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    ROCK THEATRE


    Peter Gabriel - Berlin, Deutschlandhalle, 17/03/1993


    Six full years have passed since Peter Gabriel last played to a German audience. No surprise that the fans can hardly wait for the first shows to begin.

    After the first German gig in Hamburg on the previous day we now waited in front of the Deutschlandhalle Berlin. The queues at the entrances grew ever longer until the doors were opened at 7pm. What followed was the famous run for the first row and the best places. Upon seeing this gigantic stage we realized that this was something different from other shows. There were two stages joined by a 10 metre catwalk with a conveyor belt. Both stages together resembled the US logo, with the square stage set up at one end of the venue and the round stage approximately in the middle of the venue. All the speakers had been hung from the ceiling so that there were no stacks of speakers to disrupt the stage design.

    Soon after 8pm the lights went out and Peter Gabriel stepped onto the round stage amidst loud applause. He introduced two Real World musicians, Ayub Ogada from Kenya who played a kind of harp (the string kind), and another with an electric guitar. The exotic sound of Ayub Ogada’s instrument drew the audience into remote continents and created an outlandish atmosphere. After this warm-up the stage was set up for the main act while four people climbed up to their seats below the ceiling to operate big spotlights for invidivual lighting on the stage, All was set to go!

    When the lights had gone out again a deep drone vibrated in the air. The first lines of Come Talk To Me could be heard, and Peter Gabriel’s unmistakable voice sent shivers down our spines. At the same time the curtain that had obscured the square stage on all sides was lowered to uncover a phone booth illuminated from below with Peter Gabriel in it. When the other instruments came in so did the band, and the lights revealed the whole stage. In the course of the song Peter left the phone booth and pulled the phone cable after him, wrapping it around his body and singing expressively into the receiver. Just in time for the ending he would hang up the phone again. A quick check of the band revealed that there is a new face on the keyboards next to the well-known faces of Manu Katche (drums), Tony Levin (bass) and David Rhodes (guitar). The keyboarder is Joy Askew, the first woman on a Gabriel tour.

    A video screen that had hung like a roof above the square stage turned into a vertical position behind the stage. It shows images of train engines and other steaming engines and illustrated the short version of Quiet Steam. This went on seamlessly into Steam, where Peter used gestures straight out of the promo video.

    Games Without Frontiers was played in the version we know from the So tour. Marching in goose-step and with a strong musical salute from the band this classic was a special treat. After that Peter introduced a very special guest who appeared on the round stage facing the square stage on which Peter and the other musicians stoof: Shankar, the “violin god”. He played a double-neck violin that had an incredible sound and created a wonderful atmosphere to which he added his own vocals. The piece had grown out of a WOMAD collaboration called Across The River. Peter accompanied the musician with his own voice in the quiet part; their voices work very well together. The song ended in a rhythmic, faster part that segued into Slow Marimbas from the Birdy soundtrack during which Peter stepped on the conveyor belt. He slowly rode to the round stage using a rain stick like a paddle and giving the impression of a ferry man. Manu Katche, Joy Askew, David Rhodes and Tony Levin followed Peter on their way “across the river”. In the meantime the round stage was equipped with all the necessary instruments that were lifted up in the middle. When he had reached the other “shore” Peter waited till all the musicians had arrived. He then stomped the paddle on the ground; this sound became the first beat of Shaking The Tree. All the musicians played and danced merrily around the tree had stood in the middle of the stage, and they obviously had lots of fun. Manu Katche soon sat down at his drum kit and gave the song its finishing touches. Shaking The Tree also showed that not only can Joy Askew play the keyboards but she also has a good voice.

