the presence of support act, The Blind Boys of Alabama, to bring it to a reflective close, while several performers took to the stage for the finale, In Your Eyes.

Crowd favourite, Sledgehammer, remained as cheeky and feelgood as ever, particularly as Gabriel bounded around the stage wearing a black jacket illuminated by lightbulbs.

This was a tour-de-force for Gabriel and one which was genuinely worth paying money to see (I did, in case you were wondering!). We can only hope that it won’t be as long as a decade before we see him again.

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