Peter Gabriel brought his 1986 album "So" to The Palace of Auburn Hills Wednesday, but the front-to-back performance of the album was the least interesting facet of the 140-minute show. Instead, it was the moments surrounding "So" that shined brightest.
Gabriel opened the concert with The Palace houselights up, performing a loose, laid-back four song set — including a bare bones "Shock the Monkey" — that acted as a mellow, inviting lead-in to the evening.
Then the lights went down and business picked up, with Gabriel shimmying across the stage while big floodlights attached to large cranes were wheeled around the stage, floating and dipping around Gabriel and his bandmates like the alien tentacles in Spielberg's "War of the Worlds." "Digging in the Dirt" and "Secret World," both from his 1992 album "Us," were dark and moody, but felt like large-scale performance art pieces due to the elaborate staging. "No Self Control," from 1980, was another highlight, leading into the obligatory "Solsbury Hill," the first big crowd-pleaser of the evening.
Gabriel, dressed in a bizarre Gore-Tex get-up that looked like it was borrowed from the killer from "I Know What You Did Last Summer," still has a certain magic in his voice, and hearing him sing you're reminded how much his voice has been missing from pop music. He hasn't released a new studio album in a decade, and doesn't appear to be working on anything new anytime soon. Wednesday was all about looking back, and while he may be unrecognizable from the MTV megastar he was in the '80s, his voice still dazzles.
Then it was time for "So," though the album's lack of a cohesive sound makes it a less-than-ideal candidate for full-album treatment. It veers wildly from world music explorations to dated-pop monstrosities that are best left in the '80s; "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" were gargantuan hits at the time, but the two songs — especially the latter — hit their expiration date around the same time as Adam Curry. Still, there was some adventurous production on hand: Album-opener "Red Rain" was grand, with deep red lighting washing over the stage, and Gabriel sang "Mercy Street" lying on his back on the stage, cameras hovering just over his body.
"In Your Eyes" closed out the set, though it felt weirdly subdued in the setting, perhaps due to the spotty attendance at the concert (Palace officials did not release an attendance figure, though an eyeball estimate placed around 6,500 fans in attendance). "In Your Eyes" is still as resonant an anthem as Gabriel has ever crafted, but it never achieved liftoff. Lloyd Dobler would have been disappointed.
Then during the encore, things got wild again, with Gabriel performing "The Tower That Ate People" while standing under a large structure that slowly lowered from the ceiling until it enveloped him. As it rose to the ceiling again, Gabriel was inside the center of a sort of fabric tube, struggling to get out. In a way, "So" was similarly restraining for Gabriel: It gave him a reason to tour, but he was at his most free and expressive when not working within the confines of the album. Next time, he should leave "So" at home.
© The Detroit News, by Adam Graham