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Royal Entertainment

Peter Gabriel at the Lanxess Arena, Cologne (02/10/2010)

In the first decade of this new millennium Peter has been more active than in the ten years before. It seems that he does not really take his concerts too serious, though. The Warm Up Tour in 2007 seemed to have been done without much preparation – the numerous “f’ups” were indicative of that.

Now he has truly found back to top form. On 02/10 the audience of the arena in Cologne saw Peter Gabriel with a stage presence like we have not seen in a long time. A single man with his charisma and his extraordinary voice, combined with moving music, completely filled the large venue.

1Peter first played all the songs from Scratch My Back. That makes sense as it is the foundation for the whole tour; so does the fact that he has not changed the order of the songs. Some fans had created their own version of the album because they wanted to improve on Peter’s decisions – only to find out that the music retains its impressiveness in the original order. Peter has therefore kept it for the show.

Thus the evening began with “Heroes” after two brief songs by Ane Brun. The song makes clear which direction the show will take (the best-known original comes in a very different, very demanding version). It also reveals the visual concept of the night: Three vertical video screens behind the stage, one horizontal screen in front show sparse illustrations.

The visual effects stick consistently to black, white and red colours in the Scratch My Back block. They have been timed so precisely that the abstract images pulse along with the musical cues. Later in the show the screens also show aesthetic shapes, simplified illustrations and (for The Book Of Love) ironic cartoon animations.

Gabriel stands on the left, moves slowly across the stage and performs the songs with a perfect voice. Occasionally he adds sparse but all the more effective gestures. All in all he seems very focused and very confident.

4The New Blood Orchestra work perfectly – their performance is absolutely brilliant. Ben Foster conducts them with much verve but also reveals how much fun he has in the second half.

All in all every condition for an intense show is met. It is well that Gabriel has decided not to interrupt the first half by any announcements; that makes the block much more coherent and intense. If there is anything to complain about it is an absolutely minor detail: Gabriel’s voice is not perfectly audible during the first songs. Some songs put a damper on a wonderful show atmosphere just as it builds. Gabriel chooses to conserve his voice a  (very) few times. The video screens sometimes flash briefly between the songs. That is all. Forget it.

What we will remember are touching moments with music, voices, visuals and atmospheres that are spot-on: The force that pours down from the stage in the middle of My Body Is A Cage. The simple way in which The Power Of The Heart touches the heart. Or the intensity that much-maligned Street Spirit suddenly shows.

Then there is a break of 15 minutes in which everybody can get or relieve themselves from a drink, buy expensive merchandise or simply walk around. Incidentally, beer is also sold during the show with a royal disregard for the fact that this is not a run-of-the-mill rock show.

5The second half of the show “scratches” Gabriel’s own songs. The orchestral arrangements are more or less unusual, the visuals are less formal, and Gabriel aims more at exciting the audience.

San Jacinto is hot song and a safe start. The orchestral version of Digging In The Dirt has been frequently criticized but it turns out much better than expected. Signal To Noise is hardly different from the original and triggers standing ovations in the venue. The Rhythm Of The Heat is more gripping than all the previous live versions combined. Intruder reveals a whole new set of thrills.

Regrettably Gabriel did not have a lucky hand with his backing vocalists. They are on a par for simple harmonies, but Melanie’s voice is completely devoid of expressions in her solos while Ane Brun aims too high with her quavering, oh-so-emotional voice (which is a pity because none of this showed when she sang her own songs).

Crowd favourites such as Solsbury Hill and In Your Eyes are played towards the end of the set. It is the time where having a good time counts more than having an innovative arrangement. Indeed, everybody is having such a good time that Peter can even afford to introduce every (!) member of the orchestra after the evening ended with a gentle Nest That Sailed The Sky.

What remains is the memory of an unforgettable exceptional event. Such an intense show has not been seen before, and it will be quite some time, I am sure, before something comparable will follow.

by Thomas Schrage
translated by Martin Klinkhardt
Photos by Markus Scharpey