Peter Gabriel at the Hollywood Bowl (Review)

I was skeptical. Skeptical about the album, Scratch My Back, and skeptical about the May 7 concert at the Hollywood Bowl. A seasoned and talented musician releasing and touring a set of covers reinterpreted with orchestra is certainly different, but it’s still covers. Nonetheless, I bought the album and bought a ticket to the concert when they were released and I’ve not been disappointed. The tour was short, and only touched down in Montreal, New York and Los Angeles in North America. This was the last show of the tour. So, a treat.

For the record, I probably own every standard release by Peter Gabriel (including Ovowhich he performed two songs from this evening) and I’ve seen him once before in September 1993 at the Oakland Arena. A fan? Probably. 😉

Mr. Gabriel performed with the 54-piece New Blood Orchestra. No guitars. No drums. A portion of the orchestra was composed of musicians traveling on the tour and the remainder were picked up in the cities of performance. The orchestra was led by Ben Foster, a young and entertaining conductor who was periodically viewed from a fishbowl camera on the screens throughout the evening.

Our seats weren’t in the fancy boxes or down in front, but we were front and center in the “super seats” (aka, non-benches) with a great view of the entire stage and behind the mixer. The performance began at 8:00pm and ended at 10:45pm (with a 20-minute intermission). The first set was all the songs from Scratch My Back (in order) and the second set was old Peter Gabriel songs.

The vocals were subtle, just below the surface, and then came through powerfully at certain moments. His voice was in great form and the arrangements were beautiful and appropriate. Every detail of the show was measured. Planned. The lighting element was impeccable and brought interest and mystery to the music being performed. Nothing in the lighting was recycled during the evening, as it was customized to the song performed. The most entertaining was the cute animation that accompanied “The Book of Love” – a Magnetic Fields song. To be honest, I’m not certain how lighting is typically used with orchestras but this was one of the highlights for me.

Peter was conversational during the second set, by introducing songs and talking about the music or the musicians, while in the first set we focused only on the music. The main downside of the evening was the high prices of food and drink at the Bowl and the inappropriate clapping or yelling. I recognize that people are excited, but it can be challenging to hear the orchestral music when you clap during the songs. Fortunately, we had a pretty docile section in the audience and only encountered a few drunks being obnoxious.

In the end, I think this show will make a great DVD. Perfectly performed. Entertaining. Visually stimulating. For the curious, here’s the set list:

Set One

  1. Heroes (David Bowie)
  2. The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon)
  3. Mirrorball (Elbow)
  4. Flume (Bon Iver)
  5. Listening Wind (Talking Heads)
  6. The Power of the Heart (Lou Reed)
  7. My Body is a Cage (Arcade Fire)
  8. The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields)
  9. I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (Randy Newman)
  10. Apres Moi (Regina Spektor)
  11. Philadelphia (Neil Young)
  12. Street Spirit (Radiohead)

Set Two

  1. San Jacinto (Security)
  2. Digging in the Dirt (Us)
  3. Downside-Up (Ovo)
  4. Signal to Noise (Up)
  5. Mercy Street (So)
  6. The Rhythm of the Heat (Security)
  7. Washing of the Water (Us)
  8. Red Rain (So)
  9. Darkness (Up)
  10. Solsbury Hill (PG I)

Encore

  1. In Your Eyes (with Shankar) (So)
  2. Don’t Give Up (So)
  3. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (Ovo)
  • Robo

    Nice review.

    Was there also. I’m a big Gabriel fan too (though not fanatic enough to own Ovu or Up–or Scratch My Back, for that matter). Like most of the folks at the show I'm of a certain age and fondly remember Peter as the front man for seminal Genesis albums like Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound and for his great solo albums like Security, So, etc.

    I was also in the “super seats” with a dead-nut-center view of the stage. I dragged my wife (not a fanatic, but certainly a fan of the mainstream So album) to the show. As Peter launched into Bowie's Heroes to start the show, I turned to my wife and in wonderment intoned: “Holy crap, he's still got it”. The fat, bald man in black still had his chops. That raspy, soulful voice that PG owned in his prime was fundamentally intact. I didn't expect that. PG is 60! There are damn few rock artists out there who can manage a credible performance into their 50’s. Lord knows I’ve spent considerable money confirming that observation. While PG’s outer shell may not be immune to the batterings of Father Time, his pipes appear to be transcendent. As the evening progressed, the smile on this old man (also not immune to Father Time) grew ever wider.

    I enjoyed Scratch My Back—especially his cover of Arcade Fire’s My Body Is A Cage. I unabashedly loved the second half of the show wherein he performed old favorites. The orchestral arrangement of The Rhythm Of The Heat was simply amazing. No drums; cello substituting for percussion. It’s not my favorite PG song by a long shot, but it was my favorite song that night at the Bowl.

    All in all, a truly memorable performance. Bravo, Peter Gabriel.

    Bravo!

  • Thank you for writing up a great response!

  • Thank you for writing up a great response!

  • belen brown

    so, where and when can we get the dvd?

  • I hope someone will produce one.