Peter Gabriel - Live at Phones 4 U Arena, ManchesterPeter Gabriel, live at the Manchester Phones 4 U Arena, Friday 25th October 2013

Having missed the ‘So’ tour back in 1987 (probably due to concentrating on the Genesis tour around the same time) I was pleased to see that Peter was performing the whole of my favourite album of his on a new tour. This ‘Whole of one album’ seems to be a concept that is catching on with many artists and bands and indeed is one that Mama are looking at in 2014. I can see the attraction both for artist and fans alike. Structured chunk of the set list for artist and fans get to experience songs that perhaps have never been played live before.

I must admit I was a little concerned about the rigors of a such tour on Peter’s voice which let’s face it is 27 years older now than when ‘So’ was recorded. Those songs are not easy to sing live I would imagine. That aside I was really looking forward to the show. The MEN Arena (Phones 4 U Arena sounds daft sorry) is a cavernous building which I have visited several times now and never been impressed by. Sound is usually poor and silly charges for drinks and food, but needs must I suppose. I took my wife (Lisa) and daughter (May) with me and also managed to get my mate Dave Broome (part time Mama roadie) a ticket. We arrived in good time and Lisa and May took their seats while Dave and I had a beer (at more than extortionate prices I might add) and met up with some friends for a chat.

Has it started?

Suddenly I heard Peter introduce the two ladies who were supporting him so I left Dave chatting and took my seat with Lisa and May. The ladies both sang two songs each which I really enjoyed. Cello and Xylophone are so underused in ‘rock’ music and it was great to hear something a bit different. I managed an all too brief chat with some more friends about the show in the interval before a group of people walked on the stage and signed Peter’s song ‘Blood Of Eden’. I later learned that this was the Warrington Sign ChoirĀ (you can donate here).

Peter Gabriel, live at MEN Arena / Phones 4 U Arena, ManchesterHouse lights anyone? Anyone?

A few minutes later and Peter walked onto the stage. This was a little surprising as the main house lights had not been switched off. He sat at his piano stage left and explained that the show was to be ‘served’ in three courses, like a good meal.

Starter: Acoustic set including a song that he was still ‘working out’.

Main course: Some of the more ‘experimental songs’ played with electric instruments.

Dessert: The whole of the ‘So’ album.

All fine and dandy except…. It is my opinion that a show must start with a explosion of music, colour and sound. If you think back to Genesis starting shows with ‘Watcher Of The Skies’, ‘Behind The Lines’, or Steve starting with ‘Slogans’ you will understand what I mean here. To start a show by sitting at a piano with all the house lights lit and busking a new song with the great Tony Levin on bass? Well let me just say it didn’t work for me and leave it at that. Was this a hangover from his ‘New Blood’ shows? Possibly, but I don’t agree with his thinking on this issue. I didn’t even catch the title of the new song, (‘O But’ perhaps?) however it was a little too ‘Cole Porter….ish’ for me.

Do they really shock monkeys? Why?

The band were introduced and the next song was a great version of ‘Come Talk To Me’ which really did benefit from the treatment given to it by Peter here, well after a rather funny false start…. ‘Shock The Monkey’ came next and again a great version which Peter sang superbly. I would love to hear Peter do a full set of songs in this vein as it was very interesting to hear the adaptations required to make them work. ‘Family Snapshot’ was announced as being a song inspired from an old book found in the mud. Another superb version of one of my favourite PG songs followed which again impressed me with the quality of Peter’s vocals. Half way through the song and the full electric band kicked in and the hall went dark with the lights coming on in force and what a great light show he had. All white lights were used for the ‘main course’ and if you think that would make a very dull show, you’d be wrong. Some of the best and most effective use of lighting I have ever seen. Manually operated lighting towers stalked the stage and gave an added visual dimension to the show.

View from the stage at Phones 4 U Arena, Manchester

It was a Secret World, except around 11,000 Peter Gabriel fans already knew!

