British singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel was in exuberant mood as he delivered a delicious three-course meal of music at the O2 Arena.
The house lights were still up at the O2 when the French-Armenian duduk player Lévon Minassian began breathing a desert breeze into a melody from Peter Gabriel's Grammy-winning soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ. The ancient, sorrowful sound didn’t need atmospheric darkness or clever effects to hush the room. And as Minassian took his bow, the evening's star strolled onto the stage like a roadie. There was no fuss, no stagecraft. Dressed in casual black he said: "You can tell the duduk is played well when everybody's crying. And tonight we intend to make everybody thoroughly miserable."
Gabriel was joking, of course. The centrepiece of this European arena tour is a complete play through of the former-Genesis frontman's most successful and radio-friendly album, 1986’s So. Here, the album constituted the dessert of a three-course meal delivered by the British singer. First, there was an "acoustic" set featuring a heart-melting version of Talk To Me (from 1992's Us). The ragged clarity in Gabriel's distinctive, husky voice stripped any sense of proggy pretension from lines like "the earthly power sucks shadowed milk from sleepy tears undone".
The house lights dropped dramatically as Gabriel plunged into the rockier main course. Tall black lighting rigs were wheeled about the stage like long-necked robotic dinosaurs and sent broad white beams slicing through the crowd. Their mechanised aggression reflected the raw, angular groove of songs like Digging in the Dirt (1992), before things brightened for a springy take on Gabriel's 1977 hit Solsbury Hill, which concluded with the singer and his band mates skipping in exuberantly boyish circles.
So itself was delivered next. The sinister We Do What We're Told sounded even creepier than usual, while the tender intelligence of the gorgeous Mercy Street bloomed beautifully, and hips rolled in time to the snakelike shakuhachi flute riff of Sledgehammer.
Inevitably, the evening's high point was Don't Give Up. The recorded version of the recession duet features one of Kate Bush's greatest vocals – love and hope shining through as she assures her man she's proud of who he is. It must be a daunting part to play, but Stockholm singer Jennie Abrahamson did a glowing job, sounding like a cross between Bush and Dolly Parton (who Gabriel originally intended for the role). It's a song often credited with preventing suicides and you could feel its offer of rescue. There were more than tinny high hats in those Eighties beats: there were thumping big hearts too.
© Telegraph, by Helen Brown