Washington, MCI Center 24/11/02
It’s 7:30pm on November 24th, 2002, when I enter the MCI Center in Washington, home of Wizards and Capitols, respectively the basket and hockey teams of the nation’s capital. But tonight the event hosted in this venue is a very different... tonight I will see my first concert of the Growing Up Tour in America, a good enough reason to fly from sunny Miami to freezing Washington. As soon as I am in the venue I notice the circular stage that Robert Lepage created with Peter Gabriel for this new tour and the large metal structure over it, expecting that once more Peter’s show will originally merge the music with impressive stage effects. In the background the music of Passion, specifically my favourite track from that album, A Different Drum, welcomes the crowd, which is progressively filling up the arena. My seat is in fourth row, slightly higher than the floor level and not more than ten meters away from the stage, although I will soon discover that Peter will perform with his back on me for most of the night...
At 8:00 pm the event opens with the Blind Boys of Alabama, the legendary blues/gospel band who recently joined the Real World label. The three seventy-plus years old blind vocalists are helped on stage by four other musicians that will play the instruments during their 30 minutes performance, made up of older songs as well as new ones from their latest album published by Real World, Higher Ground. The three men surprise everybody showing a great sense of humor during the spoken introductions of each song. Their performance is characterized by their extraordinary voices and offers authentic blues and gospel moments, which have the power to bring the audience on their feet, singing, clapping and jumping - with one of the three “old men” shouting “I can’t see you but I can hear you” – till the final ovation tributed to the group when they are ready to leave the stage to the next act.
The next performers are Dr Hukwe Zawose and his nephew Charles, two artists from Tanzania who have recently published the album Assembly for Real World. Dress in tribal costumes and equipped with very peculiar instruments, the two performers made an impression mostly thanks to the vocal ability of Dr Zawose, apparently considered a true artistic legend in his country. At 8:45 pm their performance is over and everybody is waiting for Peter’s arrival.
At exactly 9:15pm our man goes on stage amongst the crowd’s ovations and greets everybody, saying that tonight he wants to start where he took off last time... and the notes of Here Comes The Flood come out of his piano... towards the end of the song the external ring of the stage starts to rotate, so that while still singing, Peter and his keyboard change position in order to accomodate the rest of the band that joins him on stage at the end of the song: Tony Levin on bass, David Rhodes on guitars, Rachel Z to the keyboards, Ged Lynch on percussions, Richard Evans mandolin and acoustic guitars and Peter’s daughter Melanie Gabriel backing vocals. The next song is Darkness, very well performed, followed by a beautiful performance of Red Rain, which drives the crowd high and during which the first scenic effects start to take place, with a big red sky that lights up over the whole stage. After a few words of introduction by Peter, we hear the openings notes of Secret World, a pleasant surprise that brings us back in time to the last concert of the US Tour, which seems a life away... during this song from the structure built over the stage a sort of gigantic white fruit comes out, taking on a blue color when Peter introduces the next song, Sky Blue, explaining that this track had a couple of working versions, but there was always something wrong with them... the recording was then sent to The Blind Boys of Alabama in Singapore, and once their voices were recorded over, for Peter was like the song suddenly found its perfect shape, adding that when fruits are mature they become juicy and tasty to the right point... just like the voices of The Blind Boys of Alabama, who at that point were brought back on stage for an extraordinary performance of Sky Blue, one of the most touching moments of the whole concert... At that end of the song the structure over the stage starts to descend till the fruit disappeares, and Downside-Up starts, with a duet between Peter and Melanie, who get both attached to the metal structure over them and end up singing the final part of the song walking in opposite directions with their heads upside-down! Although Melanie does not obviously have the vocal qualities of Elizabeth Frasier, she pulls a good performance and the song comes across very intensely, also enriched by the extraordinary visual effect just described. The structure now descends completely on stage and it’s time for The Barry Williams Show, welcomed by the crowd with great enthusiasm, and introduced by Peter with the words “once we were what we ate, now we are what we watch on TV”. At the time of Selling England the old man said we were what we wore, the young men said we were what we ate... obviously thirty years went by and everyhting has changed since then...
