Peter Gabriel has gone his own way over the course of his remarkable, brilliant career — leaving Genesis at the band’s artistic peak, using the same title for his first several solo albums (I mean, who does that?) for examples. He deeply embraced, in fact greatly pioneered, the visual component of live music performance, and was exploring interactivity long before most other musicians.
Most recently, he eschewed the traditional album format, on which his fan base was weaned, instead trickling out new songs every full moon since January.
As a result, not many in the audience could swear they were familiar with every song on his setlist at Kia Forum. But there was very little disappointment in the venue. His band was in excellent form.
They started in campfire style, huddled in the darkness at the front of the stage, and Gabriel was our tour guide through the evening, explaining each song’s context.
Subjects ranged from the evolution of the planet to AI, with many stops in between (because, clearly, there is a lot of in between there). He provided a mostly optimistic view of where mankind’s technology could be headed, perhaps an overlap with Pete Townshend’s decades-old mantra of people jacking into a common source of knowledge for greater sharing of knowledge.
Gabriel’s raspy voice has grown more evocative over the years, especially for the moodier numbers. The setlist tilted toward the somber — it’s Peter Gabriel, babe, not Justin Timberlake!
The evening’s first set included only two bangers everyone was familiar with, “Digging in the Dirt” and “Sledgehammer.” Alongside those classic hits, two of the new album’s standout tracks were well assayed: “Playing For Time” and “i/o.” The latter refers to the input and output of life, and is a clear-eyed view of life’s finite nature:
When the panting is over and the warmth has run out
Love will be flowing, I have no doubt
With the vehicle in neutral and the ground to be faced
I’ll be all laid to rest in my proper place
Into the roots of an old oak tree
Where life can move freely in and out of me
The performance was buttressed by the wonderful rhythm section of Tony Levin and Manu Katché. Whether on four or five or 12 strings, Levin displayed his virtuoso technique on the bass, often adding melody and rhythm simultaneously, and Gabriel frequently called out the understated prowess of Katché on drums, as well as the work of longtime compadre David Rhodes on guitars.
After a very British interval, the band started the second half of the show with a tricky translucent screen at the front of the stage. Shifts in the lighting provided Gabriel the means by which to play with the imagery, occasionally using a digital spray can to create flowing washes on his side of the screen.
He explained that he wrote “And Still” for his mother, who insisted on the presence of music in the house when he was growing up. As with all the songs in the concert, artwork was commissioned by contemporary artists, but here the lovely imagery was reminiscent of Monet’s waterlilies. The song has yet to be released, but the audience was moved.
“Road to Joy” has been available for a couple months and has already become a new favorite for many. It’s stunning how fresh and unadulterated Peter Gabriel still is as a songwriter and how emotive he remains as a singer.
Understandably and wonderfully, Gabriel pulled out a clutch of classics for the final part of the show. “Don’t Give Up” and “Red Rain” were magnificently rendered, with the evening ending with the double punch of “Solsbury Hill” and “Biko.”