Peter Gabriel - concert reviews (Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim [12/10/2002] and Staples Center [12/11/2002])

This was the first tour of Peter Gabriel's ( that I've seen, and since I don't know that I'll ever have the opportunity to see him again, I am so glad that I was able to see him twice.  I missed the last tour because of geography problems - he was going the opposite direction of me, so I missed him in two locations.

I've been a fan of Genesis for quite some time, and by association, of the solo work of some of the Genesis band members, in particular of Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks.  I've seen Phil Collins on many occasions but have never had the chance to see Tony Banks perform his solo work, so I was very excited to be able to finally see Peter Gabriel live.

In support of his new CD release "Up", the current tour is entitled the Growing Up Tour, borrowing from the title of one of the CD's tracks.  Two opening acts support Peter on this tour.  The first act is The Blind Boys of Alabama (, who won a Grammy for their last release.  They perform for about half an hour.  The second act is Hukwe Zawose and his nephew Charles Zawose (, who are Tanzanian traditional musicians/singers performing music from their heritage.  They perform for about 20 minutes.  There is then a 20 minute intermission for stage preparation/transition, and once Peter takes the stage, he performs for about 2 1/2 hours, inclusive of encores.

On Tuesday night at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, I was flying solo and had a seat on the floor in the third row.  That ended up putting me pretty much in front of Tony Levin (Peter's longtime bassist) all night, which was cool.  It was great to get close-up views of everyone, and there is a different energy sitting on the floor, that close to the stage.  I've never sat that close for any concert before.  I forgot how small the Pond is, having seen Phil Collins there on his "Dance Into the Light" tour many years ago.  There is much more intimacy there, which is nice.  Unfortunately, the stadium wasn't very full at all.  The top section was empty, and the rest of the stadium was about half full.  The only upside to that is that the area where I was wasn't very crowded, so we weren't all smashed together, and I could sit down for two songs to take a break.  On Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, I was accompanied by my husband, and we had seats in the lower section, about half-way up, about in line with where David Rhodes (who plays electric guitar, among other things, on the tour) spent the evening.  It was nice to get a different perspective, to be able to see the whole stage and setup.  It wasn't very crowded to begin with, but by the time Peter was into his set, the stadium was pretty much full, except for the very top sections, which were sparsely populated.  I also noticed that my focus was different each night.  Since I was so close at the Pond, I was totally focussed on the concert and the people on stage.  A few times, I looked around just to see the crowd, but mostly, I forgot about them.  At the Staples Center, because I was further back, I was much more conscious of the crowd, of Peter's hold on the audience, and the reactions of the various audience members.  Very cool.

The set is quite elaborate and is designed as a concert in the round.  The very center of the round stage is on hydraulics, able to rise and descend.  The next ring of the stage is stationary.  The outer ring rotates clockwise.  There are also two big screens that show either pre-recorded accompaniment images to the songs or live camera shots of the band.  During the course of the show, the techs (the "orange people", as Peter refers to them as they are dressed in orange overalls) are quite busy, moving the various set pieces around, depending on the setting/choreography for each song.  There is also another element of the stage that descends from the ceiling, releasing other elements and at some points also serving as a second story to the stage.  Peter has a long-standing history of theatrical presentations in concert, dating back to his days in Genesis, and in working on the staging for this show, he told the stage designer that he wanted it to be multi-directional, not just horizontal, but also vertical.

On both nights, The Blind Boys of Alabama took the stage at 7:30pm, with Peter on hand to make the introductions.  At about 8:00, they gave way to the second act, who performed until about 8:20pm.  After that, the lights went up, the techs went about their business, and then Peter and his band took the stage at about 8:45pm.  At the Pond, they finished up at about 11:05pm.  At the Staples Center, they finished up at about 11:20pm.

The shows both nights were very similar, except for a couple of setlist changes.  Peter didn't play "Shock the Monkey" at the Pond, but he did at the Staples Center.  I don't know the setlist from the Pond well enough to know what he took out instead.  Peter only played "In Your Eyes" and "Father/Son" as encores at the Pond, but he also played "Family Snapshot" at the Staples Center.  The show at the Pond went really well, except that the techs had to come out at one point to fix something for Tony Levin.  At the Staples Center, the only hitch I noticed was that Peter sang the same verse twice in "Solsbury Hill".  Guess he was too busy pedaling to remember the next verse.  :)  (That comment will make sense after the next paragraph.)

Some of the highlights of the shows:

He played both "Red Rain" and "Solsbury Hill", both of which I love.  For "Solsbury Hill", a small bike was brought on stage, which Peter rode around and around during the song.  To begin with, the entire stage was stationary, but partway through the song, the outer ring began rotating, with most of the band members on it and Peter riding in the other direction.

For the song "Downside Up", Peter sang a duet with his backup singer Melanie, who also happens to be his daughter.  The ceiling set has already descended, and during a bridge in the song, two techs come running out with ladders, and both Peter and Melanie are wearing harnesses and strap themselves to the ceiling set.  When the ladders are removed, they reverse themselves and proceed to spend the remainder of the song walking upside down on the underside of the ceiling set.  It seems that singing that way would be more challenging as well, but it was wonderful to see.

For the song "The Barry Williams Show" (no connection to the Brady Bunch actor - just a pure case of coincidence), which is Peter's talk-show equivalent to Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry", the ceiling stage has descended, and Peter is now on the second level pushing around a live video camera as he sings.

