Peter Gabriel is currently touring in honor of the 25th anniversary and re-issue of his album, So, with the band from the original tour — bassist Tony Levin, guitarist David Rhodes, drummer Manu Kache and keyboardist David Sancious.
When Gabriel took the stage at The Hollywood Bowl Saturday night, he prefaced the show, to let the crowd know what they could expect. He explained that the set would be divided into three sections, like a good meal or story. The first section would be the quiet section, the foundational history. The second piece would be the “rock bit”. During the third segment – “the dessert” – Gabriel and band would perform the album So, straight through. In his attempt to set expectations, he had already exceeded them.
Then came the music. The entire show felt like an encore, brilliant song upon brilliant song. Gabriel kicked off the set with “Come Talk To Me”. His voice sounded spectacular, the band incredible. Next up, “Shock The Monkey”, which made me question whether we’d already moved on to the “rock” bit. But no, this was still the set-up, the first couple of chapters, reeling the audience in deeper and deeper. “Family Snapshot” concluded the first segment. It may have been the introduction, but the crowd was already on its feet.
“Digging In The Dirt” initiated the second segment – the rock bit. ”After all that digging, it’s time to enter a ‘Secret World’,” Gabriel said, announcing the next song, one of my personal favorites. With the “rock portion” of the show, came an equally energetic light show, appropriately accompanying Gabriel and band through “The Family and The Fishing Net”, “No Self Control”, “Solsbury Hill”, and “Washing of The Water”. By this stage, the crowd had already gotten their money’s worth and Gabriel hadn’t even begun the advertised portion of the concert, playing So, start to finish.
Gabriel continued to mesmerize the crowd during the “dessert” section of the set. ”Red Rain”, “Sledgehammer”, and “Don’t Give Up” hit with such force and momentum, I don’t recall breathing. Song by song, Gabriel delivered So spectacularly.
Gabriel’s stamina and energy is enough to embarras those far younger who even considered sitting down during the show. Even when he sang the entirety of “Mercy Street”, lying on his back, Gabriel’s performance was powerful beyond belief.
As the audience was being transported through time, John Cusack walked out on stage and presented Gabriel with a giant boombox, reminiscent of that famous scene in Say Anything. Raising the boombox above his head, Gabriel began “In Your Eyes”, the anthem song featured in Cameron Crowe’s anthem of a movie. The crowd sing-a-long was in full effect, but simultaneously and respectfully gave way to the divine sound of Gabriel’s voice. Gabriel made a point of thanking and acknowledging Cusack as well as Cameron Crowe, who was also in attendance. “Cameron Crowe made this song famous,” he said.
Upon completing “dessert”, Gabriel returned with dessert wine, closing the evening out with “Biko”.
Not many artists can successfully tour on an album that’s more than a quarter of a century old. Given his body of work, Gabriel could do it successfully, many times over. Each song tells a story so engaging, so universal, that you yearn to hear it repeatedly. Collectively, they make up an album that speaks volumes, So.
A limited edition So box set, special edition 3 CD set, and newly remastered CD will be released on October 23. For more info or to pre-order, please visit http://petergabriel.com/
I’ve seen a few shows since and scattered in between the final Nine Inch Nails concerts.
The reason I haven’t written about these shows is that they pale in comparison to the NIN experiences of the past week. The musicians I’ve seen are all very talented – exceptionally talented – and they deserve more than an uninspired review from me.
NIN Wave Goodbye at The Wiltern
In some ways NIN has f*cked up music by being so good. If you don’t think so, spend some time with their albums. The songs are layered, large, intense, spacious, melodic, unpredictable, calming, and frenetic. They are true compositions. The stories and lyrics are timeless, allowing the meaning of the songs to evolve as we do. That’s why songs written 20 years ago maintain the impact they would have if they were written today. Making music of this magnitude allows the band to launch innovative extensions of the songs – full-blown characters and story-lines, a potential TV series, DRM-free video files for infinite fan-created remixes. It also allows them to refrain from lyrics altogether and to release strictly instrumental compositions and projects such as Ghosts.
