For my birthday, my wife sent me packing to New York City to see Peter Gabriel perform at Radio City Music Hall. The last time I saw him perform was in 2002. I was still in college, and he was performing with his band and his usual cast of props and effects. The current tour, called ‘New Blood,’ was completely different. About the only thing in common between these two tours was the presence of Peter and his daughter Melanie as a backup vocalist. This tour is based on the ‘Scratch My Back’ project, which is a set of 12 covers of rock bands old and new released earlier this year. Each song was arranged for voice and orchestra by John Metcalfe, a former member of The Durutti Column. The songs involved include the likes of Paul Simon’s Boy in a Bubble, Lou Reed’s The Power of Your Heart, David Bowie’s Heroes, and The Magnetic Fields’ The Book Of Love (from the Strictly Ballroom soundtrack) Each artist represented is also covering one of Gabriel’s tracks. These will be released piecemeal as companions to each single from ‘Scratch My Back’ and later on a companion album called ‘…And I’ll Scratch Yours’. The sole unfortunate exception is that David Bowie won’t be performing a cover. Instead, Brian Eno will be performing a cover of Don’t Break This Rhythm.
If you will allow me one indulgence, I would have liked to see Ryuichi Sakamoto and Underworld involved in this. Gabriel would cover 8-ball and either World Citizen or See-Through, Sakamoto would cover Here Comes the Flood or The Drop, and Underworld would cover Excellent Birds. God, I am a nerd.
Although the marketing for the tour claimed a total absence of drums, guitars, and opening acts, the show opened with a short two-song set from singer/songwriter/guitarist Ane Brun, who would later serve as the other backup female vocalist. The orchestra also clearly had a bass drum on stage. The orchestra for the NYC and Montreal shows was apparently the the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, augmented by some additional players. (For example the OSL has no tubist but there was one on stage) Conducting was Ben Foster who apparently writes music for Doctor Who and Torchwood. They played through the entire ‘Scratch My Back’ album, followed by a short intermission and an hour of rearranged Peter Gabriel back catalog (setlist here). Apparently Lou Reed played his cover of Solsbury Hill the following night.
What an incredible performance. After nearly every song I was emotionally exhausted, especially during the second half of more familiar material. Unfortunately, for Signal to Noise there was no attempt made to replace the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s voice, either with a recording or another singer. Given that the song had dead space specifically to let him improvise, it fell a bit flat. This was more than made up for by the inclusion of Red Rain, a stunning duet adaptation of Washing of the Water, and Ane Brun’s excellent interpretation of Don’t Give Up (better than any save Paula Cole, maybe).
Anyway, further musical goings on. I will be playing some records between live acts at the Megapolis Festival opening concert and then for the rest of the weekend, my installation, the Republic of Nynex will be showing in the lobby of WYPR Public Radio.
My daughter bought me a copy of Hiromi Uehara’s album ‘Place to Be.’ What a precocious 11-month old! She can’t even walk and she is such a great shopper! :)