Peter Gabriel - concert review (Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Irvine) - June 8, 2003

Peter Gabriel has just started his second North American tour promoting his most recent release "Up", with his first tour coming through the United States and Canada in the latter part of 2002.  The current tour kicked off June 7 in San Francisco and will run through the summer.  Unlike the earlier tour, which was played in large arenas given the elaborate in-the-round stage setup, this tour will be played in smaller, mostly outdoor arenas with a scaled-down version of the stage.

On this night, I had an aisle seat in the second row of the second section, slightly left of center.  It had a great view of the entire stage, though it was hard to make out faces at that distance.  There was a screen at the very top of the stage that showed Peter and his various band members, so you could get a better view of them.  The band was set up normally, except that while one might expect Peter to be front and center, his keyboard was set up on the left side.  Forming an arc from left to right were Peter Gabriel, backup singer Melanie Gabriel, drummer Ged Lynch, keyboardist Rachel Z (what was with the choice to put her hair in two pigtails?) and guitarist David Rhodes.  Bassist Tony Levin was in front of and slightly to the left of the drums, and guitarist Richard Evans was in front of Rachel.  There were a number of white panels (the size and shape of tall doors) that were located on stage to reflect the overhead lights being used.  There was also a circular projection screen at the back of the stage on which were projected pre-recorded images or more images of the performers.


The opening act on this part of the tour is 28-year-old popular singer Sevara Nazarkhan ( from Uzbekistan.  She has a beautiful voice and is accompanied by several musicians, and her set lasts about 35 minutes.


The show was scheduled to start at 7:30pm.  At 7:45, Peter came on-stage to introduce Sevara, as he had done with his opening acts on last year's tour.  At 8:20, Sevara and her band finished up, and the techs then took some time to rearrange the stage for Peter's set.  The amphitheatre had been about half to two-thirds full during the opening act, but by the time Peter took the stage at 8:45, the place was packed.  His full set, including two encores, lasted over 2 hours, ending at 11:00pm.


Here's the setlist:

Red Rain

More Than This

Secret World

Games Without Frontiers

Mercy Street


Digging in the Dirt

Don't Give Up

The Tower That Ate People

Growing Up

Shock the Monkey

(introduction of band members)

Solsbury Hill


Signal to Noise

In Your Eyes

Come Talk To Me (first encore)

Father, Son (second encore)



Some highlights of the show:


During "Games Without Frontiers", Peter and Melanie each spent the time rolling around the stage on a Segway.  That was really fun to watch, and given the compact nature of the Segway, it made a lot of sense on the smaller stage.


For "Mercy Street", Peter made reference to the boat that was employed for last year, and they did start the song with the same harmony used previously.  All the performers except for the drummer sat on the edge of the stage while Peter wandered around the stage.  It's still a beautiful song, but the staging from last year added so much more to it.


During "Digging in the Dirt", Peter basically had on a helmet cam - a device strapped to the top of his head that contained a coil camera that Peter would point at various parts of his head and sometimes at others, with the video being displayed on the circular screen.


I was really glad that Peter decided to include "Don't Give Up" on this tour, but I don't think Melanie was really up to Kate Bush's part.  Peter introduced the song as having been inspired by the photographs of Dorothea Lange during the Depression.  Peter sounded absolutely wonderful, but Melanie didn't quite have the resonance and feeling that I wanted.  Especially in the very beginning, her voice was very tentative, almost having trouble with the notes, though she seemed to get stronger and more confident further into the song.  I remember liking Melanie's voice a lot when she and Peter did "Downside Up" last year, but not having heard the song previously, I had nothing to compare it to, so maybe that contributed to it.  However, with as much as I love this song, I know what to expect, and perhaps it's not fair to compare Melanie to Kate Bush, but it's really hard not to on this song.


During "Growing Up", Peter was again in his plastic hamster wheel.  All of the equipment had been moved towards the back of the stage, so he had the run of the front.  He rolled around side to side and did the bouncing motion (that is still so fun to see).  At one point, David Rhodes came up to him, and Peter kinda chased him with the ball, even mock knocking David down.  But having seen what he did with this apparatus last year, it almost seemed like he was confined in that device since he couldn't get the speed and do the maneuvers that he did before.


During "Solsbury Hill", there wasn't room on the stage for the bike that he rode around on last time, but at one point, various band members played "follow the leader" with Peter at the front.


For "Sledgehammer", Peter had on the same leather jacket with the spotlights coming out of it as last year.


"In Your Eyes" was the same re-orchestrated version as was done last year, with Sevara coming out to join in on this song.


For "Come Talk to Me", Peter started off in a red phone booth talking on the telephone with a camera at head level and the visuals projected on the circular screen.  He came out after a verse or so, and during the course of the song, he pulled the receiver cord longer and longer, towards Melanie who was standing at the front of the stage, so that towards the end of the song, he has reached her and they briefly held hands.  However, at the end of the song, he was being pulled back into the phone booth.  I thought the staging was particularly good with Melanie there since he had originally written the song as a way to communicate to his daughter, though I'm not sure if it was Melanie or his other daughter.


"Father, Son" was performed with just Peter and Tony on stage, each in a spotlight, and Peter gave the same introduction that the song had been written after he'd spent some time with his father.



The section I was in was fairly sedate for most of the beginning of the show.  There were a few times where I wanted to stand up, but since I was in the second row, I didn't want to block others' view too much, but when "Solsbury Hill" started, I just had to get up.  Most of the rest of the amphitheatre did as well.


But I still don't understand why people get drunk at concerts.



I really enjoyed the concert, and I thought everyone did a spectacular job, but it was really a bit hard to view objectively after having seen last year's show, which was so incredible partly because of the amazing stage setup.  I think that for someone who didn't see last year's show, this show is spectacular in and of itself, but since it's just a fraction of the original setup, I'm really glad that I was able to see two shows last time.


They have a whole slew of new merchandise for this tour, different than what was available last time, including new white and black t-shirts listing the venues on this summer 2003 tour.  The grey t-shirt looks the same, except it says "2003", and the fleece vest looks the same, though I didn't see it up close.  There's also a new poster and mug available, and for some reason, they're still selling one of the white t-shirts from the last tour.  There is also a new program available that has some new pictures from the last tour, and there's also a page on the new opening act.


I've only been to this venue once before, many years ago during the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over Tour, and I rather like the place.  Outdoor venues always have their own charm, and since this place is in the middle of nowhere, the music is fairly loud without disturbing neighbors as is the case at The Greek Theatre.  On my husband's advice, I opted for the premium parking, which is fairly steep at $20, but I was then able to park just outside the entrance, whereas the regular parking can be fairly far away.  I especially appreciated the short walk from the parking lot as there is still a bit of a walk from the entrance to the amphitheatre itself.  I found it odd, though, that right after you go through the entrance, they have photographers there to try to take your picture, like you'd see at an amusement park.  Why would people want to have a picture of themselves at a concert venue?



For the review of Peter Gabriel's 2002 shows, please click here.


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