At his height, he could master pop melodies, African rhythms, complex arrangements, and ethereal mood-setting pieces. He combined all these in his concert at the United Center on Saturday evening.
His latest tour included a stop at Chicago's United Center Saturday night. Despite a near-sellout, I managed to find a third-row seat the night of the show, where I could experience the performers' emotions up close. Others in the arena settled for the music and a multimedia performance, both of which were impressive. Gabriel's band was enhanced by horizontal, vertical, and round video screens projecting nature, rainfall, people, star fields, rainfalls, and videos set to the music created on stage. Dramatic lighting is a staple of a Peter Gabriel concert, and colorful laser lights often illuminated or backlit the musicians, who were all dressed in black.
The band itself was outstanding. Nine musicians - many of them multi-instrumentalists - accompanied Mr. Gabriel during his 2-hour performance. They combined to play strings, woodwinds, keyboards, and (of course) guitars. Ayanna Witter-Johnson set aside her cello on several songs to show off her angelic voice in a duet with Peter. She filled in admirably for Kate Bush on Gabriel's 1986 hit "Don't Give Up."
Gabriel used the concert to promote his upcoming "i/o" album - his first collection of new music in 21 years. He played most of the songs from the album, discussing each piece with the audience beforehand. He included some songs on which I grew up, but more than half the set consisted of recent music. He delighted the crowd with rousing renditions of "Sledgehammer" and "Solsbury Hill," in which Gabriel showed off some impressive dance moves. But he also inspired the audience with his anthems, including his closing encore, "Biko" - a tribute to South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko. Gabriel skipped some of his big hits, such as "Shock the Monkey" and "Games Without Frontiers," in favor of newer music. But by playing for over two hours, he could accommodate a variety of music.
I discovered Peter Gabriel during my high school days. I would have preferred hearing more of his music from the 1970s and 1980s, but his new album contains some quality compositions with creative arrangements. My only regret is waiting over four decades to finally see him perform live.