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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 12:48 pm | A Few Clouds 59º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Peter Gabriel’s Feast for Your Eyes and Ears

Ex-Genesis frontman and solo star accompanied by New Blood Orchestra at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra play "Solsbury Hill" at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

When Peter Gabriel introduced the song “The Boy in the Bubble” at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday night, he said, “I had to explain to Mr. Paul Simon that we were going to drain all the natural lifeforce and African vitality out of this song, which had been a big part of its appeal.”

And they did, giving what Gabriel joked was “another miserable white man song.” But the lush orchestral arrangement had the effect of putting the focus on what he described as “one of the best lyrics I’ve heard, ever,” namely Simon’s brilliant reflection on the supposed “days of miracle and wonder.”

This and the other songs performed at the concert, part of Gabriel’s North American mini-tour, featured Gabriel’s singing accompanied by the New Blood Orchestra, consisting of “English imports” and “California’s finest” playing John Metcalfe’s orchestral arrangements, expertly and dramatically conducted by Ben Foster.

Peter Gabriel happily sang into the night at the Santa Barbara Bowl, actually going beyond the concert venue's 10 p.m. curfew.
Peter Gabriel happily sang into the night at the Santa Barbara Bowl, actually going beyond the concert venue’s 10 p.m. curfew. (www.petergabriel.com photo)

Other covers, all also on Gabriel’s new album Scratch My Back, were the lead-off song, “Heroes,” by David Bowie, which had delightfully choppy strings; “Apres Moi” by Regina Spektor with a bold orchestral intro; the haunting and highly effective “Body is a Cage” by Arcade Fire; and “The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields, which was accompanied by amusing visuals of stick figures carrying books, playing stringed instruments, proposing marriage and chasing each other.

The rest of the songs were from Gabriel’s rich, post-Genesis solo catalog. Particularly moving was “Biko,” his tribute to anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died in police custody in 1977 in South Africa.

Gabriel introduced the song by saying, “Looking out in the world today, one of the most hopeful things is what’s happening in the Arab Spring, when change is being led by a lot of people who weren’t the expected over-religious zealots, but young people who just wanted more of what they saw other people having. This is a song written for a young man whose efforts to achieve the same thing cost him his life.”

The orchestral arrangement worked particularly well for this song, and allowed lyrics such as “You can blow out a candle / But you can’t blow out a fire” to really hit home.

Other musical highlights were the “Red Rain,” “Your Eyes” and “Solsbury Hill,” the latter an especially natural fit for orchestral arrangement and led to Gabriel skipping across stage. Gabriel introduced “Solsbury Hill” by saying that the day before somebody showed him a clip of the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner in which the song was used during the parody “The President’s Speech” of The King’s Speech. (If you’re curious, click here for the clip; it’s at about the 15-minute mark. Interestingly, when they cut to the audience, it’s a shot of a smiling couple, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and his wife, Huma Abedin. I wonder how they’re doing these days?)

Adding greatly to the music were the stunning and creative visuals, with screens at the back and sides of the stage and, most notably, a movable 10-foot high LED screen that stretched across the stage. Some visual highlights were the hypnotic evolving sound waveform during “Apres Moi,” the Native American imagery during “San Jacinto,” a brilliant and somewhat disturbing projection of hands picking at Gabriel’s live image during “Digging in the Dirt,” the hands brushing around sand on Gabriel’s live image during “The Rhythm of the Heat” about Carl Jung in Ethiopia, and a cool zoom-in computer graphics effect on the face of background singer (and Gabriel’s daughter) Melanie Gabriel during “Signal To Noise.”

After describing his visit the day before to the (promising but controversial) National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which attains nuclear fusion using super-powerful lasers and may someday lead to a clean-energy source, things ended “on a hopeful note” with the ambient instrumental “The Nest That Sailed the Sky.” This was well past the concert venue’s 10 p.m. curfew, but Gabriel either was unaware or unconcerned about the $1,000-a-minute fine, giving a few bonus minutes to the fans, presumably without greatly upsetting the Bowl’s neighbors.

Setlist

Set 1:
Heroes (David Bowie cover)
Wallflower
Apres Moi (Regina Spektor cover)
The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon cover)
My Body Is a Cage (Arcade Fire cover)
The Book Of Love (The Magnetic Fields cover)
Darkness
Washing of the Water
Biko

Set 2:
San Jacinto
Digging in the Dirt
Signal To Noise
Downside Up
Mercy Street
The Rhythm of the Heat
Blood of Eden
Intruder
Red Rain

Encore:
Solsbury Hill
In Your Eyes
The Nest That Sailed the Sky

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

Peter Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra play “Red Rain” at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

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