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
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 shows 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 songs
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 Gabriels daughter
stepped inside the boat and watched peacefully as her father walked
against the direction of the flow towards her, as if treading
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
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 wont be as long as a decade before
we see him again.