Report: Peter Gabriel Live in Camden, NJ

 

June 26 at the Susquehanna Bank Center, Gabriel, accompanied by a
fire-breathing orchestra, pulled out all the stops.

 

Text & Photos by David
Iskra

We all know the feeling, you
have a project due, a paper to write or a phone call to make but you begin to
distract yourself with Facebook, surfing the internet, checking e-mail or
watching bad TV. Like any other artist, when Peter Gabriel has an album due, he
goes into the studio.  Only he works on something else.  The well
known king of musical distraction is known for taking close to ten years
between albums.  And while Kate Bush and Sade seem to keep the same
schedule, Peter at least turns out side projects with something close to
regularity.

 

Whether it is a soundtrack (Last Temptation of Christ, Babe, Long Walk
Home, Wall-E
) or benefit single (“In the Sun,” “No More Apartheid”) or the
Olympics (Imagine) he at least gives his fans something to chew on between
meals.

 

His latest distraction started off as a covers project, usually the death knell
in an artist’s career.  This cover project was a little more inspired and
came with twist.  Not only would Gabriel cover the song of another artist,
those covered artists would return the favor in the form of one of their own
Peter Gabriel covers. And never one for convention, Gabriel also decided to use
an orchestra instead of his traditional band. After enlisting his fans and
daughters help in choosing which songs to use, the album, Scratch My Back, was released in 2010.  A followup, And I’ll Scratch Yours, was never
completed, though several songs were released as digital singles on
iTunes.  Paul Simon’s somewhat solemn version of “Biko” and Bon Iver’s
take on “Come Talk to Me” are standout tracks.  Gabriel intends to hound
the other artists including Arcade Fire and Regina Spektor until they turn in
their homework, which is funny to think of – a man notorious for missing
deadlines having to chase down other artists in the same boat.

This covers project was intended to give Gabriel some breathing room as he
worked on his followup to 2002’s UP. There
were also rumors that this album was released as a contract fulfiller so he
could move on and self-release his next studio album. Whatever the reason, Scratch My Back took on a life of its
own and has obviously sparked a fire in him.

When asked to tour the album he decided to go out on a select few dates with a
full orchestra which he christened “The New Blood Orchestra.” The first
half of the show was the complete Scratch
My Back
album and the second half consisted of classic Gabriel tracks
arranged for the 50 piece orchestra. These songs and the show itself were so
well received in both Europe and North America
that it prompted a subsequent project called New Blood in which Gabriel went back into the studio with composer
and arranger John Metcalf to record versions of hits such as Red Rain and
Intruder.

Again, the recording, intended for a spring release, was pushed back to the
fall as it took longer than expected.  Gabriel has given several updates
from the studio via his website and by all accounts this is not and has not
been a standard by the numbers cash-in.  A lot of other artists, when
bereft of ideas, figure they can tack an orchestra onto their hits and make
some money.  This stands apart because the attention to detail really
comes through.  Gabriel and Metcalf have obviously spent a lot of time
making new music out of old.  What started a stopgap project has proven
there is still life in this 61 year old artist.

This level of craftsmanship makes the live show something to see and worth the
steep ticket price.  Ever the consummate showman, Gabriel didn’t strip
down the theatrics for the jaunt.  He is the ultimate technophile and
brought along some unique and very tastefully used Susquehanna video screens
used in conjunction with old fashioned theater tricks (the mirror during “San Jacinto”) that made quite a visual impact on the
crowd. And Gabriel himself seems to have the latest software updates as his
voice hit some high notes other artists in their teens would embarrass
themselves attempting.  He doesn’t move as fast as he did in the ‘80s and
he obviously skipped the stage diving he was so known for but he did not stand
still for the almost 3 hour show.

 

 

 

While there were several people in Philadelphia calling in to the local radio
the next day to gripe about him “not even playing ‘Sledgehammer’ there
were plenty of audience members enraptured by his mesmerizing take on classic
songs such as “Biko,” “Secret World” and, in homage to the city across the
river, Neil Young’s “Philadelphia,” a song he dedicated – oddly enough,
considering their sports rivalries – to New York, which the night before
legalized gay marriage. Several people were in tears as Gabriel sang about the
relationship with his 99 year old father in “Father, Son” and there
were even teenagers in front of me who claimed to have goosebumps the entire
show.

 

 

The orchestra, led by conductor Ben Foster, was composed of musicians both
locally and from Europe. They were muscular,
tight and well rehearsed.  Anyone wanting to see a rock band that night
got it, albeit in a different form. Foster whose angular moves and rock star
energy kept the crowd entertained during instrumental passages which had the
crowd in a frenzy.  The climax to “Intruder” was an eye opener to anyone
who thought orchestras were for dinner parties only.  For Gabriel’s sake
you could call this a very creative and constructive distraction.

The New Blood album is due for a fall
release and will be joined by a 3D film and Blu-Ray release of the tour.

 

 

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