Peter Gabriel at Red Rocks, 6/13/11

Categories: Last Night

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Jon Solmon
Peter Gabriel last night at Red Rocks.


PETER GABRIEL at RED ROCKS | 06/13/11

The scope of Peter Gabriel's set Monday night seemed entirely appropriate for the size and majesty of Red Rocks. Gabriel showed up in Morrison with a full orchestra and an elaborate set of visual effects, forgoing his usual art-rock approach for a sound rooted in the concert hall. The resulting collaboration with the New Blood Orchestra offered an ambitious reimagining of key songs from Gabriel's catalogue, as well as a diverse selection of covers, interpretations pulled from the recent Scratch My Back project. The retooled takes on Gabriel classics and songs by everyone from the Magnetic Fields to Paul Simon offered hits and misses, but there was no denying the imagination, ambition and pure theatricality behind the show.

For the grand scope and scale of the concert, Gabriel kicked things off in an understated way. He emerged in front of a horizontal screen decked completely in black, sporting a shaved head and a white goatee. The sun had yet to set, and no opening band had taken the stage. Gabriel started simply, declaring, "And finally we play at Red Rocks." He spoke of his collaboration with the New Blood Orchestra, of "throwing away" his normal rock band to work with arranger John Metcalfe and conductor Ben Foster. Before launching into his performance with the ensemble, however, he introduced backup singer Ane Brun, a Norwegian singer-songwriter.

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Photo by Jon Solomon

Brun appeared on stage only to sing two songs, ballads that benefited from her haunting fingerpicked guitar styles and her winding vocal style. With an approach to melody that echoed European folk traditions and boasted some Celtic-style twists, Brun helped set a tone in the audience that would last the entire night, an attention that seemed more fit for a concert hall than a rock arena. The reaction had much to do with the evening's orchestration. As soon as the horizontal screen at the forefront of the stage lifted to the sounds of David Bowie's "Heroes" reimagined as an epic orchestral ode, it was the clear the audience wasn't in for a typical stadium rock show.

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Photo by Jon Solomon

After a similarly expanded version of his own song "Wallflower," Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra immediately rolled out several cover tunes as dark clouds converged overhead and the rain began to fall, the ensemble offered multi-layered and dense versions of Regina Spektor's "Apres Moi," Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble," Arcade Fire's "My Body Is a Cage," and the Magnetic Fields' "Book of Love." A series of colorful images on the raised horizontal screen and a triptych of vertical canvases behind the orchestra added visual context to the music.

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The rain started to fall in earnest, and lyrics like "Be afraid of the cold" and "After me comes the flood" were punctuated by peals of thunder and the dance of lighting bolts on the distant horizon. The weather only seemed to add force to the large-scale feel of the orchestration; dense piano lines, furious string flights and bold statements from the brass section added a different dimension to some of the cover tunes and seemed to sap some of the effect from a few others.

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Still, the crowd seemed engaged from the very first stark piano line. Maybe it was a combination of the brief spate of rain or the format of the show, but the crowd of mostly older, middle-aged patrons displayed the attention and silence of a concert-hall crowd. Apart from the few occasional cries and whoops, the front of the amphitheatre remained rapt as the orchestra played.

The latter half of the first set and the entirety of the second set shifted from covers to Gabriel originals, many of which took a different sound and contour under the new structure. "Biko" benefited from the added force and effect of the driving beat from the timpani; "Digging in the Dirt" took on another level of eeriness with the suggestive strings and the insidious horns. "Intruder" and "Blood of Eden" gained new dimensions as well. The performance of "Solsbury Hill," seeped in the strings and bright piano work of the orchestra, was a high point of the second half.

Several songs from 1986's So album received similar treatment, with varying results. Songs like "Don't Give Up," "Mercy Street" and "Red Rain" seemed designed for the orchestral additions, taking on a new level of force and effect. The encore performance of "In Your Eyes," performed in a more staccato style and lacking the driving drum backup of the original, left a yearning for a performance with Gabriel's rock outfit.

There were a few such moments during the live Blood Red Orchestra collaboration. Gabriel's standard powerful chorus of backup singers were replaced with only two voices; hard-hitting classics like "Sledgehammer," "Big Time" and "Steam" were left off the list. Combined with the tepid response from the audience, the lack of the rock dynamic was noticeable at key points.

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Photo by Jon Solomon

Still, the performance underlined a different dimension of Gabriel and his music. The fact that so many of Gabriel's own compositions worked with a full orchestra displayed the true depth of his skill as a composer, and he showed complete vocal ease in making the shift to the new aural setting. While some moments left a thirst for another kind of Gabriel show, his skill and prowess as a performer was constant. And Red Rocks was the perfect forum for the experiment.

