"The More We Are Protected, The More We’re Trapped Within"

Last night I saw Peter Gabriel and Sevara Nezarkhan at Chastain Park Amphitheatre here in Atlanta. The set list:

Red Rain
More Than This
Secret World
Games Without Frontiers
Mercy Street
Darkness
Digging In The Dirt
Don’t Give Up (duet with his daughter, Melanie Gabriel)
The Tower That Ate People
Growing Up
Animal Nation
Solsbury Hill
Sledgehammer
Signal To Noise

In Your Eyes
Biko

It was a fine evening. Although Gabriel doesn’t seem to have the same kind of commanding onstage presence that blew me away when I first saw him in 1983 (complete with the ritualistic face paint he sports on the cover of his “Plays Live” album), his voice was still in fine form, his band sounded great, and his two hours’ performance was well-paced and nicely blended his old and new material. Indeed, the new material really made the show: songs like “Growing Up” and “Signal to Noise” revealed an edgy, muscular sound that differs dramatically from the cool reserve of much of Gabriel’s pop work. “The Tower” from his “OVO” soundtrack crackled with a sense of energetic urgency, built around what seemed to be the theme of the evening: that when we try to protect ourselves, we end up just becoming trapped within. In introducing the song, he used gated communities as his example, but given that the concert included several political numbers (“Games w/o Frontiers,” “Signal to Noise” and “Biko”) it’s clear that the “protection” that is bothering PG also functions on the level of nation-states. Other highlights included an a capella intro to “Mercy Street” and the dedication of “Animal Nation” to the Atlanta-based Language Research Center, where bonobo chimpanzees have demonstrated complex language skills (and where Gabriel has participated in research). I saw the setlist before the show (more on that later) and the encore was listed as either “Come Talk to Me” or “Biko.” I got my wish: when announcing the final song, PG said “We did this one last night for the first time in a long while, and it feels really good to be singing it again. It’s a song about the importance of resistance.” Amen! And just like he did the previous times I saw him perform that song, he ended it with the audience singing along with him, only to issue us a challenge: “The rest is up to you.”

Beautiful women: the opening act of the show featured Sevara Nazarkhan, a lovely vocalist from Uzbekistan with a great stage presence. Her CD is fabulous, if you like worldbeat stuff. She joined PG for the encore, covering Youssou N’Dour’s part on “In Your Eyes.” Also on stage with PG was his daughter, Melanie Gabriel, who covered Kate Bush’s parts in “Games w/o Frontiers” and “Don’t Give Up.”

Fun and games on stage: This was the “Growing Up” tour, and so the show had a playful edge. PG and Melanie rode around stage on segways during “Games” while “Growing Up” featured PG rolling around the stage inside a huge plastic ball, propelling it like a hamster in a wheel. And the singer sported a large jacket with blinking lights during “Sledgehammer.”

A stroll, but no dive: Longtime fans of PG know that in the old days, he would sing “Lay Your Hands on Me” and literally dive backward into the audience. While no such stunt happened at this show, the band finished “Solsbury Hill” with a quick stroll into the audience at the front of the mezzanine level.

Unexpected celebrity sighting: my wife and I got our tickets through a friend who works for Real World Records. As is often the case when we get tickets through my industry connections, we end up sitting with industry people. Sure enough, next to my wife were several folks with backstage passes. Indeed, the guy right next to her was quite good-looking and seemed familiar, although I couldn’t place him… he had a copy of the setlist, which he gave to me; we were chatting so I asked him if he was with a label. He laughed a bit self-consciously and said he was a musician and had helped PG with a recent remix. “That’s great,” I said, and introduced myself. He smiled shyly back and said “Hi, I’m Trent Reznor.” I tried to act cool (don’t think I did a very good job of it).

Sorry this is such a long post: but it was truly a magical evening!

Note: Featured image (Peter Gabriel with camera) comes from the page on his website where you can order a DVD form this tour.

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