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Shooting into the light: Peter Gabriel at a cinema near you

March 22, 2014

  If I think about my heroes, I thought this week, then there’s one man who would have to make the shortlist. He was after all the lead singer in my favourite band, and as such his voice features massively in the soundtrack of my life. And WHAT a voice, maturing like a fine wine.

His solo work has been inventive in the extreme but I have never seen him live. Only on DVD. Of which I have several. How else would I get to see a singer doing his stuff while walking upside down or riding a bike, or singing into a red phone box?

So (ha!) when I heard that Peter Gabriel’s Back to Front film was being screened by Vue cinemas, I booked tickets for me and the missus (in good time so as to avoid the sell out!)

I’m not a regular cinema goer it must be said. As we arrived the Vue in Plymouth was like a ghost town. The only sign of life was the ice cream seller. Chocolate brownie tub in hand we entered screen 6 to find two people already there! By the time we’d worked our way through the ads and previews we boasted a 14 strong audience, 2 of whom thought we were in their seats (I ask you!)

Was this the world’s best kept secret? Whatever Peter’s publicity machine had done, trusted that any onstage machinery would be more successful.

14 devotees sat in their Secret World watched the opening titles.

The start is NOT typical Gabriel live. It’s pretty subdued stuff. The static seated audience adds to the effect. What looks like a rehearsal actually turns out to be the real thing. PG seated at piano with Tony Levin on bass sings an unknown song. As the band arrives on stage an acoustic version of shock the monkey. I’m wondering if I’ve read the right publicity. Is this PG unplugged?

With that question in my head, it’s business as usual. The band goes electric and the lights are on.

The first of a number of songs from PG3 (Melt) is the brilliant Family Snapshot, the tempo rising with the drama. This is followed by 2 offerings from US – Digging in the dirt and Secret World. The latter has become so much bigger in its live incarnation. Choreographed and dynamic.

PG3 reappears through No Self Control.

The opening chords of Solsbury Hill switch the lights on full for one member of the audience – my wife. I think she would have got up and danced but there was no such atmosphere for that tonight in our auditorium. There was no atmosphere. The sense of fun we experienced with some of our comrades at the Genesis 2007 live relay was not echoed here among the chosen few.

It’s an uplifting joyous song, even though it lyrically recalls Gabriel’s departure from Genesis. Bitter sweet.

Fair to say the sound is terrific although maybe No Self control suffers a bit.

The main feature is of course the recreation of the So album, Gabriel’s biggest commercial success from 1986. The thought crosses my mind that in the 28 years since Gabriel has released just 2 (TWO) original full studio recordings! US and UP. There have been other songs released on compilations and played live. But Peter is never going to be known for being rapid!

A reminder that he has not given up the writing job, is the song that precedes the So set, the seeking for God, Why don’t you show yourself.

And then the main course.

Familiar intro and floods of red light and it could only be the dramatic album opener Red Rain. The huge MTV hit Sledgehammer follows. As with Solsbury Hill before the film cleverly splices together footage of 80’s 90’s and 21st century Gabriel, in such a way as it’s hard to see the join and the mouth and movement always seem to be in the right place.

Sledgehammer is of course followed by the beautiful Don’t give up. The vital moment for me is always going to be when Jennie Abrahamson opens her mouth. Having been spoilt with Kate Bush and Paula Cole in the past, I have to say the song was wrecked by the warbling female vocal on New Blood. It’s a relief and ultimately a pleasure to listen to the new girl’s interpretation. Another different voice but the emotion of the song is beautifully captured.

Mercy Street is delivered by Gabriel flat on his back trying to avoid swooping cameras as he does so. He can sing on his back this lad. That’s the thing though, whilst the video from different eras show what time has done to the PG physique, his voice is still a soulful powerhouse, delivering each song with aplomb, even though some of the dance moves are noticeably more minimalist.

In my head I’m working out what other So songs are to come. But what becomes clear is that we are going to be denied the full album. We do what we’re told with its sinister masked roadies, is the only other number apart from the other album high point, the vibrant, worshipful In your eyes. Hands and feet are tapping away from this reviewer.

We are then treated to The tower that ate people, or more specifically in this case, ate Peter Gabriel. Thankfully the tower spews him out in time for a fine rendition of Biko. Still a stirring number.

The credits roll. The chosen few rise from their seats and walk out through the ghost town to their cars.

Quietly satisfied with my evening. The wife expresses a reservation. Yes she really enjoyed it, but it was too short. You feel you’ve done a reasonable job of educating your wife’s musical taste buds when she says something like that. But actually she’s right – 90 minutes – that’s your lot. A large chunk of So edited out, along with half the acoustic set and more. Why couldn’t we have the whole show?

We were after all paying £12.50 a ticket, and whilst we could not deny the quality of music or presentation, did we get our money’s worth?

The talking heads between each of the songs may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, though generally I enjoyed that aspect as part of the film, as not too many vital intros were talked over. The band were plainly enjoying the experience.

And the turn out was staggering…

So (Ha!), the night was not without its quibbles, but got to say it was an enjoyable way to spend a Thursday night. If the DVD comes out I’ll be snapping it up, hoping that it’s the full show.

Thanks again Pete!

Oh and here’s a taste:

E

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