    She proved this very well during the next song, Blood Of Eden where her backing vocals complemented Peter’s voice very well. A wonderful ballad about “man and woman being divided and finding each other again”, and Peter sang it brilliantly. The classic after that was San Jacinto, where Peter tried to touch, as it were, meandering light beams. Then he kneeled on a small wooden raft that carried him slowly past other “towers of light” towards the square stage. Now he stood behind the screen that showed his shadow (there was another spotlight behind him) The screen angled slightly so that his silhouette was distorted, growing and shrinking in the rhythm of his breathing and disappearing upwards with the last lines of the song. After all the other members of the band had left the round stage Joy Askew was the last to go down the stairs and return to the square stage as the first beats of a new song called Lovetown could be heard. The stage setting looked like a room in a hotel complete with a view from the window (projected onto the screen), a TV set and a lamp. Then a chair and a bed with Peter on it rose from below on the elevator. During the first lines he got up from the bed, put on socks, shoes and a jacket. The TV set showed either the view from the window or a live sequence. The song itself was a calm, soulful song with the typical charms of a Gabriel song that reveal themselves only when you have listened to it several times. The hotel room props then vanished; only the chair remained.

    A little “lake” with a glass bottom was set up for Kiss That Frog. A camera filmed from below through the water and showed Tony Levin David Rhodes and Peter who occasionally bent over the water. The images from this unusual perspective were then shown on the video screen. The chair was used, too, when Peter put it on the conveyor belt and demonstrated what he calls fun. His movements on the furniture were the visual expression of the content of this fairy-tale. Though Kiss That Frog provided the rare opportunity to see Peter play the mouth organ it must be said that the musical presentation has some weaknesses. The initial rhythms in particular seemed off and made the song difficult to recognize. Then there was a moving version of Washing Of The Water for which Peter stood in the middle of the catwalk where he was tinted in green light. When the speed changed – actually more momentous and stronger than on the album – the band were illuminated by bright lights for a moment. A universal shout went through the audience when Solsbury Hill rang out. The screen showed (amongst other images) amateur film footage of a small boy, Peter perhaps (though nothing else is known about this). This essential song of every Gabriel concert was superb and the audience were ecstatic. The first notes of Digging In The Dirt could be heard and Peter brought on another surprise visual effect. A tiny videocamera attached to some headgear showed extreme close-ups of his face on the screen. Not only did he direct the camera at his mouth but also towards his eyes. In the middle of the round stage there was, covered by cloth, a white face. Peter would uncover this face to illustrate the baring of one’s soul that this song is all about. Right before the end of the song he crawled along the catwalk which offered another interesting perspective. Digging In The Dirt ended with images on the screen that showed the rapidly aging face of Peter Gabriel – from a babyface to a skull. This was followed by the huge hit from the So album, Sledgehammer, with a brief intro of strong bass and guitar. The power of this song was stressed by Peter giving the familiar impersonation of hammers hitting his head. The last song of the regular set was Secret World. The video screen was moved forward a lot for this. It showed small images of keyholes and suitcases as symbols of a secret world. When Peter gave it a little push the screen began to rotate. Finally all the band members were shown from every possible and impossible angle on it. Towards the end of the song many suitcases of all persuasions were put onto the conveyor belt from the round stage and then transported to the square stage. The last of these suitcases was larger than the others, and when it arrived Peter took it and carried it to a place towards the front of the catwalk. There he put the suitcase down and opened it. Then he introduced his musicians as they stepped into the suitcase one by one and vanished via a small elevator. Peter was the last to climb into the suitcase. Then a roadie would close the lid on this “secret world” and put the suitcase onto the conveyor belt that moved it to the centre of the round stage. A silver cupola came down from the ceiling and sealed off the round stage. After long applause and calls for encores the cupola lifted again and the musicians appeared in the spotlights again with their instruments.

    A stunning In Your Eyes followed. They played the long version (as on the P.O.V. video). The cupola came down and went up again. A small pedestal had been set up for Peter to stand on. An insisting drum rhythm marked the beginning of the show finale, Biko. There could have been no better ending to this show than this anthem against racism which was taken up frenetically by the audience. After all the other musicians had sat down on the pedestal Manu Katche joined them after his final drum beats. All six of them were then lowered by the elevator, and the cupola sealed off this final scene of a two-hour show.

    Calling this incredible experience “rock theatre” is easy. Many songs from Us sounded, as was to be expected, rougher and more dynamic than on the album – and they were played by excellent musicians. Peter Gabriel has once again created an unforgettable show and brought many of his fantastic ideas to the stage in a matchless manner.

    by B.Z.
    translated by Martin Klinkhardt

    Peter Gabriel


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