Peter Gabriel made it to the ‘Big Time’ years ago, which these days affording him the luxury to create art at a leisurely pace and indulge in just about any project he desires. His latest endeavor, ‘New Blood,’ is an album featuring reworked versions of his own music with an orchestra, and on Wednesday (Nov. 9) he hit the stage of New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater to perform songs from the disc as part of the ‘Live on Letterman’ concert series (watch the show in its entirety here).
Gabriel looked relaxed as he strolled down the center aisle to take his place center stage in front of the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra to the opening strains of ‘Red Rain,’ one of 13 songs featured on ‘New Blood.’ The disc features both Gabriel classics and deeper cuts from his back catalog, and the performance, much like the album, offered a creative and compelling take on the tune — one where rock guitars, bass, drums and synths are replaced by a stunning arrangement of strings, horns, woodwinds, piano and orchestral percussion.
The orchestra provided an impressively lush backing track for Gabriel, and gave his lyrics an emotional weight not quite captured on the original album. "They are a remarkable group of players and you’re going to get lots of opportunity to appreciate them [tonight]," he said of the orchestra before starting up ‘Wallflower,’ which showcased the both the nuances of versatility his voice – at 61, he has no problem still hitting the high notes. What followed was stirring set including ‘Intruder,’ ‘Signal to Noise,’ ‘Mercy Street,’ ‘ Rhythm of the Heat’ and ‘San Jacinto,’ with Gabriel using the time in between tunes to offer up ‘Storytellers’-like tales for each.
Closing out the main set with an upbeat take on the ubiquitous ‘Solsbury Hill,’ Gabriel grabbed the microphone off the stand and moved around the stage, at one point dancing beside the pair of female backing singers that had been providing beautiful harmonies most of the show. After leaving to a standing ovation, Gabriel returned to close out the show with a dramatic rendition of the politically-charged ‘Biko,’ which he dedicated to "all those young people who’ve got the courage to stand up for what they believe in, no matter the cost."
Lucky for us, Gabriel himself continues to stand up for what he believes in — his always impressive and always powerful music.
© Ultimate Classic Rock, by Joe Robinson