PETER GABRIEL – THE O2 ARENA, LONDON 19.6.23
Anticipation was very high, especially after reading the rave reviews of the other European (and closer to home) tour dates. This particular mammoth tour is to promote his new ‘i/o’ album which has no particular release date as of yet.
His fans have been treated to the odd song from this elusive album, as the man himself has been leaking the odd song to the world every time there is a full moon (you would expect nothing less from Mr Gabriel I suppose).
I had no idea that I was attending this concert until I received a last minute text from an old friend with a spare ticket 24 hours before the event. The offer was too good to pass up so frantic logistical research was soon underway to make sure I got there for showtime.
Nothing could prepare me for what would unfold on the day, mind you. Everything was good in the world whilst at work until the place very quickly went up in flames. It was a heart-breaking sight and something I would not like to experience again in my lifetime. I thank our lucky stars that everyone got out in one piece and that is the main thing. I was in a state of shock, but somehow I hot footed it to the train station and headed London way for the evening’s gig, hoping it would take my mind off previous recent events.
I eventually got to the 02 Arena after briefly losing my bearings and met my friend outside the merchandise area (let’s call him Dave…as that’s his name). Tour shirts were going for £40 a pop, but my mate insisted on joining the queue to purchase himself one of those particular fabric souvenirs to commemorate this rare performance we were about to witness tonight. We did get accused of jumping the queue though but I find it hard to fathom how the queue monitor person failed to notice a 6 foot 7 guy standing next to me. The designs were vague but stylish and only an uber Peter Gabriel fan would recognise what you were wearing in the street. My friend bought a pale blue one that wouldn’t have looked amiss on the back of a cyclist.
We slowly navigated ourselves around the cavernous outer gig areas, trying to match up the seat numbers on our tickets to the random numbers hanging above the gig hall entrance doors that didn’t seem to match up with anything we had in front of us. We ended up asking a staff member for help who promptly flashed their torch in the general direction of our seats on the ground level (not before we arranged to remortgage our houses in order to buy two beers from the bar). As our bums took to our seats, the venue went dark, a big cheer from the crowd went up and Peter Gabriel took to the stage to begin one of two sets we were to be treated to tonight.
He seemed very relaxed and spoke in hushed tones as he explained the opening new song of the night (‘Washing Of The Water’). As he stood alone on the stage, a tiny star/meteorite landed on his hand as he then thrust it onto some rocks on the floor which in turn created fire, signifying the beginning of life. He then introduced his band members to the stage who were as follows :
Tony Levin – Bass
David Rhodes – Guitars
Ayanna Witter-Johnson – Cello/Keys/Vocals
Richard Evans – Guitar/flute
Marina Moore – Violin/Viola/Vocals
Don McLean – Keyboards
Josh Shpak – Trumpet/French Horn/Keys/Vocals
Manu Katche – Drums
The beginning of the set felt very intimate and had the feel of a group of people playing music around a campfire. Peter informed us that he was in fact an avatar tonight, but had used the technology in a different way to Abba who were performing down the road as we speak. He said his avatar was twenty years older with added pounds added to his image’s weight, while his real Adonis-like body is relaxing somewhere on a beach.
There was a huge circular LED screen hanging above the band with the world projected onto it. This LED prop would feature centrally throughout tonight’s performance. Peter delivered quite large monologues between songs and talked about A.I and how it could work for us as well as against us, if used in the correct ways. He then broke into ‘Panopticom’ complete with LED video screens either side of the stage mapping out the band member’s faces as they played.
Shortly afterwards the circular screen was elevated higher to reveal the full band in their places including the amazing Manu Katche on the drums. He played the title track from his forthcoming new album (‘i/o’) which went down really well with the audience considering it hasn’t had an official release yet. The sound levels had increased at this point and the chorus to this song was upbeat as well as uplifting.
Fan favourite ‘Digging In The Dirt’ was up next and at this point my friend Dave was in full flow and singing along enthusiastically. Peter Gabriel and his band also played a song called ‘This Is Home’ which was an ode to the place we feel safest in our lives. The circular screen projected images of cups of tea, beans on a stove and asparagus sizzling in a frying pan while the other surrounding screens depicted images of various fruit juices being poured into cups.
As if that wasn’t spectacular enough, Peter ended his first set of the night by launching into his 80’s pop anthem ‘Sledgehammer’ which got everyone to their feet, proving he’s still got the dance moves in the process. As the last note rang out, we were given time to catch our breath in the form of a short interval.
Set two featured some new songs once again, but before we knew it, the opening strains to ‘Don’t Give Up’ were played and our collective hearts melted. Of course we wanted Kate Bush to suddenly emerge onto the stage, but her vocals were very ably replaced by Ayanna Witter-Johnson who stepped away from her cello to deliver a great vocal during this brilliant duet.
One of my favourite songs from 1986’s ‘So’ album was up shortly afterwards in the form of ‘Red Rain’ which was truly epically performed by Peter and the band whilst bathed in crimson light. The band seriously got their Funk on during ‘Big Time’ (from the same album) before they promptly got their Folk on for the classic ‘Solsbury Hill’ which got everyone standing and singing along. This was to be the last song of the official set.
After a short break an encore was performed in the form of ‘In Your Eyes’ which is another fan favourite. After this song, Peter and the band took a bow for the audience, not before Peter thanked all of the crew and his band members for their involvement with the tour.
We thought it was all over, but they came back on to perform the Peter Gabriel anthem ‘Biko’ which he dedicated to all of the people using their voice to stand against racism. The anthemic chorus was sung by the crowd with their fists in the air long after Peter and the band had departed the stage and was a moving and fitting end to an entertaining night.
It was a true multimedia night and you could tell that there was much attention afforded to detail with the music and visuals that were on offer tonight. Peter Gabriel is a true artist with his roots in progressive rock who translates his sometimes high concept ideas into digestible pieces of popular musical art for the masses. My friend has wanted to see a Peter Gabriel gig since we were at school and he definitely wasn’t disappointed. I think he regrets wearing that flower suit though.
Peter Gabriel setlist:
‘Washing Of The Water’
‘Four Kinds Of Horses’
‘Digging In The Dirt’
‘Playing For Time’ (with Tom Cawley)
‘This Is Home’
‘Love Can Heal’
‘Road To Joy’
‘Don’t Give Up’ (vocals by Ayanna Witter-Johnson)
‘Live And Let Live’
‘In Your Eyes’