Peter Gabriel Combines Rehearsal and Recital at HP Pavilion, 10/2/12
Peter Gabriel's Back to Front Tour is billed as a live performance of his seminal fifth album album So (1986), and while performing entire albums has become a common practice at concerts over the last few years, Gabriel has put together a thoughtful take on the convention. "The period around So was our butterfly moment -- our brief collision with the mainstream, we were pop stars for at least several days -- and all the band were very encouraged to see many more women in the audience," Gabriel writes in the concert program.
We arrived at his San Jose show last night expecting to hear a short, nine-song set and maybe a couple of encores that aren't on So. But instead Gabriel had planned an original three-act performance structure that combines rehearsal and recital.
"It's been a long while since this '86 band played together," Gabriel writes, "and while there have been plenty of 'how the hell did we do that?' moments, there has been a warm and familiar feeling, like riding an old bike -- and the jokes haven't gotten any better."
He explained that the first part of the show was meant to capture the spirit of rehearsal, and included some new unfinished songs and minimal lighting. It was immediately apparent that Gabriel still has a golden voice that hasn't aged and can still hit some rather high notes with relative ease.
Gabriel at the piano for the first several songs, including a striking acoustic take on 1982's eerie "Shock the Monkey." He then ran across the stage to the keys and indicated the start of part two, launching into "Digging in the Dirt" and "Secret World" (both from Us, released right after So). Here, the instruments and the effects plugged in, full rock guitars meshing with what seemed like an endless amount of lights and cameras. Part two of the show concluded with "Humdrum," a song that Gabriel called obscure and a tune selected by fans online to include in the show.
Part three was a seamless presentation of So. And since these songs remain Gabriel's love letter to pop music, it was also the juncture of the show where his stage antics became really extra animated, choreographing hops and other dance steps with Rhodes and Levin, cheekily sidling across the stage with a big grin and lots of fist pumps. There were double fist pumps when he performed "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time," the most successful and recognized of the tunes on this wildly successful album, which sold more than five million copies just in the United States.