Concert Review: Peter Gabriel, Montreal, September 18 2012

From the start I must admit to being at best a casual fan of Peter Gabriel’s solo career. While I have a high admiration for his work with Genesis, his solo repertoire has never grabbed me to the same level.


When this tour was announced, with a complete rendition of the So album as its centerpiece, I felt this was the perfect opportunity to finally see this legendary artist in concert. I made a few purchases on iTunes to dig deeper into his catalog, and discovered much better material than I’d given him credit for.

Montreal was the second stop on the tour, which began 2 days earlier in Quebec City where Peter Gabriel spent the week rehearsing. Because of that I only had limited time to study the setlist, so I was unfamiliar or barely familiar with quite a few of the tracks played. Add to this the fact that Gabriel likes to tinker with his music and revisit the way they are played, and you could see I was in for an evening of discovery!

His stage setup is minimal for this tour. I’ve heard many criticize that, but honestly, not having seen any of his past tours and therefore not having any basis for comparison, I thought the visuals worked well. Rail tracks circled the stage, and big light cranes were pushed around by operators (my only complaint; it felt like peeking behind the scenes of a theater play or movie set). These cranes were used at times like characters, interacting with Gabriel. For the rest, lights and a few projections were it, except for the encore where a giant contraption came down from the ceiling during “The Tower That Ate People”.


Peter Gabriel walked on stage at 8PM, as advertised, but not to play. I hadn’t seen any mention of an opening act, but Jennie Abrahamson would play 4 songs on piano (accompanied by Linnea Olsson on cello) before the main event. I thought it was extremely classy of Gabriel to introduce them, something I’ve rarely seen done by a headliner (off hand, I can only think of Eddie Vedder introducing Sleater-Kinney, and Rod Stewart introducing Stevie Nicks).  The two ladies later turned out to be Peter Gabriel’s backup singers.


The show was split into 3 parts, which Gabriel presented as “Conception, Excecution, and So“, also described by many as “Acoustic, Retro, and So“. The show started out with the house lights on, and the band playing an “unfinished song” with only Tony Levin. The rest of the band later joined them one by one. This first section had more of an intimate vibe, and the arrangements reflected that. Shock the Monkey was a surprising choice to play in such a stripped down fashion, but I must admit that I thought it worked tremendously well, with Tony Levin’s bass taking over for the signature synth riff. Come Talk to Me lacked a little of its usual pump, but still represented a good opener after the unknown song.

With Digging in the Dirt, the show kicked into its retro part, with songs being played in their more classic arrangements. Highlights to me were Digging in the Dirt, Secret World (a song I don’t care for in its studio form) and The Family and the Fishing Net. My only disappointment during that part of the show was Solsbury Hill, where the piano overpowered the acoustic guitar, and made it a little clunky. It seemed to be played a tad slow too, which robbed the song of some of its vivacity. To me, it showed Gabriel as an old man, lacking the energy of youth. At least his voice was strong.


Peter Gabriel’s penchant for theatrics was evident in the little dance choreographies he and his band would do. I found most of those to be a little cheesy, and again, his age showed and it seemed like he lacked the energy to do them convincingly. It’s kind of like seeing a grown man eat a lollipop. Only a child can eat one with the proper gusto. 🙂


The third act consisted of the complete “So”. Red Rain was particularly strong, with the stage being bathed in red lights. The crowd roared its approval at Sledgehammer, which was played brilliantly. Big Time was another fan favourite, and the show concluded with the moody In Your Eyes. A strange way to end a show, but it worked.


Reports from the opening night in Quebec City mentioned several problems with the production, which, according to the original setlist, had forced the band to play The Tower That Ate People during the encore, instead of the end of the classic set.  It seems this order pleased Peter Gabriel because once again it was played to open the encore. This song featured the biggest visual set piece of the night: a huge ring of light came down over him, and rose in a tower, totally hiding him. (Am I the only one that saw that and was reminded of his visual for The Lamia during “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”?) I can understand why this was intended to finish the classic set, but it might have upstaged “So” a little… It’s also interesting to note that the next show, in Toronto, did NOT feature Washing of the Water. It remains to be seen if it is permanently gone from the set.


The show concluded with the classic Biko. After a while, Peter Gabriel told the crowd “This is yours now” and left the stage as the crowd kept singing. One by one the members of the band left as the song deconstructed itself. That was a really powerful way to end the show! It was like Peter Gabriel was saying “I’ve done my part in keeping the work of Steven Biko alive, now it’s your turn”.


In conclusion, I must mention the work of the band. I’ve mentioned Tony Levin and the backup singers, but the rest of the musicians were also amazing, especially Manu Katché on drums. He imbued the tracks with a feel rarely heard in rock music. At times I would tune out the rest of the band and just concentrate on his playing, how he varies the intensity of the hits and plays just loose enough with the beat to make it come alive. What an inspiring performer!

So my first live experience with Peter Gabriel was an evening well spent, despite some of the unfortunate arrangements and some songs with which I did not connect too much. He’s an intriguing artist that I’m glad to have seen in concert. I should also point out that he addressed the mostly francophone crowd in french throughout the night, a practice that for him goes back to the 70’s with Genesis. It was very well appreciated by the crowd.

For those interested, he’s selling live recordings of every show on the tour, a practice I wish more musicians embraced. They can be purchased at http://www.themusic.com/encore/peter-gabriel-2012-live-encore-series/ Interestingly enough, the unfinished song is NOT included in the recording.

  1. Unfinished song
  2. Come Talk to Me
  3. Shock the Monkey
  4. Family Snapshot
  5. Digging in the Dirt
  6. Secret World
  7. The Family and the Fishing Net
  8. No Self Control
  9. Solsbury Hill
  10. Washing of the Water
  11. Red Rain
  12. Sledgehammer
  13. Don’t Give Up
  14. That Voice Again
  15. Mercy Street
  16. Big Time
  17. We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)
  18. This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
  19. In Your Eyes
  20. The Tower That Ate People
  21. Biko
Jean-Frederic Vachon
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  • Richard , September 21, 2012 @ 3:08 am

    Wow it like I was there. Keep going like this and the Gazette might scoop you up. Good work.

  • jfvachon , September 21, 2012 @ 7:28 am

    Thank you Richard, much appreciated.

  • GianFranco , September 21, 2012 @ 10:48 am

    Touring wth Manu Catché again, way better than the last one. He colours the songs a lot more. Saw him about 4 years ago. Loved the songs, but the looooong introduction of each song (in forced spanish) made the concert flat for some ppl. Not for me, I enjoyed every song and was aware of his pace and cheesy moves, but could have been more pasted together to keep ppl on their feet. Great post J-F.

    • jfvachon , September 21, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

      GianFranco, it’s true that the pace of the show could be improved, but I guess the long intros are his style.

  • mjerugim , October 6, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    Wow! Looks like we were sitting right next to each other 😉


    • jfvachon , October 6, 2012 @ 12:09 am

      Wow, indeed! I was in the first row of the balcony. Right on top of you it seems like.

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