Last night Peter Gabriel brought to Glasgow's resplendent Hydro Arena – which sounds fantastic incidentally – the very same band that had original toured his most successful album So.
And, even if they have aged a bit since 1986, their musicality lit up a show which also stunned with its visual flourishes.
Taking to the stage alongside "the legend that is Tony Levin", Gabriel was first hunched at the piano for a haunting new number that – despite apparently having no set-in-stone lyrics – immediately proved that trademark husky voice of his had lost none of its propensity to ring out plaintively when traversing up the octaves.
The singer-songwriter had explained that the first part would be an acoustic section, and the second electronic, before the "dessert" which would be the performance of So from beginning to end.
Among those opening, slightly more sedate numbers a stripped down version of Shock the Monkey was superbly executed, while Family Snapshot showcased Levin’s brilliantly fluid bass playing.
Towards the finale of that number the house lights were suddenly switched off, the band bursting into full-blooded life as a small army of robotic cranes gathered around them, focusing penetrating spotlights onto the stage. (At other times during the set they dipped down as though to attack Gabriel, or zoomed in on the singer as he lay prone on the ground while singing Mercy Street, a propensity for theatricality still present in his performance.)
It provided the segue into the second section, which was much more enjoyable than Gabriel had implied it would be the start of the night. (He said we would have to "survive" it before So.) An undoubted highlight was a rivetting, robust rendition of Digging In The Dirt, which slunk into view before its industrial-tinged refrain rung out from the stage.
For those sorts of moments it was perhaps unfortunate that the show was all-seated, draining potential energy from the crowd – though it did mean you could play the always-engrossing game of "spot the overly refreshed and enthusiastic patron standing up to dance and see how long it takes for them to get shouted down by the absurdly grumpy ticket-goers sat behind them".
Bracing album opener Red Rain cracked into gear as the So section got underway; the album was delivered with verve, its unashamed moments of pop brilliance rubbing up alluringly against Gabriel’s more experimental tendencies. The triumphant strut of Sledgehammer unsurprisingly got the best reaction of the night so far, the singer’s pelvic thrusts during the chorus delivered with as much panache and sardonic wit as, well, you imagine that pelvic thrusts could be.
The rest of the album was delivered with just as much confidence, the band superb and the visual show behind and around them creating added senses of drama and wonder as there needed to be. The latter was certainly in effect for uplifting, sky-scraping highlight In Your Eyes. The musicians returned onstage for an encore which culminated with a rousing Biko dedicated to those around the world fighting for human rights.
It was a fitting finale. Gabriel’s constant focus on the bigger picture is what made for such a complete performance, one which shone on every level. (And for which he deservedly thanked the entire crew at the end.) It’s also what continues to make him a vital artist some 27 years on from the album that for most define his career, and meant that this felt like no mere exercise in nostalgia.
© Entertainment.stv, by Michael MacLennan
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