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New Blood: New set, 3D, laser, 2 takes

Peter Gabriel with a revamped concept at the Hammersmith Apollo

Peter Gabriel has always been pioneering the use and the distribution of new technologies. He pushed the Fairlight music computer, released sophisticated interactive CD-Roms in the early 90s and had the right hunch when he sold his OD2 platform (On Demand Distribution) before the hype about selling music on the internet even began.
In recent times he has been neglecting the Blu-ray a bit. For once Phil Collins was the first one from the Genesis camp to use this medium for a release (Going Back: Live At Roseland Ballroom).
Gabriel's announcement that two shows would be filmed for a 3D Blu-ray did not come as a big surprise. He selected the large Apollo theatre near the Hammersmith tube station in London. When tickets went on sale it turned out that he was going to do it in a big way: Whole blocks in the venue were not available because they might be needed for special cameras; there were even plans for a large dolly.
Funnily enough, Mike + The Mechanics had scheduled the presentation of their new album, The Road, for the Hard Rock Café in London for March 23, and so the London trip turned into a kind of fanclub business trip, because we had scheduled an interview with Mike Rutherford, Tim Howar and Andrew Roachford before Gabriel's first show.

2A quick look back: In 2010 Peter Gabriel introduces his new album Scratch My Back in a series of New Blood Live shows. The album is played en bloc, a second set after the break includes numerous classics from Peter's own back catalogue. There was some uncertainty as to what Peter Gabriel would do: refine the concept for the DVD / Blu-ray filming, stick to the setlists of the previous shows (e.g. Cologne) or do something completely different. As the show dates approached things seemed to indicate that the idea of playing Scratch My Back en bloc had been, well, scratched. At the same time he turns out to be working on new arrangements for some of his own songs. Another confirmed change from the 2010 shows is the use of a laser during the concert.
Back to the present: The Apollo fills only slowly on the 23rd. The seats in the gallery are quite steep, and there is also the circle where you can stand and lean on a balcony. Those places will not be needed, however, for there are many free seats. The Hammersmith Apollo is rather close, slightly old-fashioned, with red carpets and red seats. There are several cameras and a dolly in front of the stage.
After Ane Brun's brief set the house lights go out suddenly and the show begins very abruptly with Intruder. The performance seems cramped, uneven and generally off; the camera men also seem not to have any idea what to do. Even after the end of Intruder lots of people were still coming in and taking their seats so that there were still lots of comings and goings in the audience when Gabriel played Wallflower, a song he has played very rarely. To top it all of, Peter messed up the beginning of the song, started over, got it all wrong again, but this time battled through to the end.

walflowerThe Boy In The Bubble and Après Moi followed. These are not the strongest songs on Scratch My Back, to put it politely, and it was obvious that everybody was playing it safe now. A benevolent reviewer might have called it convincing, but really it was rather cramped. It was as if all the performers were paralysed by the thought of „don't muck it up, they're filming“. It was really palpable during The Drop where Peter either came in early or a tad too late. The performance improved towards the end of the first set. The Power Of The Heart was a pleasure again and the highpoint of the show occurred at the end of the first set: For the very first time, Biko was performed with an orchestra, and unlike the band version in which there are less and less instruments towards the end, this arrangement grew by the minute. Peter himself started it off by whispering the first line. This turned out a terrific drama concept for Biko. It may not have been perfect, but it was very good for a first, and he made up with it for an unbalanced first hour.
During the break one could see in the audience a mixture of perplexed and enthusiastic faces, and these probably matched the fan groups who had or had not seen the show before.

The second set followed the sets from the shows in fall 2010. There were few changes and the arrangements were the same. A feeling of nervous self-consciousness pervaded the second set, too, though The Rhythm Of The Heat and Signal To Noise were great, as usual. A strong Red Rain has found its place in the set right before Solsbury Hill.

iyeAs the encores approached one wondered what happened to the vaunted lasers that had been announced. They could not be seen anywhere. In Your Eyes and Don’t Give Up remained laser-free. Peter was joined on stage by a welcome guest for In Your Eyes: It was Zevara, who had opened for Peter on the Growing Up tour. Ane Brun received frenetic applause for her part in Don’t Give Up. The Nest That Sailed The Sky brings the show to an end and Peter himself played the final notes on the piano.
No laser, no ease, lots of patchwork, few sparks happening – New Blood in London seemed toilsome with potential for improvements. One would have to see what the second day could offer.
Steve Hackett was in the audience with his wife for the second show. There were also many well-known faces from the international fan scene. Some fans had even come all the way from the United States to see this show.
Interestingly, the dolly had been removed and the number of movable cameras around the stage had been reduced. It almost seemed as if the whole project had been scrapped after the not so great first night. One could spot a number of steadycams, though, so the focus for the second night may well have been on the use of this technology (more about it in the Wikipedia entry).
The show began a bit like the previous one. The audience turned quiet sooner, but Peter stopped Intruder a minute after they had begun with it because he had got it all mixed up. So he announced they would simply start over and asked the audience to pretend that nothing had happened. He left the stage, the screen came down again and Intruder began again. Suddenly all the nervousness from the previous day had gone. The steadycams ran across the stage, from the rear, from the sides, from below in the front, but it did not seem to bother the musicians (anymore). Peter and his orchestra played a relaxed first set. The Drop was dropped, but Peter and Melanie gave a great performance of Washing Of The Water. This could not distract from the fact that Biko was the highpoint of the first set. It was a bit peculiar to see that, in the plush surroundings of this theatre and in front of an orchestra, Peter raised his hand for the usual gesture and encouraged the audience to follow him (which they did). It will be interesting to see what this looks like on the Blu-ray.

the nestThe audience was much better for the second show. People stood up more often, there was longer applause and the audience was quieter during the quiet bits than the day before.
San Jacinto, Signal To Noise and The Rhythm Of The Heat were absolutely top, could not have been any better. And then something unexpected happened during The Nest That Sailed The Sky – the lasers came on and it felt a bit like Pink Floyd 1994.
And so the concert ended in style. Some fans used the opportunity to have a chat with Steve Hackett who also enjoyed the show very much.

The second show made up for much. If you take a closer look one cannot help but wonder why Gabriel abandoned the Scratch My Back concept. It would have been an excellent basis, and a coherent concept, for a New Blood DVD / Blu-ray. Instead he confused his fans and probably himself, too. The first set was strangely unbalanced.
He also whetted fans’ appetites for more New Blood songs with a poll before the shows. Biko was more or less a given. Secret World was another hot contender, but they did not play it (yet) in London.  All the cameras made it difficult at times to follow and fully appreciate the show.
It was, however, a treat to hear Peter making his announcements in English as opposed to a mixture of English and the local languages. It is proof, if proof were needed, how much eloquence and humour can depend on the language.

by Christian Gerhardts
photos by Axel Beringer
English by Martin Klinkhardt

Peter Gabriel

Peter Gabriel - Scratch My Back

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New album 2010.
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Multi-Artist-Album from 2000, with Elisabeth Frazer, Richie Havens, Paul Buchanan, Neneh Cherry and larla Lionáird. Gabriel himself sings on four.
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