So, when I walked into a store this weekend and they were playing some diluted pop-hip-hop “song” I had to leave. I don’t know what song it was – I didn’t recognize it and I certainly wasn’t going to hang out in the store to find out. I actually found the “music” insulting. It was manufactured, meaningless, and lacking soul. Summer camp songs have more depth than some of the stuff that’s currently on the radio.
Perhaps part of the reason people aren’t buying music the way they used to is because much of it just isn’t that good. It was crafted quickly and in a formulaic fashion to be a “radio hit”. It lacks depth and therefore timeless endurance. Which means people are paying for songs that they may like for a couple months to a year, until they themselves outgrow it or it gets overplayed on the radio. What makes it even harder to sell music like that is that some of the best bands of our time – Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails – give their music away for free. Why pay for crap when you can get the good stuff for free? By the way, I think Radiohead and NIN are genius for doing this.
Last night the VMAs were on. I didn’t watch them. I didn’t have to. Every trending topic on Twitter was VMA-related. Friends, colleagues, and musicians were updating their Facebook status with commentary about the VMAs. And what I learned from reading enough sub-140 character descriptions of the show is that I didn’t miss a thing. The people who were ranting about the show for hours, they’re the ones who missed something. . .
Taking it a step further – hopefully you’ve seen Nine Inch Nails live. They’re now taking an indefinite break from touring and while it’s understandable and admirable, it still feels like a loss. The band will continue to make music in some form together and as individuals with other bands, but for the foreseeable future they will not be touring together.
Trent addressing somebody in the audience
I think what makes them so good is that they’re so real. While there may be light shows and spectacle, the authenticity of each moment is felt by the audience. I’m not sure the crowd even feels like an “audience” – from my perspective, the audience is hugely participatory in creating the experience of Nine Inch Nails shows. This is one example of a consistent energy exchange between musician on stage and fan in the crowd that is felt by all. The set list changes dramatically every night. New songs may be added, without the ideal rehearsal time, keeping the band on their toes so the performances don’t feel like performances. It actually feels like the band is playing the songs and it’s the first time you’re seeing them live (even if you’ve seen them dozens of times).
Trent is also a perfectionist – more for the fans than for himself. If a song isn’t going off right on stage, if there are technical difficulties, if he isn’t authentically feeling his performance in that moment, he’ll bag it. Additionally, NIN has a tendency to make even bad-sounding venues sound good. While the audio quality on some of the live videos I shot isn’t good (due to the technical limitations of the equipment I was using), in-person, at every show, Nine Inch Nails delivers impeccable sound. It’s one of the few concerts I’ve never had to wear earplugs to. And that says a lot when you consider how loud and “noisy” some may consider their music to be. But that goes back to the composition – it’s not really “noisy” – it’s layer upon layer of sound. And Trent wants you to hear all of that, so they present it live with the perfect mix. . . every time.
Nine Inch Nails at Santa Barbara Bowl, NIN/JA Tour
They are so exceptional live that even seeing another “great band” just doesn’t hold up. I remember seeing NIN at the Santa Barbara Bowl during this Summer’s NIN/JA tour. The first thing that struck me about that show is that they were playing outside, during the daylight. What, no lights? So many people look forward to NIN’s light shows and seem to feel they’re integral to the whole experience. And yet, when you see them without all that spectacle, you’re reminded of their sheer talent. They don’t need lights or visual effects. All they need to do is play.
Nine Inch Nails was “opening” (although, it was billed as “co-headlining”) for Jane’s Addiction. Now, Jane’s Addiction is a really good band. I’ve seen several great Jane’s concerts during the past decade. There are some amazing musicians in that band – Stephen Perkins and Dave Navarro are some of my favorites. Perry Farrell is a wonderful performer. He’s dynamic, energetic, dramatic – a true showman, an amazing front-man. And yet, when Nine Inch Nails finished their opening set, I looked at my friends and said, “I love Jane’s Addiction, but we may need to leave. I don’t know how they’re going to come anywhere close to that!” In the end, we stayed throughout Jane’s set and we had a good time. They were fun. They sounded great. But Nine Inch Nails. . .
