Whatever the opposite of a grand entrance is, this is it.
A figure, dressed in black appears, claiming to be an AI Peter Gabriel, and explains that we are taking a journey back four million years. He’s then joined by bass player Tony Levin and they sit, in the darkness under the moon which is the only thing lighting the room. Then they play “Washing Of The Water”.
There are a lot more people arriving for “Growing Up” but it’s hard to tell who, given there’s still only the – metaphorically at least – light of the moon.
Then. Well, then, a gig breaks out. The big screens arrive for “Panopticom” and it feels like an arena concert, an event if you like.
But even the inclusion of that is indicative of Peter Gabriel 2023. It’s from a new record ‘i/o” which he’s releasing with every full moon. About half of it is available so far, but he plays it all. Now it’s brave, and much of it is very good, but it does make for a rather odd atmosphere as if people are watching a recital rather than a big music show.
The title track is a fine song, mind you, and when they do a sensational “Digging In The Dirt” it is visceral for perhaps the first time. Artificial Intelligence and its potential is at the heart of the new work and “Olive Tree” makes that clear. Indeed Gabriel explains the songs at length as if he’s aware that what he’s doing is unconventional and is trying to make it more inclusive.
And the word “inclusive” is perhaps best to describe “Sledgehammer”. The big hit of the first half, and effectively its encore. It all gets a bit Top Of The Pops, but my it is fun.
Part two is more of the same. Mid-paced, intricate but also immersive and incredibly so. This is a show that he’s planned to the nth degree. The visuals are made by a series of contemporary artists and some of the animation the Aardman studio from Bristol, and they each compliment the songs wonderfully – as they had done in part one too, especially so on “This Is Home”.
The band too are majestic. Each getting their moments to shine, “Love Can Heal” is a suitably understated highlight (its noticeably not the loudest gig ever, as if even that was to let you think rather than bombard) and “Road To Joy” is a funky piece of pop music.
Perhaps the best of the second half though is “Don’t Give Up”. Another one of the 80s hits but which here is a vehicle for the superb harmonies of Ayanna Witter-Johnson (who also played the Cello).
That is one of a few “Up” songs in the second half, “Red Rain” and “Big Time” where Josh Shpak’s skill on the Trumpet shines, are clear favourites. Gabriel had said this was a trade-off between the new and the old and this is what he must’ve meant, given there are a lot of fresh songs sprinkled in, “The Court” is perhaps the pick.
PG appears to be enjoying himself, literally skipping around the stage on “Solsbury Hill” – which clearly connects with many thousands here – the one he uses to end part two.
There are a couple of encores, however. “In Your Eyes” is light-hearted and they return for “Biko” which makes an altogether more serious point and ends with Stephen Biko’s image on the video wall looking down on the crowd, as if imploring a better future.
Gabriel had agreed with that sentiment: “as always, what happens after this is up to you,” he’d said. That’s true, but its just as true to say that what had happened in the near three hours of these two sets was up to him.
It was brave. It was unconventional, but more than anything, it was exquisitely conceived. The input and output of Peter Gabriel’s unique vision.