All photos by Al Nigrin.
After seeing Peter Gabriel in concert for the 28th time on Monday, September 18, 2023, I feel perhaps now is a good time to write a review of one of his concerts. I saw Gabriel perform at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia last Saturday and then again yesterday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Although, I had a good seat for the Philadelphia show, the 14th row center seat on the floor for the NYC gig was superior. The concert experience was much better up close. You could really get a good view of Gabriel’s amazing visual presentation which included video projections on nine moving screens, unusual plastic scrims, and two large video monitors which flanked the stage.
The concert was divided into two sets separated by an intermission. The sets were the same for both concerts and, as I discovered, for most of Gabriel’s North American tour. Gabriel performed two songs almost in an unplugged and seated manner. A stripped-down and moving Washing of the Water from his 1992 US album opened the show and was followed by Growing Up from his 2002 UP album. His renditions of these songs were tight and brilliantly reworked. The interplay between Peter Gabriel on piano and his longtime friend and bassist Tony Levin was very melodic and impressive. The rest of the band also featured long time guitarist David Rhodes and drummer extraordinaire Manu Katché. The seasoned band members were joined by a new addition to the group: the amazing vocalist, cellist, and keyboard player Ayanna Witter-Johnson. My friends all agreed Witter-Johnson is a star in the making if she is not already one. Her voice is beautiful as is her cello playing. The rest of the band featured Richard Evans on guitar and flute, Marina Moore on violin, viola, and vocals, Don McLean on keyboards, and Josh Shpak on trumpet, French horn, keys, and vocals). Gabriel went out of his way to introduce each band member frequently as well as praise the key soloists throughout the concert. He is clearly very proud of this very talented touring band.
After the first two songs Gabriel played three from his new album I/O. These new tracks included an uplifting and visually enticing Panopticon, Four Kinds of Horses, and the title track I/O. Gabriel played 11 songs from his new album, and I was surprised that the crowd received them well given that they are so new.
The 6th song Digging in the Dirt, also from his 1992 album US, brought the crowd to its feet and featured an inspired lead by guitarist David Rhodes set to a strobe light at the end of the piece. Then three more new songs followed which included Playing for Time, Olive Tree, and This is Home. In between many of the songs Gabriel spoke about the notion of time, getting older, climate change, and he made several heartfelt references to our collective need to save the planet. He also mentioned that he had worked with a number of artists from around the world to create the visuals for the concert. These visuals in many ways complimented the music in an imaginative way by using strobe lighting, anamorphic imagery and film projections that were presented on multiple screens behind the band.
Gabriel closed the first set with his most famous single Sledgehammer from his So album. The crowd responded with exuberance, singing and cheering throughout this song.
After a 20-minute intermission the band returned with a terrific version of Darkness from the Up album. This song featured a large plastic scrim with nine panels that dropped down in front of the stage. The panels enlarged Gabriel’s shadow and repeated his movements like an Edward Muybridge photographic sequence. The final eleven songs were a mix of old and new. The duet between Gabriel and Witter-Johnson for Don't Give Up was the highlight of the second set for me as were the now classic Red Rain from So and Solsbury Hill from Gabriel's first solo album from 1977. Gabriel played three encores at Madison Square Garden. These included another crowd favorite In Your Eyes, a special Happy Birthday tribute to President Jimmy Carter and the ever-stirring Biko which is from Gabriel’s third album.
All in all, I had a wonderful time and I highly recommend that you check Gabriel out if he is playing in your area.