MINNEAPOLIS — Peter Gabriel's first major solo tour of the U.S. in a decade features a giant egg, a huge transparent rubber ball, dancers from Tanzania and a bicycle.
As the man himself sings in his latest single, "what a show."
Elaborate props and stagecraft are nothing new from the man who — while the lead singer for Genesis in the early 1970s — came onstage dressed as a flower. But they're surely out of step with the times now, when performers are rightfully shy of devices that might remind jaded concertgoers of the Stonehenge scene in "This Is Spinal Tap."
Even Spinal Tap acknowledged that there's a fine line between stupid and clever, though, and Gabriel always made sure that the theatrics served the music on Friday night in his two-and-a-half-hour set heavy on songs from his new album, Up, and Ovo, music he recorded for a visual project in London's Millennium Dome in 2000 (see "Peter Gabriel's Up Is A Downer, But In A Good Way"). It was also short on fan favorites and the hits that turned him into an MTV icon in the 1980s. The unfamiliar set list made for challenging listening and recurrent technical problems prevented the show from maintaining momentum, but by the time he and his six-piece ensemble rolled into his 1992 hit "Digging in the Dirt" halfway through the set, the cumulative effect of sight and sound created a palpable energy in the Target Center arena.
Gabriel opened the elaborate show with a minimalist touch, a solo piano version of "Here Comes the Flood" from his 1977 solo debut. Following it with the brooding, new "Darkness" and the majestic "Red Rain," he set the tone for the rest of the evening, which reflected more the artist's early prog-rock tendencies than the pop and world music explorations that marked much of his work in the late '80s and '90s. Most of the newer material is introspective, which seemed at odds with the communal "theater-in-the-round" stage setup; it was difficult for the audience to focus on the quieter material when the spotlights kept much of the crowd in view even during the quieter numbers.
Still, when it worked, the center-stage setup was stunning. During the slowly building "Sky Blue," gospel quartet the Blind Boys of Alabama (who also opened the show) rose from the middle of the stage to sing backup. Bass singer Clarence Fountain provided a low-end counterpoint to singer (and Peter's daughter) Melanie Gabriel's alto during the song's wordless chorus, as the giant egg — the "ovo" — rose above the bandmembers.
Unfortunately, that's also when the technical problems began. The PA system dropped out completely, meaning that only those closest to the stage could hear the quartet's harmonies. The problem continued during "The Barry Williams Show," and when Gabriel circled above the stage with a video camera trained on the audience, it just seemed kind of silly without the song's music and lyrics being audible.
As technicians worked to solve the sound problems, longtime Gabriel bassist Tony Levin and drummer Ged Lynch worked up a rhythm to get the crowd going, turning an otherwise awkward stretch into the night's first clap-along moment. With the PA fixed, Gabriel and his daughter duetted on the ballad "Mercy Street" before the band tore into "Digging in the Dirt." The atonal interplay of guitarists David Rhodes and Richard Evans emphasized the song's themes of domestic discord as Gabriel delivered an angry performance miles away from the thoughtful ruminations of the Up material.
For one of that album's few uptempo numbers, "Growing Up," Gabriel crawled into a transparent rubber ball, singing the entire song as he rolled and bounced around the stage, marking a turn in the concert's momentum toward a celebratory vibe that made the rest of the evening seem like a different show than the 90 minutes that had come before. "Animal Nation," a song that grew out of his musical work with primates (see "Peter Gabriel Teaching Monkeys to Play Keyboards"), was a playful romp, while "Solsbury Hill" and "Sledgehammer" gave the night its sonic and emotional high points.
He closed the main set quietly, with the arty "Signal to Noise," but returned for the Gen X love anthem "In Your Eyes" in the encore, with his Tanzanian backup singers filling in for West African singer Youssou N'Dour, who sang on the original. By that time, the crowd had all but forgotten the sound problems and darker moments from earlier in the night, and came together in a sing-along that served as a reminder of just how powerful a Peter Gabriel concert can be.
Peter Gabriel tour dates, according to his publicist:
- 11/18 - Philadelphia, PA @ First Union Center
- 11/19 - Cleveland, OH @ Gund Arena
- 11/21 - New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
- 11/22 - New York, NY @ Madison Square Garden
- 11/24 - Washington, DC @ MCI Center
- 11/25 - Boston, MA @ FleetCenter
- 11/26 - Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino
- 11/28 - Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
- 11/29 - Montreal, QC @ Bell Centre
- 12/2 - Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
- 12/3 - Auburn Hills, MI @ Palace of Auburn Hills
- 12/5 - Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center
- 12/8 - San Diego, CA @ San Diego Sports Arena
- 12/11 - Los Angeles, CA @ Staples Center
- 12/12 - Phoenix, AZ @ America West Arena
- 12/14 - Oakland, CA @ Network Associates Coliseum
- 12/15 - San Jose, CA @ Compaq Center at San Jose
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.