One show I did go see this past week was the closing show of the season at The Hollywood Bowl – Seu Jorge and Bebel Gilberto, with the LA Philharmonic. That was nice. It’s outdoors, at one of my favorite venues, and it’s enough of a departure from what I usually see that there was no potential for comparison. I did briefly contemplate the idea of Trent playing Ghosts (perhaps all 4 current volumes, or the new ones that are due to come out) with the LA Philharmonic at some point. Then the fireworks began and brought me back to the present moment.
August 14, 2009: Tchaikovsky Spectacular with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, plus Fireworks.
I’ve lived in LA since ’91 and I’ve seen a lot of shows at the Bowl. Radiohead (a few times), Ben Harper, REM, DMB, Santigold, Femi Kuti, that kid-a-palooza thing, etc etc etc. But in all these years I have never been to one of the Philharmonic shows at The Hollywood Bowl, nor have I ever seen their fireworks show.
LA Philharmonic Tchaikovsky Spectacular
My friends Niki, Jeff, and I headed up to the Bowl after dinner and some wine. First of all, what I expected was to be overtaken and surrounded by sound. The Bowl is one of the best sounding venues I’ve been to – it’s almost fun to see any show there just to experience great sound outdoors – and I expected that a classical performance would be a surround-sound event. Much to our surprise – not the case. The sound wasn’t loud at all. Everything still sounded great, but it wasn’t the full sound experience I’ve come to equate with the Bowl. Even the crickets were louder than the performance. Perhaps that’s the thing about classical shows and the reason people are so quiet and focused. Whenever somebody nearby poured wine (and it wasn’t us. . .) you missed 15 seconds of the show.
Anyway, sound notwithstanding, it was still a phenomenal experience and one I’d like to repeat again soon. The level of musicianship is mind-blowing. These are the prodigies. I was thinking about the typical tour and musicians being on the road for months (sometimes years) at a time, playing in front of live audiences every night. And some of these touring musicians haven’t actually been playing music all that long. Then, I look at these undeniably gifted players, who have probably been training for this moment since they were 4 years old, and wonder, “what do they do the rest of the year? Do they have day jobs? Do I run into them at Coffee Bean?” I obviously know nothing about this realm of performance, but I have great respect and appreciation of it.
In addition to the low decible sound, the other major difference between this and a typical “rock” show is how serious these musicians are. Not that all musicians aren’t serious, but these musicians don’t even look like they’re having fun or enjoying it all. But I ‘spose if I were playing one of the most challenging pieces of music written, I’d be pretty serious too. . . Which is probably why I’m not a classical musician.
During intermission I got up to get a bottle of wine so that we too could participate in the wine-pouring sound experience that had become part of the evening’s soundtrack. When I returned to our seats Niki looked at me and said, “Look at everybody. They’re drinking and chowing down at 10 at night. This whole thing is just an excuse to eat and drink!” She was kidding of course, but that is part of the whole Bowl “experience” – picnic basket and wine.
After intermission and the wine, the conductor told a story about Tchaikovsky’spiece “Romeo and Juliette”. The piece was written about the morning-after their last night together. Now we really needed to pay attention because opera singers came on to play the parts of Romeo and Juliette and the translation was projected on the screen. So now I have to listen and read and focus – perhaps we should be prescribing classical music instead of Ritalin. That performance, as was the case with the rest of the show, was exceptional.
Fireworks kick in
Then, the fireworks kicked in, perfectly synched to the music. And not just fireworks, but streams of fire shooting into the sky. No breaks between the bursts of light, just a steady stream of explosions – the entire fireworks show was the finale. It didn’t build up to a climactic point, it just happened, full-on, start to finish.
Here’s the thing about the Bowl – any one of the elements that makes up the experience (great music, picnics and wine, fireworks, being out under the stars, exceptional sound quality) is enough to make it “worth it”. But at the Bowl, you don’t need to compromise and have only one great experience – you can have it all.
Undoubtedly somebody reading this is thinking (or will post a comment), “Yeah, you idiot – this is what happens at The Bowl most of the time!” I know. And while I may be a decade late in discovering it, I’m happy to know there’s another great “excuse to eat and drink” in LA.