Concert ReviewsHot

Live Review: Peter Gabriel at Chicago’s United Center (9/27)

on September 28, 2012, 8:38am

peter gabriel united center roffman 2012 03 Live Review: Peter Gabriel at Chicagos United Center (9/27)

Photo by Michael Roffman

Peter Gabriel’s performance at the United Center on Thursday night was a celebration of transformation. One instance found a seemingly harmless, giant, donut-shaped prop hung above the performers, slowly falling to the ground and encircling Gabriel during “The Tower That Ate People”. As the song reached its climax, it rose back up towards the rafters, having transformed into a giant sheet tube enclosed upon a frantic Gabriel. Sweet Lord, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to formulate the proper words to describe what that looked like.

But before we get to the showstopper that was the giant-sheet-tube-monster-by-way-of-donut-shaped prop, the rest of show must be discussed. It’s the 25th anniversary of Gabriel’s So; a record that shoved the former Genesis frontman into the bright lights of the mainstream. To celebrate, the album is being played in its entirety, in order, with the musicians who appeared on the album (minus Kate Bush, but Jennie Abrahamson was more than up to the task). The duplication of the album from record to the stage all the years later was impeccable; a testament to the tight-knit band Gabriel has worked with on-and-off these past few decades.

peter gabriel united center roffman 2012 29 Live Review: Peter Gabriel at Chicagos United Center (9/27)

Photo by Michael Roffman

The stage design was intense and intimidating. Five sets of crane-operated lights dominated the stage, operated by two-man teams throughout the show. The lights would occasionally encircle the stage, attacking Gabriel during “No Self Control” as though they were talons. Near the end of the So set, the lights obscured the band from the audience, shining upon us in an accusatory fashion as Gabriel shouted the title of “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)”. In a 180, they rocked Gabriel to sleep as he lay on the ground, the rigs just inches away from his body as they bathed him in purple light during the entirety of “Mercy Street”.

As for the show, it was broken into three acts. The first act was performed with the house lights up, beginning as soon as Gabriel took to the stage with the great and equally bald Tony Levin on bass (someone Gabriel said he met “back when we had full heads of hair”). After Gabriel played an unfinished song on piano, the rest of the band came out for a short, acoustic set. “Come Talk to Me” is so great down to its very roots, and the band proved it by performing it as a piano-led track. After nudging the audience with “we’re gonna need a little help on this one,” the band played a broken apart, jazz-influenced “Shock the Monkey”; a far cry from the staccato synths and keyboards of its 80’s incarnation.

peter gabriel united center roffman 2012 39 Live Review: Peter Gabriel at Chicagos United Center (9/27)

Photo by Michael Roffman

The second act actually began during a gorgeous “Family Snapshot”, as the house lights dimmed and the stage lights took over. Gabriel becomes the frontman once more, dominating the stage with mike in hand for much of the show’s remainder. He stomped in sync with Levin and guitarist David Rhodes, even spinning in circles with them during “Secret World”. The three marched around the whole stage for a particularly jolly and jaunty “Solsbury Hill”, bringing everyone who wasn’t already standing to their feet before the band launched into the final act.

Where to begin? Maybe with the album’s opener, “Red Rain”, which saw the stage bathed in red light, with the giant screen in the background distorting the players into red schemes. There was that moment when Abrahamson made “Don’t Give Up” her own, pleading with a wandering, downtrodden Gabriel. The bit where Gabriel would pretend his hands were sledgehammers during, yes, “Sledgehammer” while the thousands at the United Center hopped up and down in response.

gabriel tube roffman mobile Live Review: Peter Gabriel at Chicagos United Center (9/27)

Photo by Michael Roffman

Despite all of So’s staying power (minus “Big Time”, which becomes a moot point after its close cousin, “Sledgehammer” is performed minutes before), the powerful moment of the show came at the end. “Biko” has been an encore closer for Gabriel going on 30-plus years now, and that song’s relevance in a still unstable, unfair world remains true. The audience cry of “oh-oh-ohhh” as the song reaches its final drumbeats sends chills up my arms as I type this.

Some songs were altered. Lights became caregivers and aggressors. That giant-sheet-tube-monster-by-way-of-donut-shaped prop is self-explanatory. Peter Gabriel hasn’t released a new studio album in a decade, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in exploring, in changing things up. In transforming. The So concert was anything but so-so.

Photography by Michael Roffman.

Setlist:
Acoustic:
OBUT
(with ‘Tony Levin’ only)
Come Talk to Me
Shock the Monkey
Family Snapshot
Retro:
Digging in the Dirt
Secret World
The Family and the Fishing Net
No Self Control
Solsbury Hill
Washing of the Water
So:
Red Rain
Sledgehammer
Don’t Give Up
That Voice Again
Mercy Street
Big Time
We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)
This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
In Your Eyes
Encore:
The Tower That Ate People
Biko

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2 comments

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jpizzy
September 29, 2012 at 12:24 am

Show was definitely awesome. I loved the New Blood show last year too but this was even more to my liking. Now, if we can just get Peter to put out some new music.

Tim Flemke
September 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I went to the show last night with wife and 14 year old son. This was great. I have seen him 3 times now and it’s always worth the money. Love this guys work.

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