Peter Gabriel, Ball Arena, Denver

Last spring, I learned that Peter Gabriel was on tour in Europe. And I guess I assumed we'd already missed him in the US because we're in a part of the country where people like him always skip - they do NYC, DC and then jump to Atlanta or FL. But, he was in Europe! And so my wife and I got the crazy idea that we would do a spontaneous trip to Europe just to see him in some cool city like Amsterdam or Madrid or Berlin. But, those shows were all either sold out or ridiculously expensive. And there are no direct flights from Raleigh to any of them anyway so getting there would take 12 hours, and cost a fortune

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, and what about hotels, etc., etc..

But while digging around, we learned that he was coming to the US! Everything on the east coast was already sold out. But Denver wasn't! And there were still decent tickets available. And, my wife has friends and family in the Denver area (including a diehard Gabriel fan we could go with), and there are mountains! So, Denver.

Show was scheduled to start at 8:00PM. While we waited, a screen showed a movie of a man drawing hands on a giant clock face. Every minute, he redrew them.

Show started with Gabriel strolling out onstage by himself, speaking through a headset mic. He talked about time, the birth of earth, the creation of life, water, etc.. Eventually, he sat down near a campfire on stage (which you can see below the clock face, above) and started "Washing Of The Water" (from Us) with a small keyboard on his lap. Bassist Tony Levin, who has been with him from the start, joined him. Then the rest of the band came out for another song ("Growing Up" from Up), taking their places around the fire. Introductions, etc.. After that, they took their normal places on stage and played some new songs I didn't know from his new album which isn't out yet. He did "Digging In The Dirt", three more new songs, and closed out the first set with "Sledgehammer", which blew the place up.

He talked a lot about human rights, environmental issues, justice, etc, but his delivery is so gentle and modest that he never came across as preachy, to me. Given his age, he comes across as a kind and wise professor. He's 73 now. But he can still sing, and he can still perform. He can still get to those high notes when he wants to and his voice still has that remarkable plaintive scratchy quality.

Second set had three more from So: "Don't Give Up", "Red Rain", "Big Time". It was the first of these that really got me. On the album, it was a duet with Kate Bush, so Ayanna Witter, who sang it this tour, had some big shoes to fill; and she absolutely did. It was one of those situations (which I'm having more and more of lately) where I hear a song I've known for years, decades, to which I know all the words and all the sounds, and somehow I find myself understanding it for the first time - the words make sense in a way they hadn't before and the music feels fresher because of it. Odd. Wonderful.

"Red Rain" was beautiful. "Big Time" was fun - he marched around the stage pumping his fist to the beat.

I believe he played all of his new record. It's good. I'll buy it when it comes out. But his first five albums (the four self-titled and then So) will always be my favorites.

The lighting and stage effects were unreal. At one point a transparent stage-width screen came down across the front, a light from behind him cast Gabriel's shadow on the leftmost part of it, while live, but slightly-ever-more delayed, copies of than shadow were projected across the rest - visual echo. Then he started drawing swirls and hearts on the screen in real time with some kind of stick. Every so often he'd give the stick a little flick and the drawings would explode and dissolve outward. Surreal.

Closed out the set with "Solsbury Hill", a song that I've heard so many times that it's amazing I still find it marvelous. It's in 7 and he starts singing each line on 5. It shouldn't sound as effortless as it does. But it just sounds perfect. Seeing him do it live was glorious. They let the crowd handle the "Boom, boom, boom"s. And it was the oldest song he played (first album, second song).

For that song, the rhythm guitar player used the same guitar as one my father just gave me (Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster), which made it seem even more real.

The band was great, of course.

First encore was "In Your Eyes". You can probably imagine how an arena full of Peter Gabriel fans would handle hearing that one.

And then the last song was, as I've heard it always is, "Biko". It's a gut-punch of a song on record. And live, it's twice as hard. It's also the only song he did that has that weird, twitchy, experimental Gabriel sound of the late 70s. This and "Solsbury Hill" were the only songs pre-So.

As the band plays the end of the song, he says "... what happens next is up to you" and walks off stage. One by one the musicians leave

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, drummer last, while the crowd sings the "Woah woah woah"s from the end of the song. The lights come up while the crowd is still singing.

3 thoughts on “Peter Gabriel, Ball Arena, Denver

  1. russell

    Sounds like an amazing show. Gabriel has always had the deepest understanding of how to craft a total concert experience – engaging and emotionally moving, much more than just a band standing on stage playing the hits.

    Glad you got to see the show!

    1. cleek Post author

      guy’s a legend.

      wish i had a chance to see him back in the day. but nobody came to upstate NY in those days. certainly not someone like PG.

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