The next song was ‘Digging In The Dirt’ which is not a huge favourite of mine but was played and sung very well indeed with the crowd joining in at the appropriate places. Once again the lights were stunning here. My favourite song from ‘Us’ came next and indeed one of my all time PG favourite songs. ‘Secret World’ is a masterpiece in my opinion. One of the songs which benefit from the live treatment. Great guitar and bass work form Mr Rhodes and Mr Levin, and the sight of Tony prowling the stage menacingly is always a joy to behold.

I was really surprised to see ‘The Family And The Fishing Net’ in the set but again the song is not one of my ‘must haves’ in a PG setlist. I would rather have had ‘Growing Up’ here to be honest. Better news for me followed with the inclusion of ‘No Self Control’ which allowed drummer Manu Katche to shine. Great version of a disturbing song from his third album.

Here’s one that Mama used to sing and in fact, still do!

Crowd pleaser and of course his first ‘hit’, ‘Solsbury Hill’ followed at which point the whole crowd rose to their feet. I think the song has been dropped a tone from its original key, but still sounded great. Another new song followed which was much better to my ears called ‘Why Don’t You Show Yourself’. Again it featured Peter seated at his piano and the crowd seemed to enjoy it as well. It did remind me of a 10CC song although I can’t remember which one.

After the song finished, suddenly the stage exploded in a vibrant Red for (of course) ‘Red Rain’. The whole change from white lights to coloured lights somehow reminded me of ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ film. Very clever use of visuals here yet again and a powerful version of the song followed with Peter’s voice holding up very well indeed. Then a stunning version of ‘Sledgehammer’ followed, which had all the crowd up on their feet dancing and singing again.

Don’t Give Up – a show highlight!

I did miss the ‘Light Coat’ but the lights more than made up for that. One of my favourite songs from the album followed and having seen and heard versions of ‘Don’t Give Up’ live over the years, I was wondering how this would hold up on this tour. I need not have worried. Jennie Abrahamson sang the Kate Bush part better than anyone I have ever heard. The song was superbly played and Peter sang his heart out.

Sticking to the running order on the album, ‘That Voice Again’ was the next serving of music. Another great version followed and then it was the song I had been looking forward to all night, namely ‘Mercy Street’. The lighting towers came all around Peter as he lay down on the floor to deliver the song. Musically this was superb, but visually for me a disappointment as all that the crowd could see was what was relayed on the big screen, and even then for a gig that size, they were not that big.

Disappointing and pedestrian?!?!

My sense of disappointment remained with a quite frankly pedestrian version of ‘Big Time’ and this is where Peter’s voice failed to match what he did on the album. This is of course excusable as the man is over sixty, but the backing singers did most of the singing quite frankly. ‘We Do What We’re Told’ came next with Peter again returning to the piano and this was the surprise of the night. A song that sort of passes me by on the album was transformed into a tour de force of menace and foreboding by a powerful version of the song. The lighting towers were brought to the front of the stage and for some reason the whole effect reminded me of Orwell’s 1984. ‘This Is The Picture’ followed and again this was a pleasant surprise as once again the song was transformed for me by hearing this live. The final song from the ‘So’ album was ‘In Your Eyes’ and a joyous version of the song followed with the crowd again on it’s feet and clapping along.

All too soon the musicians left the stage, but after a very short pause they returned to blast out ‘The Tower That Ate People’, and what an energetic and strong performance of the song it was. The lighting exploded around the band and Peter growled the vocals with menace. There were echoes of ‘The Lamia’ when Peter moved to the centre of the stage and a large red curtain descended around him. Not sure of the relevance to the song, but it was a good effect. After a short speech by Peter the familiar drum pattern of ‘Biko’ started. Peter sang the first sections of the song an octave down from the album version as he did on his ‘New Blood’ tour. The song still sounded powerful and of course the crowd sang their hearts out. Peter left the stage and one by one, so did the rest of the band until only Manu remained. Suddenly it was all over.

Conclusion:

All in all the concert was superb and I really enjoyed it, except for the beginning of the concert for the reasons I have already explained. Peter was in fine voice and the band were superb. It was some of the best concert lighting and use of visual effects I have ever seen. I had a great view of the whole stage and despite the usual MEN Arena poor sound (I have never seen a gig there where the sound has been right) Peter’s sound was probably the best I have heard there.

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