Peter Gabriel -- Concert Review

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Peter Gabriel seems to be stacking the deck a little in his concert tour behind his recent release, "Scratch My Back." The show's first half dutifully re-creates the new album, featuring songs by other artists in new versions dramatically reconfigured for a symphony orchestra. But it's only in the evening's second part -- spotlighting Gabriel's songs, which are given a similar treatment -- when the evening fully comes to life.

It's clear from the new album that Gabriel, long absent from the concert scene, has been keeping his iPod up to date. Besides his renditions of such familiar songs as David Bowie's "Heroes," Paul Simon's "The Boy in the Bubble" and Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today," he also includes numbers by such cutting-edge artists as Bon Iver, Magnetic Fields and Arcade Fire.

The problem, with the recorded and live versions, is that the arrangements are decidedly monotonous, reducing most of the songs into slow-paced dirges devoid of dynamism or urgency. In concert -- performed by a 54-piece orchestra and accompanied by projections of trippy visuals -- they gain some strength. Arcade Fire's "My Body Is a Cage," in particular, achieved a majestic power thanks to Gabriel's intense vocals and the song's inherent grandiloquence.

Things picked up considerably after the intermission. Surprise guest Lou Reed (whose "The Power of the Heart" is covered on the album), showed up to return the favor with a droning, feedback-laden take on "Solsbury Hill."

This was followed by a generous selection of Gabriel's hits, with the arrangements and singer newly energized.

Rhythm has always been a major element in Gabriel's work, and it was provided here by ingenious use of percussion and string instruments. Such songs as "Digging in the Dirt," "Signal to Noise" and "San Jacinto" were given outstanding treatment. Gabriel, who spent the first part of the evening glued to a microphone, now bounded around the stage with abandon.
Even the visuals and special effects were more elaborate, with one particularly nifty bit involving the star using an illuminated mirror to shine probing spotlights into the audience.

Such classic songs as "Mercy Street," "In Your Eyes" and "Don't Give Up" were the highlights of a set that featured the ever-adventurous artist reinterpreting his music in powerful fashion.
The tour lands at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday.

Venue: Radio City Music Hall, New York (Monday, May 3)
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