For the song "Growing Up", a huge sphere had earlier descended from the ceiling set, revealing a plastic air-filled ball.  Peter stands in the middle of this, and the plastic ball descends further, over his head, until he is inside the ball, like a huge plastic hamster wheel.  Peter spends the duration of the song rolling the ball around the stage, sometimes at amazing speeds, or bouncing in the ball. I wonder how much practice he had to go through to be comfortable enough to be rolling around on the stage that quickly.

For the song "Sledgehammer", Peter is dressed in a leather jacket that has been implanted with spotlights.  Very funny to see, but I felt bad for the poor tech who had to follow him around making sure the power cord didn't get stuck.

"In Your Eyes" was a re-orchestrated version of the song and done very nicely.

It's hard to say what my favorite moment of the night was.  There were so many wonderful things, but if I had to pick a favorite, it was probably "Mercy Street".  Like many others, I absolutely love that song, so just being able to hear him sing it live was great, but I absolutely loved the staging, with all the guitarists sitting on the edge of the revolving ring of the stage and Melanie sitting in a little boat on the revolving ring while Peter wanders the stage, with the song ending with Peter getting almost to Melanie and then riding the stage with her and the boat at the end.  And yes, the beginning of the song was awesome, as all the band members, who sing backup except for the drummer, did an a capella version of the beginning of the song.  Even though I own Ovo, I've never had a chance to listen to it, so I didn't know "Downside Up" and "Father/Son", but I'm definitely going to listen to it now.  I really enjoyed listening to Melanie and Peter singing together, and I'm curious as to how the CD version sounds.  Since there was so much filming going on at both shows, I hope that means Peter will release a CD and a DVD of the tour, as I'd love to have the song with Melanie singing.  As for "Father/Son", after listening to the song the first night, I can understand why some people have had the emotional reaction they have had to it.  From the Genesis discussion list called "paperlate", many men have told of being in absolute tears at the end of the song and seeing others in the crowd with the same reaction.  It really is a beautiful song.  And I love the bracketing of the show, with Peter on stage alone singing "Here Comes the Flood" at the beginning and just him and Tony on stage at the end.

I did watch Melanie a lot during the shows, and she seemed pretty good singing, but she seemed a bit awkward at times, even this far into the tour.  Her movements were a bit jagged at times.  Maybe that's because she's not a seasoned veteran.  While many on paperlate have mentioned Melanie's looks, on the other hand, I don't recall anyone having said too much about Rachel Z, the keyboardist, and I would have thought she would have had great appeal for the guys.  I love her outfit (black pants, black sleeveless top, black fingerless gloves and shoulder-length hair), and it was very flattering on her.  I was amused thinking about the people who spent the evening watching her rocking behind all night.  She did seem very comfortable and natural and was very much the rock chick.

It was great to see how much fun Peter has having during the shows.  I spent a lot of time deciding if I preferred to watch him on stage or just closing my eyes and listening to him sing.  He sounds great.  Oh, and one little thing I noticed - usually, as with these shows, the performers have bottles of water during the show.  I noticed that with Peter, he instead had a little thermos with a pump dispenser by his keyboard, and he drank whatever liquid was in there from a white teacup.  That was funny.

On the whole, I think I enjoyed the Pond show more than the Staples Center show because of where I was sitting and the people around me.  At the Pond, everyone in the area was so into the show, as you'd probably expect being that close.  The only strange thing were the two women on my right, who kept trying to figure out before the show where the "front" of the stage was.  Is there a "front" for a center stage?  And, they had come in during the middle of the Blind Boys of Alabama's set, so they hadn't seen Peter at the beginning, so they were surprised that he was also serving as emcee for the night.  And yes, I thought that was very cool, that he didn't just show up for his set, but for the others as well.  At the Staples Center show, I found myself annoyed periodically throughout the show because of the people around me, from the three women in front of me who kept getting up and leaving for 20 minutes at a time only to return drunker and drunker each time, to the couple across the aisle who had co-opted two seats and seemed intent on seeing how close they could come to being intimate right then and there.  I don't understand why people pay $100+ to go to a show only to pay so little attention and to be so inconsiderate to others. There has been a lot of discussion on paperlate about people who want to stand up during a concert vs. those who want to sit down, but at least that's a matter of people being interested in the show.  In these cases, they were only half paying attention to the show and making it a challenge for those around them.  Oh, at the Pond, the man to my left had made a comment about also having been to the San Diego show the Sunday prior but had no memory of the stage moving because he'd apparently had a few too many to drink.  People have opportunity after opportunity to get drunk - why the heck do they do it before/during a concert?  It just makes no sense to me as I'm focussed on the concert and can't imagine letting anything interfere with that.

Oh, and regarding the merchandise, yeah, it was a little expensive, as some people have pointed out, but totally worth it to me.  I picked up a program, two t-shirts, and a long-sleeve fleece.  My husband ended up getting a polo shirt.  All in all, it was a terrific experience.  My husband likes Peter ok, though he only knows what he's heard on the radio and what he hears when I have a CD playing, and he had a wonderful time at the concert.  I'm glad that I was able to have both experiences at the concert, of being up close and focussed and back and having a bigger view.  Thanks, Peter.


For the review of Peter Gabriel's 2003 show, please click here.


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