Transcendent

God only knows how many live shows that I have had the good fortune to see over the years – several hundred, at least.

From local bands in dingy clubs to major bands at stadium shows and festivals, there are few acts that I could have reasonably hoped to see live that I have not had the opportunity to do so.

And, if asked to choose one that I’d wish to traverse time to experience again, I wouldn’t hesitate in an answer.

Peter Gabriel.

My initial exposure to the one-time Genesis frontman was during my musical formative years when Shock The Monkey became an unexpected pop hit.

As I continued through high school, I came to know songs like Games Without Frontiers, I Go Swimming, and even Walk Through The Fire (a track from the Against All Odds soundtrack) from the rock and alternative stations I listened to.

I purchased Gabriel’s commercial breakthrough So upon release and began delving into his self-titled back catalog even snagging a copy of the soundtrack to Birdy on which the singer reworked some of his previously released tracks.

By the time Passion, Gabriel’s stunningly evocative collection of music from and inspired by the movie The Last Temptation Of Christ arrived in ’89, I was completely on board and awaiting each new release.

Of course, I soon learned that waiting for new music from Peter Gabriel was almost as maddening as waiting for Godot, but arrive the next album did when he released Us in autumn of 1992.

It was on the subsequent tour for Us that a friend from the record store where I was working snagged a handful of tickets on the day of show and six of us made a three-hour road trip.

The band – featuring long-time members like bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes as well as newer members like drummer Manu Katché and violinist Shankar – was stellar and Gabriel was riveting.

Of all those shows I’ve seen, over all these years, I have never seen a performer absolutely own an audience as Peter Gabriel that night. There were some visual effects, but they were minimal, unobtrusive, and perfectly complimented the music.

The focal point was the man and the music.

At several points during the show, I vividly recall scanning the sold-out arena and being amazed at how transfixed the entire crowd was, all eyes set on the singer.

Afterwards, my friends and I huddled outside on the concourse, smoking cigarettes and discussing what we had just witnessed. The most effusive praise coming from our receiving clerk, a tall, burly character with long, stringy hair.

The guy was a punk rock fan, had once been a road manager for Scottish punk group The Exploited, and liked relatively little music outside the genre. A good fifteen years older than most of us, he was old enough to claim to have seen Jimi Hendrix in concert.

He declared it to be the best show he’d ever seen.

I couldn’t argue otherwise.

Here are four songs Peter Gabriel performed that night which I recall as being particularly memorable…

Peter Gabriel – Solsbury Hill
from Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats

If I ever took on the daunting task of compiling a list of personal favorite songs, I would have to think that the poignant, spiritual, and subtly anthemic Solsbury Hill would be a strong candidate for the top ten.

No matter how many times the song might serve as the musical accompaniment to a trailer for yet another vapid romantic comedy, nothing can diminish the power of the song or wear out its welcome with me.

Peter Gabriel – Family Snapshot
from Peter Gabriel

Gabriel enters the headspace of an assasin drawing on the unsuccessful attempt on George Wallace’s life and the actual murder of John Kennedy for inspiration and imagery. Each and every line resonates, upping the ante and pushing the song to its harrowing climax as the music builds.

And then, Gabriel reverts to the imagined childhood of the protagonist, witnessing the carnage as his family crumbles and offering the heartbreaking plea, “Come back mum and dad, you’re growing apart, you know that I’m growing up sad.”

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live

Us had a focus on relationships in various states of disrepair none more so than Secret World which closed the album.

Live, Gabriel used the song to close the show. Walking to the front of the stage, he opened a large suitcase and, one by one, each member of the band climbed into the container and dropped out of sight as the song ended.

Gabriel then closed the suitcase and brought a conclusion to the main set.

Peter Gabriel – Here Comes The Flood
from Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats

After ending the main set with Secret World, Gabriel and the band returned to the stage – along with with Congolese singer Papa Wemba, who had been the opening act, and his band – for encores of In Your Eyes and Biko.

At that point, the crowd of musicians bade the audience farewell, leaving Gabriel alone again. Bathed in a ghostly light, accompanying himself on keyboards, he delivered one final song – a stunning, haunting version of the sparse Here Come The Flood.

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3 Responses to Transcendent

  1. Perplexio says:

    I know little of Gabriel’s solo work outside the hits and his score for the film, Rabbit-Proof Fence. I’ve always been more on board with his former Genesis bandmate, Steve Hackett’s solo work. Hackett’s guitar playing literally gives me chills (in the best possible way). I consider his solo in Firth of Fifth to be one of the best guitar solos ever… by anyone.

  2. […] (plus, seeing Gabriel on the ensuing Us tour might be the highlight of my concert-going life) […]

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