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What critics are saying about Peter Gabriel’s tour

“fully weird” “fully weird” Ryan Remiorz

Peter Gabriel’s orchestral New Blood Tour has received some positive reviews, though even those that glow are mixed. Here are excerpts from two recent North American shows and from a March show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London:

San Jose Mercury News, at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA, June 10: Crowd response was really uneven throughout the night, much more so than what one sees at most "rock" concerts. … Gabriel did play some fan favorites toward the end of the show, but they didn’t always provide the expected payoff. Notably, there was a rather poorly arranged version of "Red Rain" that found the symphony crowding out the vocals.

The troupe managed much better with the classic "Solsbury Hill," conjuring up an arrangement jaunty enough to persuade Gabriel to literally skip about the stage. The encore featured two "So" favorites, "In Your Eyes" and "Don’t Give Up." It was hard to overlook the absence of Senegalese vocalist Youssou N’Dour on the former, but not so tough to get along without Kate Bush on the latter. (Bush’s vocal parts were more than adequately filled by a backing vocalist, Ane Brun — but nobody can fill N’Dour’s shoes.)

Santa Barbara News-Press, at the Santa Barbara Bowl, June 11: (Ensuing) covers continued in the same vein: lightness replaced by heavy, sawing strings and blatting brass sections.

On Arcade Fire’s "My Body Is a Cage," this almost worked: Both versions reach for a hearty bombast. "Biko," a concert staple since 1980, did the job.

After the intermission, however, things changed. Part of this was the choice of songs, dipping into the back catalog. But the other part was the arrangements. It was as if John Metcalfe had relaxed more and at last had fun. "San Jacinto" was perky, reminiscent of Philip Glass’ work on "Powaqqatsi," while the Wagnerian thunder of "Signal to Noise" added to the string crescendos already on that track.

Mr. Gabriel went fully weird with "Intruder," maybe his scariest song in his entire catalog. Aided by a video show that covered the stage with blood-red surveillance footage, Mr. Gabriel stalked and pantomimed his serial killer song, while the arrangement quoted both Hermann and Penderecki

The Financial Times of London, the Hammersmith Apollo, March 23: It took a while for Gabriel and his New Blood Orchestra to get into their stride, but by the time they reached the interval, with a magnificently beguiling, insistent version of his 1980 anti-apartheid song "Biko," they were up and running.

"San Jacinto" was rearranged as a jaunty, stirring and finally thoughtful symphonic suite, topped by a coup de théâtre as Gabriel — looking like Prospero in a black outfit and a white goatee — shone a light off a hand-held mirror into the audience’s eyes.

"Downside Up," featuring quavering folkie vocals from one of two female backing vocalists, had a richly pastoral air. Gabriel’s singing was impeccable, from the warmly emotive "Mercy Street" to a storming, gospel-tinged "Don’t Give Up."

The Independent, the Hammersmith Apollo, March 23: The New Blood Orchestra add sometimes blowsy romantic power. Gabriel’s own stagecraft starts almost imperceptibly, leaning on a mic stand like it’s a barstool. But in a second half drawing on his most popular work, "Solsbury Hill" sees him skip across the stage, the waist-coated squire of conscious West Country prog.

And then there’s "Don’t Give Up," minus Kate Bush, but brimming with the stunned pride of a laid-off worker. It’s the highlight of the small reservoir of 1980s English resistance songs, sadly apt again. Gabriel doesn’t give up either. His cerebral, committed adult pop still has a place.

© The Kansas City Star, by Timothy Finn

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