During the song Peter runs around a circular ring on the stage holding a camera, completely involving the audience till the final ovation... then is the moment of the moon, which appears over the stage with Peter reminding everybody how it influences the tides, the menstrual cycle and most likely the human behaviour... a message to remind us that there is more than what we see around us... More Than This… this track is personally the one I love less from the UP album, but performed live gains much energy also thanks to the excellent performance given tonight. And here comes another very intense moment of this concert... Peter and everybody else gather on a corner of the stage and start singing a beutiful “a cappella” version of Mercy Street’s refrain, at end of which everybody takes back his position behind the instruments to perform the song in its classic version, enriched by the melancolic sound of Richard Evans’ flute. During the performance, Peter is in the center of the stage, while all the musicians are sitting on the moving external ring turning around him, with Melanie sitting in an Indian kayak. From this touching atmosphere we jump immediately to a faster pace with the brginning of Digging In The Dirt, another song whose rythm is saluted by the audience by clapping their hands and singing along. During the next track, Growing Up, a great ball - called Zorb Ball - descends on stage, with Peter getting in it and rolling all over the place while singing. We can’t help thinking of two famous moments of the The Lamb concerts, when Peter was singing in the Lamia’s cone making it turn with his hands, and when the Slipperman was coming out of its red cocoon... likely some kind of reference... at the end Peter will explain that once he had push Melanie’s hamsters into a rolling hamster-ball to play, so there was probably some kind of “Karma” at work here!
At this point Peter recalls his experiments in Georgia with the Bonobo apes (one full page of the Tour Program is dedicated to them) to introduce the unreleased Animal Nation, already performed in Milan and here enriched by the presence on stage of Dr Hukwe and Charles Zawose, who contribute to the full success of the song, which ends with everybody, both on and off stage, dancing and clapping.
It’s time for the band’s introduction, followed by the glorious Solsbury Hill, sung by Peter while riding a bicycle around the stage in both directions! Then comes Sledgehammer, during which Peter wears the jacket full of lights used for the famous video clip of the song, repeting the famous steps and movements that we saw through the years during the live performances of this song, which never fail to drive the crowd wild! At the end of the track, Peter will say: now I know what it is like to be a Christams tree! The set list is closed by the wonderful Signal To Noise. After the various live versions – like those with Melanie and Yossou N’ Dour to perform the vocalisms of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, for the official tour Peter chose to use the original voice of Nusrat Fateh, recorded and played at a volume slightly lower than the both the music and Peter’s voice than in the UP album version. A beautiful and moving song.
As it used to happen with Biko in the SO Tour, towards the end of this song the various members of the band leave the stage one at a time, with only Ged Lynch staying on to close the song with its drums. After a few streched seconds of break, filled by the cheers and claps of the crowd, the opening notes of In Your Eyes come to life, and all the musicians return on stage, including the two performers from Tanzania, to drive the audience wild with the classic live version that as usual ends with dancing and running around the stage.
At the end of the song, the band leaves the stage thanking the audience, but everybody know is not over yet … after quite a few minutes of applauses, ovations and whistling, Peter & Co. are on stage again with a little surprise. While in the latest concerts in New York and Philadelphia the first encore was Family Snapshot, this time Peter, probably due to his presence in the nation’s capital, speaks a few words to say that he hopes that in this country soon these words will be used: Come Talk To Me… and the opening act of US starts while the audience claps its approval. At the end of the track the band leaves the stage again and Peter is left alone to close in the same way he started the concert. He tells us how his son is 14 months old while his father is 90 years old, and how he and his dad spent for the first time in their lives one week together fishing and doing yoga. From this experience took shape the song Father, Son, which performed by Peter just with his piano and his beautiful voice, closes this wonderful night. During the Philadelphia concert, just days before, some technical problems affected the performance, but tonight everything worked out perfectly, with Peter only “guilty “ of a very small mistake on one note during the performance of Father, Son.
For ten years we have waited, hoped, and even laughed at how incredibly slow Peter was in giving us a new album. After listening to UP we understood that the wait was well worthed, and now, after having seen this live performance, we realized that the great Peter is surely older, fatter and bolder, but his magic is still totally intact. So, when this Tour will finally make it to Italy, which is most likely to happen next Spring, don’t even think about it twice... just run to see the great Peter!