Thursday, 31 March 2011
No one could ever accuse Peter Gabriel of not being adventurous and the second outing for the New Blood Orchestra provided some unexpected surprises. I caught the previous tour at the 02 back in early 2010, effectively promoting his Scratch My Back orchestral covers album which I reviewed in some depth here. This show (Wed 23rd March 2011) at the Hammersmith Apollo mainly featured orchestral versions of his own extensive repertoire.
The first surprises were in the first set. To kick off with 'Intruder' seemed a strange choice with all its dissonance and harshness. However, on reflection, it was a good choice to both enable any settling down to take place and keep any hiccups hidden behind the sonic assault the piece has. However, that didn't work as the next song, 'Wallflower' PG actually had to stop after a disastrous start. Even after the restart things still sounded awry with tuning problems and PG's voice barely audible. It seemed the cellos were not playing from the same score, such a massive shame as they stole the show during the 2nd set with a stunning rhythmic part for 'Red Rain'. I sunk into my seat both with embarrassment for the man himself and also in case my good buddies were wondering why on earth I had encouraged them so enthusiastically to accompany me into London for the day!
Strangely, another surprise, it was the back to back selection of the Scratch my Back songs that eased the show back on course despite PG's vocal still being too low in the mix. The empty and plaintive 'Boy in the Bubble' was followed by the dramatic 'Après Moi', then 'The Book of Love' with 'The Power of the Heart' completing the Scratch my Back selection. Another one of PG's more strident pieces, 'Darkness', was shoehorned in before the final surprise of the first set, a brilliant and moving version of his timeless classic 'Biko'. Here the overhead and back of the stage carried a simple film of some candles burning along with a monochromatic picture of Stephen Biko himself. Until then the graphics had been noticeably out of sync with the music, a technical surprise, but once Biko had finished the sense of joy and delight that being part of the Peter Gabriel congregation had returned in abundance.
The second half was blissfully transcendent!
Peter Gabriel is an extraordinary encourager, whether that be of his noticeable support of World Music, cornerstone of The Elders peace initiative and of his music collaborations. So the romantic in me imagines a serious yet inspiring team talk at half time as the all round improvement was staggering! It seemed everything was sorted and now PG's vocal soared... clearly a gig of two halves!
The set started of with San Jacinto and moved through Digging in the Dirt, Signal to Noise, Downside Up, Mercy Street, Rhythm of the Heat, Blood of Eden, Red Rain and finishing with the evergreen favourite: Solsbury Hill. We were then treated to encores of In your Eyes and Don't Give Up with the wistful instrumental The Nest That Sailed the Sky finally sending us on our way. My posse was split on singer Ane Brun's interpretation of Kate Bush's memorable vocal on the original Don't Give Up, personally I thought the girl did great, made it her own with perfect control and diction.
In his March Full Moon video Peter says this whole New Blood project will be put to bed once the last handful of North American dates are complete. We can look forward to both the album and the DVD filmed at the Hammersmith shows, if you can make the real thing I so strongly recommend it. I had not even planned on going, it was all a last minute moment of madness and, despite the gremlins in the first part, I cannot fully express how special it was. Like many established artists PG now has less constraints to find new ways of expressing his creativity even if some think it is merely whimsical. His voice just keeps getting better, his music never ceases to amaze and now John Metcalfe's brilliant arrangements provide another dimension for our listening delight.