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Red Rocks, No Rain

Peter performs at Red Rocks Amphitheatre for the first time

Storm clouds hovered over the massive boulders that encircled the venue known as Red Rocks. Tonight would be Peter Gabriel’s first visit to the venue that seemed the perfect vessel for his music. And he knew it. “I thought we had been here once before, but I would have remembered this,” he mused aloud, clearly touched by a shared feeling of grateful awe at Colorado’s natural surroundings.

Those fortunate enough to benefit from the VIP pre-show treatment for these shows must surely come away with an appreciation for how hard-working everyone is on and off-stage.  Ben Foster is a kinetic wonder on stage, and he works lovingly and tirelessly with the musicians long before show time. Jon Metcalfe’s arrangements have invested Peter’s songs with new force and allow so much space for people to hear that most magical instrument - the voice of Peter Gabriel.  

soundcheckOf our most primal instrument, Hazrat Inayat Khan has said: “other sounds may be louder than the voice, but no sound can be more living.”  Throughout his entire musical career, Peter's voice and his gift for songwriting have become a living conduit for millions of fans around the globe, energized and eagerly willing to embrace his love of life, his commitment to human rights, and a steady urge for musical innovation.

Peter opened the show with Heroes. Within seconds of his voice electrifying the subdued arrangement of Bowie's classic rocker, the heavens lit up in an electrical display of its own.  A palpable murmur could be heard moving through the packed house along with some heavenly rumblings. No doubt this movement was sensed by all of the performers on stage. But we were all in this together … soldier on. Come what may. Wallflower, that anthem of gentle power that urges prisoners of conscience to “hold on”, sounded reborn with its new arrangement.  As drops of rain gave way to a sudden cloud burst, Après Moi built up to its climactic ending ... Peter casting a glance upwards to the dark clouds with the words, “after me, comes the flood.” (And this is probably the thing we most admire about Peter's music - he always seems to find a way of turning the sour to sweet. While some folks scrambled for shelter, the vast majority of fans ensconced themselves beneath umbrellas or ponchos, hanging on to the music. This writer smiled and thanked his Irish Old Blood and the good sense to bring a woolen cap to the Midwest in July).

The highlights for the first set were the New Blood’s treatments of Peter’s own songs. Darkness, Washing of the Water, and Biko – all dynamic reworkings of Peter’s material. Biko was notable for the level of chorused intensity that was truly moving for everyone there. Peter left the stage smiling, as the crowd kept the chant alive. He knew there were no drenched spirits to be found at Red Rocks that night.  

redrocksWe would be rewarded with a second set that was simply a stunning musical consummation of Peter’s most intensely passionate songs. San Jacinto in this venue – with the spires of rocks that have been witness to countless changes in geological time and human history – became a prayer for preserving Great Nature and lost culture, a song that urges us to search for the light that sparks our humanity.  It is a message that bears repeating, as he does night after night on these tours. Digging in the Dirt gave the audience an opportunity to join in with the percussionist on some syncopated applause as Peter sang –

“This time you’ve gone too far “ < thwack>

Signal to Noise, brought the audience to their feet with a long standing ovation and deservedly so. Peter reaches down so deeply inside of himself for this song, into memory, into conscience--and something ineffable happens. The dynamics of the arrangement are more alive than the rock version in that these are living players bowing strings and breathing through wind instruments to make the song come to life – not synthesizers or pre-recorded material. The New Blood Orchestra fed on the current of a higher power - receive and transmit. Help is available if we wish to make a new world.  One song after the next, the performers had clearly hit a stride. Of the remaining tunes, the New Blood orchestra showed its chops once again on The Rhythm of the Heat which attained a Stravinsky-like intensity at the percussive conclusion to the song.  Certainly one of the most difficult songs to sing, but Peter was in top form and let go into the spirit of the song about Carl Jung’s adventures in Africa.

flowerIntruder was one of the newer numbers for this tour and many people no doubt found the song most luspiring. Red Rain helped us remember just how far we had come that night—great arrangement with another standing ovation for the orchestra and Peter disappearing into the hushed ending that descends at the conclusion of a song about personal apocalypse. Beautiful. The second set closed with Solsbury Hill – no mere crowd pleaser. A rondo in 7/8, Solsbury Hill swept us up in Peter’s ode to the joy of self-discovery, reminding us to become children again, to join in a skipping circle dance with the miracle of our being alive.  To play and surrender to be played upon.  A third standing ovation rained down on all.

He returned for three encores – In Your Eyes, Don’t Give Up, featuring the lovely voices of Ane Brun and Melanie Gabriel. The current still strong ... participatory magic had blessed this place, and came to rest in the sublimely quiet finale, The Nest that Sailed the Sky

The thunder beings and their children had come to witness the music of Peter Gabriel on this day of the moon. And they found this home very, very good.

Author and Photos: James “PBJ” Farrelly
Flower-Photo by Greg Ruggieri