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Peter Gabriel at the Arena di Verona

Gabriel plays the longest show of the New Blood Tour in Italy


When the schedule for the autumn New Blood tour came out it was clear that the Verona show would be the most impressive concert. The main reasons are the Italian audiences who are noted for their exuberant enthusiasm and, of course, the venue itself, the famous Arena di Verona that was built some 2,000 years ago by the ancient Romans and is more or less complete to this day. Usually one would go to see operas like Aida there, so it is the perfect venue for a production like the New Blood show that is classical in several ways.
1

While many modern venues are located in the outskirts because there is enough space there, the Arena di Verona is located right in the centre of the city. It is surrounded by residential buildings and a large square, the Piazza Bra, where there are many restaurants so that you can easily and comfortably have drink or a bite before or after the show. In other places the only option is the fast food restaurant next to the venue, which is a less-than-ideal solution for me.

There are even a number of small, affordable hotels, and I happened to have found one that was only 50m from the arena. The flight from Cologne/Bonn to Verona was comfortable, and the airport in Verona is not far from the city centre either. The weather was fine in Verona on the day of the show (26/09), and the alleys of the historic city centre were crowded with tourists and those who had come to see the show.

Richard Chapell had announced in his tour diary that Verona would be filmed for a potential DVD release. It was therefore likely that this show would be special not only as far as the setlist was concerned – if Gabriel’s voice held. This “if” had been a latent fear on the tour, and Gabriel had had a cold a couple of day before, which had an effect on the shows in Madrid and Barcelona. One barely noticed that in Verona, and it must be said that his voice has hardly been in better shape this year.

2During the soundchecks Gabriel would usually sings two or three songs in order to protect his voice, but in Verona he was on stage very long during the sound check (over 30 minutes) and sang four songs, Digging In The Dirt, Flume, Wallflower, and The Drop. His cold had obviously gone. The orchestra also rehearsed several songs and bits of songs before and after Gabriel did his soundcheck. According to the tickets doors would opened at 6:30pm, but Gabriel arrived for the soundcheck only around 6pm which was when the soundcheck really began. They did not really finish until a quarter past seven. Ben Foster explained to the orchestra what would be special about this night’s set list; since this was also piped through the P.A. the VIP visitors soon realized that this would be the longest show of the tour. One surprise was that Wallflower would be played at the end of the first set as a kind of mini encore. Because of the delay in the soundcheck it was clear that doors would open later and that the show would not begin at 8pm.

3The ticket were assigned to different entry gates; since there were many gates it looked as if one could get in quickly. So it did – for many people, but the queue in front of gate 13 was several times longer than the ones at other gates. At times it stretched back to the end of the long Piazza Bra in front of the arena. And my ticket specified gate 13, of course. So I queued with a sigh, and finally entered shortly before 8:30. I picked up a beer (6 EUR for 0.5l) and found my seat. It was located almost right in the centre, not too far above the audio and video mixing desks. So up in the bleachers, but not way up.

The arena is full and we are all waiting for the show to begin. It does not yet, but the Italian audience heat things up with lots of La Ola! Suddenly all the screens and displays go dark. From my seat I can see the video control screens go down; all the computers reboot. The stage here is different from the other New Blood shows in that it is build up to the sides so that you cannot look into the backstage area. There are also brief tracks on the stage for a camera car that is operated by three “red men” during the show. There is another camera in the mixing desk area, apparently for frontal shots and shots of the whole stage. During the show someone moves through the seats and films the audience with a small professional camera.

At a quarter to nine the show finally begins. Gabriel introduces the Scratch My Back concept and Ane Brun in Italian (read from prepared notes, but quite intelligible); Ane Brun takes the stage and sings two of her songs. The applause is more than just friendly, but it is loudest when she asks the audience to let Peter know they are all there. Then she leaves the stage, and we have to wait at least another ten to fifteen minutes. The Tour Diary will reveal later that it was Gabriel’s makeup that took so long – because the show is going to be filmed.

4A few minutes after nine our hero is finally pretty enough and we get to hear Heroes. I notice nothing cold-like in his voice, and though I sit at some distance from the stage the sound comes very straight and powerful from the speakers, though perhaps the bass is a bit too strong and the sound is unusually dry. I think I notice minor problems in Gabriel’s timing, but they are so minuscule that it is hard to say whether they are perhaps intentional. I have not noticed that in other shows. But then we know he is a master of post-production…

The audience are rather quiet during the quiet pieces, but not as soundless as German audiences; the applause is much louder, though, after each song and at times they also applaud with their feet – a thing you can hear particularly well with the floor coverings that are placed directly on top of the stones. Right after the Scratch My Back set comes Wallflower. To the particular joy of the audience Gabriel introduces it half in English, half in Italian. After a break of 20 minutes the show continues. Everything is going well and despite the long set nobody is getting tired in the least.

Since this show is being filmed they really perform all the songs that they have played on this tour (except for Father, Son, which could be heard only at the Brussels soundcheck). It was a quarter past twelve when the show ended, and though I was not dressed too lightly I felt cold during the encores. But that could also have been because there were few clouds in the sky, and the moon (though not a Full Moon) had come out during the show.

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Any fears that there might be a curfew due to noise restrictions with all the residential buildings around proved happily unsubstantial. After the show the restaurants on Piazza Bra were still open for a while and we could get some snacks and a drink. But the evening ends sometime even in Italy, and so the waiter brought us the bill at around 1:30. A bit later he even brought us plastic cups for us to fill the wine into because they collected the glasses and the table-cloth.

All the hopes and expectations I had for this day have come true. The Verona show was Gabriel’s best gig in 2010, both regarding the concert itself and everything around it. Nothing could take away this feeling of bliss, not even the rain that fell the other day when I wanted to go sightseeing. If I may make a suggestion: Let us have more New Blood open air shows in Italy next summer – I would definitely be there!


by Volker Warncke
English by Martin Klinkhardt
Photos by Roberto Scorta and Volker Warncke



Peter Gabriel


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