Click through for Critic's Notebook and Setlist

Location Info

Venue

Map

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

18300 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison, CO

Category: General

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12 comments
Mmgbe
Mmgbe

While I respect folks' opinions, if you were disappointed, then you failed to do some viewing of Youtube videos beforehand to know what to expect.  I admit to being a PG fanboy.  My wife and I went for our anniversary and thought it was amazing.  Peter's voice is phenomenal --- no auto-tuned BS whatsoever (he hit most of his high notes --- how many singers his age do that???  He's the damn Tony Bennett of Art Rock!).  Next, his musicianship and talent as a composer is nearly unparalleled --- if you did not trip out to the complexity and drive of Signal to Noise, then you have a real problem and I am suspect of your ability to appreciate music (the record version of this song has the London Symphony Orchestra playing on it and Peter composed it all --- it is a master work orchestral composition.  Finally, with a song like Don't Give Up (written about the Great Depression here in America), Peter demonstrates that he can capture the American story in song to the same extent any other songwriter ever has (yes, I'm talking Guthrie, Williams, Dylan, Springsteen, et al).  Feeling how relevant that song is to the troubles we find our country in economically, I find myself wiping away a few tears during the performance.

Last but not least, to see this amazing concert in the Red Rocks venue --- a place as beautiful as [your god of choice or none at all] could possibly make --- was just mind-blowing icing on the cake.  I truly hope this will come out on Blu Ray or be available to procure a soundboard from somewhere as we will never forget this show.  Peace and be sure to see this guy if you ever can with what life he has left as he is a global, musical treasure.  Mike

Adam
Adam

Mike, good review.  Just got back from the Chicago show.  A life long Genesis and Gabriel fan, i youtubed much of the show before I went.  I loved the 2nd set.  The first set had me a bit anxious but I knew what was coming so it was fine.  The people around me seemed to be having a great time.   Lots of fans in the audience in Chicago!

Vino134
Vino134

I feel the people who were disappointed with this show did not know what they were getting themselves into and do not know anything about PG.  He has been working on this project for awhile now.  PG is always cutting edge and is always looking for new ways to defy himself within the realms of music.  I saw PG in 1992 with Paula Cole on backup vocals and Manu Katche rocking out the trap, I saw him in 2001 with Rodes, and Liven rocking out old classics as well as the then new Up record.  I have seen over 130 concerts and PG still holds top ranks in my repartoire.

Jlzoe
Jlzoe

The problem I have is the tickets went on sale as a Peter Gabriel Concert which carries a lot of expectations. I immediatley bought tickets to take a friend knowing the past experiences I have had.  THEN found out he "threw away" the band. AND I am flying to Boston with added expense. For a musical experiment. My date will be looking at me like wtf?I understand Peter Gabriel's desire to do something different.Here is the problem;He is not the foirst Rock genre artist to huit the stage with strings..Linda Rondstadt did it... sucked Rod Stewart did it.... suckedRobert Plant kind of did it.... sucked

Jcb6521wbp
Jcb6521wbp

I saw PG for the first time in 1975 Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. He was different then and has always been that way. When he left Genesis no one liked his music. Then people would get it. Then he would change again. I never get tickets unless I read reviews from the past year. If he would have tried to give the rock show a lot of people wanted it would have been real ugly. He was streaching his voice at the end of the show. Can't expect a person of that age to sing it like he was 30, not going to happen. I thought the show was great and I would go see it again. It is amazing to see the tranformation of 25 + years of his preformances.

Chris B
Chris B

I was very disappointed. The ticket should have read, New Blood Orchestra, with the top billing, then Peter Gabriel. I wanted to hear HIM sing HIS songs, not some unknown artist. The pictures and or graphics on the screens left a lot to be desired. Why they chose to distort faces was beyond me,For the price of the ticket, I wish I could get a refund!

EricK
EricK

The show was boring and put me to sleep. The most exciting thing about that night was the lightning show. It was disappointing!

TomS
TomS

If you went to the show looking for a Rock-n-Roll show, then you would be disappointed.  If you went in to hear an orchestra and a great singer, then it was was great.  But I will admit that the first set was a bit slow, but picked up as it progressed.  The second set was wonderful from start to finish.  An Orchestra can rock.

SUECROSBYDOYLE
SUECROSBYDOYLE

ONE FOR THE BUCKET LIST, FULL MOON, RAIN, LIGHTENING STRIKES,,, AND PETER..AT RED ROCKS.. HOPE HE WILL COME BACK.. TO COLORADO

Ed
Ed

Great review, and I especially think the last paragraph is a PERFECT summary of the show's allure and Peter Gabriel's talents as a performer and composer/song-writer. THANKS!

Gatorhouseshoes
Gatorhouseshoes

The lightning at times seemed in synch with the music!  I thought it was great.

Matt C.
Matt C.

One note the date and place stamp actually showed during Intruder suggesting a security camera. 

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