Peter Gabriel wows with artful concert

CLEVELAND — Peter Gabriel’s I / O tour might be the most artful concert I’ve seen in 45 years of going to shows.

The visual design was as important as the music in Wednesday’s performance at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Gabriel hired and / or collaborated with artists to create the visuals that accompanied many of the 23 songs in a concert that clocked in at two hours and 40 minutes (not including a 15-minute intermission).

There were moments that felt as composed as any shot in a Stanley Kubrick film, and it was impossible not to stare with wonder at the striking beauty of the backdrop for “And Still” or the use of shadows and color on the clear screens in front of the stage for “Love Can Heal.”

Leading with the visuals should in no way imply that it came at the expense of the music.

Gabriel was joined by an immensely talented eight-piece band, anchored by bassist Tony Levin and guitar player David Rhodes, two musicians who’ve been playing with him for more than 40 years.

Levin is a musician who commands attention whenever he’s on stage, and the world beat rhythms of many of Gabriel’s compositions provided a perfect showcase for his and drummer Manu Katche’s abilities.

The rest of the band is just as integral. Ayanna Witter-Johnson beautifully handled the vocals, Kate Bush contributed to the recorded version of “Don’t Give Up,” and her cello playing paired with Marina Moore’s violin and viola to add orchestral colors to several songs.

Josh Shpak’s muted trumpet stood out in the arrangement for “Red Rain.” Don-E played keyboards and synthesizer most of the night, but he also strapped on a keytar and traded riffs with Levin. Richard Evans’ mandolin and guitar work also impressed.

Gabriel introduced each of the band members multiple times throughout the night and often cited the visual artists whose work contributed to the overall impact of the performance. His was the name on the ticket, but he made sure the crowd knew it was a team effort.

Early in the show, Gabriel speculated that he wasn’t really there, that the audience was watching a hologram. But unlike the ABBA holograms currently performing that are “20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter” than they are today, Gabriel joked his avatar is 20 years older and 20 pounds heavier.

“The real Peter Gabriel is horizontal on a beach and has the body of a Greek god,” he said.

Avatar or not, the voice of the 73-year-old Gabriel sounded magnificent throughout the lengthy performance. He did a bit of choreography on songs like “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time,” even skipping across the stage during “Solsbury Hill.”

The tour and the setlist was designed to showcase Gabriel’s upcoming album “I / O.” Most of the songs are available for streaming, but the full release doesn’t arrive until later this year.

“Panopticon,” “Road to Joy,” “Live and Let Live” and the title track are among the standouts for the new material.

The familiar hits got a much bigger response from the crowd, and the response couldn’t have gotten much louder for the trio of “Solsbury Hill” leading into encores of “In Your Eyes” and “Biko.”

The audience, however, was attentive to the new songs. It helped that Gabriel provided a bit of context about them in his introductions, and the sound quality was surprisingly clear for an arena show, making it easy to hear the majority of the lyrics.

That said, the show might have had an even bigger impact if fans had a chance to listen to the album multiple times before hearing them live. Hopefully, there will be a second leg to the tour, because Wednesday’s performance was an unforgettable night.


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