Even though he’s one of my all-time favorite artists, I’ve never seen Peter Gabriel live, and this brilliant Blu-ray edition of his 1987 concert in Athens, Greece, Live in Athens, makes me regret that all the more. Because it’s just amazing, and while dated in some ways, puts most modern "artists" to absolute shame.
When this show was filmed in 1987, Peter Gabriel was at a peak in his already accomplished and distinguished solo career. After he departed Genesis to do his own thing, Gabriel played with different styles on his early solo albums, but by this point, he was riding high after the release of what would be his most popular album, So (1986).
The thing is, even though he was selling big, Gabriel never sold out. So was as creative and inspired as anything else he’d ever done—it was just more catchy. Even a hit single like "Sledgehammer" had substance, and bit of Gabriel’s trademark darkness, under its pop-appeal sheen.
With So, Gabriel had found his sound—a mix of African rhythms, synth technology, and accessible melodies, all delivered with his one-of-a-kind voice over some intricate arrangements that incorporated the most sophisticated music technology of the era in a way that was organic and perfectly suited to his compositions.
It didn’t hurt that Gabriel’s touring band was an absolutely incredible grouping of gifted musicians; bassist Tony Levin, drummer Manu Katché, keyboardist David Sancious and guitarist David Rhodes were an amazingly tight and powerful group. Not only did they play like a dream, with astounding feel and passion, but they also were perfect onstage foils for Gabriel, executing choreography in the opening sequence, and serving as effective focal points in counterpoint to their frontman’s compelling performances.
Gabriel’s always been one of the best "actors" in rock music, and that skill is conveyed very effectively in this show—performances of such haunting tracks as "Mercy Street" and "Family Snapshot" are as haunting as anything you’ll see on the Chiller channel.
And in terms of movement, and overall performance, Gabriel stands with the best of them. His exciting delivery of "Shock the Monkey" in this show—with him slinking and jumping around the stage—is a revelation thats conveys the full power of the song.
The fashion sense here does date this show somewhat—the teased hair and long coats are pure 1980s—but the music sounds as fresh and modern as it did when it was first released.
The sound mix has good definition and sharpness. Levin’s bass parts, always a standout of Gabriel’s solo work, are especially well delivered on the soundtrack. The footage, shot on film almost three decades ago, is a little dull-looking at times, and the palette of black, white and neutral may not pop on your HDTV like the latest superhero epic.
But who expected it to? This is a welcome time capsule, capturing a truly gifted artist at his finest, supported by the best musicians and technology, and performing the hell out of a vastly impressive catalog of music.
Another cool element here is that this comes with an opening act, just like a real concert! The disc features a 40-plus-minute set by Youssou N’Dour, who sang on Gabriel’s classic song "In Your Eyes."
The bonus DVD of Gabriel videos (including a recent one "Father, Son" about his dad that got me very choked up) makes this a comprehensive and very valuable package sure to delight any PG fan.
© Technology Tell, by Howard Whitman
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