Life Altering Concerts Vol. 1
One thing that amazes my wife is that I can’t remember to
take out the trash on a regular basis. However, I can easily recall the most
minuscule details when it comes to music.
Upon meeting me for the first time, she was slightly intrigued by the
seemingly Rainman-esque musical knowledge I possessed, while at the same
time frightened by the method in which I cataloged my CD collection. (For those
keeping score at home, it's left to right in alphabetical order, and if there
are multiple CDs for an artist, then the second level of sorting is in
chronological order. That is, left to right by oldest to most recent. Think
Shrevie from the movie Diner.)
Recently, I unearthed a box of old concert ticket stubs so it’s been an enjoyable trip down memory lane. And yes, I used to scribble the set lists on the back of the ticket. This brings me to the first installment of Billy's Blog: Musings From the Old Man at Paste. Periodically, I’ll share memories of a blast from my past. Not simply a concert review, but rather, some background information as well, just to frame the context of the show while answering the "how" and "why" it has stuck with me for so long.
This post revolves around the zenith of my musical favorites - an artist that Bill Graham once introduced as “
the innovative giant, Mr. Peter Gabriel.” To put things into perspective, my sisters steered me towards Genesis in the late '70s/early '80s. Of course, that was the Phil Collins-led incarnation and I’ll just leave that alone for the time being. I subsequently discovered the Gabriel era on my own at the local record store. My attention was captivated for hours listening to The Lamb on headphones while consuming the double album’s liner notes and sleeve. I still don’t know what all that gibberish meant, but who cares? My copy of Armando Gallo’s picture bio was more than dog-eared, and the binding even came apart from excessive use. One fond memory I have was causing quite a stir at a Strawberries music store in New Haven, Connecticut upon finding my personal Jewel of the Nile - The Melting Face - Ein Deutsches Album. The store clerk just wanted me to pay for the disc and leave ASAP due to my hysterics. My life was complete once I heard "Spiel Ohne Grenzen" in its Fatherlandlike splendor.
But I digress. While this particular show at the Spectrum in Philadelphia was not my first Gabriel concert (it was actually my fourth), it’s memorable for a few reasons. This was the first event where I entered into the somewhat seedy underworld of ticket brokers. I was preparing to pull an all-nighter at the venue’s box office when a buddy suggested that I call a “ticket agent.” Out came the trusty Yellow Pages, and voila, I found plenty to choose from in exotic places like Pennsauken, Runnemede, and Collingswood, all located in lovely South Jersey just across the Walt Whitman Bridge from downtown Philly. I ended up purchasing tickets in the fifth row and happily paid $100 for each of them. My parents thought I was absolutely insane until I drew the parallel to what it cost them whenever they went to the opera at the Met and dinner in NYC afterwards. Music has an uncanny ability to affect you in many ways, and some would contend that opera has a rather spiritual quality to it. For my money, Peter Gabriel was the opera.
Having never been in possession of such high-quality tickets, it was rather surreal to pass by so many ushers on the way to our seats with each of them simply waving us through. The tickets were even better than John DeBella (At the time, he was the Morning Zookeeper for WMMR which made him a big shot, not to mention that he referred to Peter as “The Angel Gabriel” and Patron Saint of his program.)
Now, onto the show - the opening track of San Jacinto showcased the minimalist lighting design that, ironically enough, produced a very dramatic effect. In fact, Gabriel’s manipulation of the light rigs was more obvious later in the show. Manu Katche simply owned Red Rain with his numerous drum fills that are without question the driving force behind that song when performed live. (If you don’t believe me, then check out Secret World Live disc one for proof). The set moved along quite nicely, but really picked up with "No Self Control." The previously mentioned lighting rigs were actually akin to seesaws with a row of three lights affixed to the top. As the song drew towards its conclusion, the lights were falling down on Gabriel in rapid succession, seemingly crushing him as he struggled to push each out of harm’s way. Not cutting edge technology when you have stagehands doing the heavy lifting, but pretty slick indeed.
"Lay Your Hands On Me" was another highlight, if only for Gabriel’s backwards swan dive into the audience. Unfortunately, that practice has been removed from his performance repertoire, and for good reason. Regardless, for any performer to have the faith, stupidity, courage, or whatever to simply rely on his fans to catch him when he’s falling is a unique concept. I remember reading an interview where Gabriel described that he liked the tickle sensation upon hitting the audience. Fine by me. My sister Patti actually had her own Marcia-Brady-I’ll-never-wash-this-hand-moment during the next evening’s show, but that's way too long of a story for this post.
"Here Comes the Flood" is another track that will always be a personal favorite just because it’s so simple - the man and his piano, enough said. Gabriel introduced his band - Tony Levin on bass, David Rhodes on guitar, David Sancious on keyboards and the aforementioned Katche on drums were more than warmly received by the knowledgeable Philly crowd. Then we were treated to a send off of "In Your Eyes" followed by the anthem "Biko." It’s safe to say it was money well spent.
By the way, if you don’t know the story of Stephen Biko then I suggest checking out http://www.sbf.org.za/ Gabriel was one of the first high-profile artists who took social activism seriously. Whether it be Amnesty International, Witness, or The Elders, he championed human rights long before it was the sexy, politically correct thing to do.
I’ve been to at least 10 more Peter Gabriel performances since then, but this one will always stick out. The exception, of course, would be the U.S. tour from 1993 that I took my mother to, but that’s for another day.