Peter Gabriel, National Indoor Arena Birmingham
Monday 07 June 2004
Until recently, Peter Gabriel has not been prolific. Now, he's back already, updating last year's
Grown Up stage show, rechristened as
Still Growing Up. It's a collaboration with the director Robert Lepage, performed in the round and making imaginative use of lighting effects to create radical changes of mood.
Until recently, Peter Gabriel has not been prolific. Now, he's back already, updating last year's Grown Up stage show, rechristened as Still Growing Up. It's a collaboration with the director Robert Lepage, performed in the round and making imaginative use of lighting effects to create radical changes of mood.
Gabriel marches on alone, standing at his keyboard and laptop table. The house lights are on full glare as he sings "Here Comes the Flood", immediately establishing the grainy, throaty command of his still-distinctive voice. Then the lights are killed and the band sweeps on, lurching into a more predictable hardness.
Gabriel has a reputation for skewed rock drama, but at root, these songs are conventionally anthemic. It's often the theatrics that give them their twist. Many numbers have a scene-setting story, but after a while these introductions can seem too pat, too rehearsed.
Gabriel's vocal texture is often lost when battling against the bombast of his band; this crew needs to leave more space. Gabriel always employs English irony to subvert the stadium-sized setting, but sometimes he's in danger of being seduced by this air-punching experience. When he bangs his tambourine in the air and windmills in circles, we smile. But doubt descends when he consents to his orange-clad roadies raising their arms to the God-like descent of his sagging, tubular "Zorb" ball.
Thankfully, for "Growing up", Gabriel clambers inside this showpiece transparent globule and rolls around the edge of the stage, threatening to crush his own band as he bounces along. How tempting it must be to hurtle down into the crowd, surfing over their heads. The orange roadies look worried.
Gabriel is fixated on rotation. During "Games Without Frontiers" he perambulates around on one of those two-wheeler lawn mower things, again causing concern when he nears the stage lip. He's trained daughter Melanie Gabriel well, as she mimics his actions, riding and singing in tandem. Indeed, the whole band is draped in black smocks, following their leader in his spiritual sage look.
The oldest songs remain the best. Their existence almost transcends their delivery. When Gabriel wobbles around the perimeter on his undersized bicycle, singing without pause for breath, "Solsbury Hill" becomes an oddly anti-anthemic anthem. A homely treatment for such a grand ditty.
"Sledgehammer" is more conventional. Then "Biko" is majestic, again showing that Gabriel doesn't need to prod his audience into singing or clapping along. These things happen naturally, house lights burning, the mighty song exposed and more relevant than ever.
'Still Growing Up', Wembley Arena, London HA9 (0870 060 0870; www.whatsonwembley.com) tonight and tomorrow
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