looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

Peter Gabriel, Growing Up Tour, Phoenix AZ

In Pheonix, AZ, we walked up the road to the America West Arena for the Peter Gabriel Concert.

We were a little late getting in to the arena. Ducking past the merchandise stand (one of several I think) and making our way around and around the perimeter of the circular venue, we made our way down a stair and through an alleyway to finally emerge into an enormous indoor arena space, where the Blind Boys of Alabama were already kickin' up a gospel storm. They were scattered around a large circular stage, located in the middle of arena with the audience spread around the stage 360 degrees.

So began the Phoenix date in Peter Gabriel's "Growing Up" tour.

We had great seats. There were two opening acts: The Blind Boys of Alabama, and some singers from Tanzania.

The Blind Boys sang four songs, each taking a turn in the spotlight, backed up by their excellent (and presumably sighted) backing band.

The Arena was not completely full, but still a tremendous crowd.

After the Blind Boys left the stage, Gabriel himself came out and introduced the next warm-up act: Tanzanian singers Charles and Dr. Hukwe Zawose. Traditional dress, amazing vocals, and native instruments. Very entertaining.

Then there was quite a long pause, with Gabriel's _Passion_ soundtrack sounding out while the stage crew set up the stage for Gabriel's band.

After about 30 minutes Gabriel took the stage and performed "Here Comes The Flood", accompanying himself on piano in a solo performance, with a single light (a flood light perhaps?) illuminating him from above.

Then the band joined him on stage as the show really kicked in, with "Darkness", the first track on his new album called "Up". It was a good thing that Lisa and I had listened to "Up" in the car on the drive to Phoenix, because it's tricky music to appreciate on the first listen, but it grows on you. (Is this what "growing up" means?).

A word about the stage: it was circular, and above it hung a circular lighting rig. It seemed innocuous at first. Gabriel had a keyboard and laptop set up on a chrome-and-white custom table thingy on one side of the stage, and Rachel Z was similarly set up opposite him, with a couple of keyboards ( Kurzweil K2500 and Korg Triton I believe) and a large LCD monitor at her feet. Arranged around the perimeter were backup singer Melanie Gabriel, Tony Levin (bass), David Rhodes (guitar) and another guy (whose name eludes me) on supplemental instruments: flute, recorder, bagpipes, guitar, viola... whatever was needed, it seemed.

The drums appeared to be located in the center of the stage, but as the show progressed, it was evident that they were on a separate independent platform that could be moved around as necessary.  In fact, the entire stage would reconfigure itself almost on a song-by-song basis.

Familiar tracks "Red Rain" and "Secret World" were up next. During Red Rain, the outer ring of the stage rotated so that the performers were moved to different points around the stage without have to walk or move their instruments. Still didn't have a good view of Rachel Z though. Drat.

During Secret World, the lighting rig lowered a big egg shaped thing, suspended above the center of the stage. Lighting and projection effects are thrown upon it.

Then a new song: "Sky Blue", during which the Blind Boys of Alabama rise up on a platform in the middle of the stage to sing the final verse a capella in their inimitable style. It seems spontaneous, but in fact it is almost exactly as presented on the album "Up".

"Downside Up" from the London Millenium show soundtrack "OVO" was next. In a mind-blowing stage theatrical moment, the lighting rig was lowered to about 12 feet above the stage, and Peter and Melanie somehow strapped themselves to harnesses on opposite sides of the rig and commenced walking around and around the rig, upside down, while singing the song!

"Barry Williams Show" was next, from "Up", and it's an ok song. Gabriel has this TV camera on top of the lowered lighting rig that he used to film the audience and throws the picture up on a couple of big screens on either side of the stage.

During "More Than This", the lighting rig is then hoisted back up into the ceiling, and the egg thing splits open to reveal an inner globe, a sphere - a seed?

"Mercy Street" is next, the first verse delivered in barbershop quartet style, with no instruments, just every member of the band in exquisite harmony. The globe thing is lit up like a moon.  Melanie sits in a boat shell which, sitting on the outer ring of the stage, rotates around the rest of the band, who have all taken a step backwards onto the inner, non-rotating part.

"Digging In the Dirt" was next, and it rocked.

Then another new song: "Growing Up", during which the globe is lowered and an outer "skin" is removed, revealing a hollow plastic ball made of giant bubble wrap or something. It is disconnected from the suspension rig; Peter Gabriel climbs inside, and continues singing the song while running around the stage in the ball like a hamster, chasing the other members of the band around.

The Zawoses come back to join the band in performing a new as-yet-unrecorded song called "Animal Nation".

For "Solsbury Hill", Peter Gabriel rides a bike around the stage perimiter, in the opposite direction from that which it is turning - almost appearing to go backwards while pedalling forwards, if you can imagine that. Weird! but very effective.

"Sledgehammer" rocks, with Gabriel wearing a jacket made of lit light bulbs.

"Signal to Noise" kind of drags a bit, the band descending into the stage as the song fades.

Encores: "In Your Eyes" extended to a 10 minute jam, and then, after much clapping and yelling from the audience, Gabriel comes back to the stage with Tony Levin and performs "Father, Son" from OVO.

What a show.

We're kind of stunned as we walk back to the hotel, and collapse in bed.