Peter Gabriel brings orchestral act to Massachusetts

A review of Peter Gabriel with the New Blood Orchestra at the Comcast Center on June 24, 2011

, Managing Editor

There’s no question that throughout his career Peter Gabriel has always been in search of something new and different. From his flamboyant costumes in the 70’s, to his shocking departure from Genesis, to his current orchestral work, Gabriel has made some interesting decisions but managed to find success in each. Gabriel continued his successful streak with a mellow, yet captivating performance with the New Blood Orchestra at the Comcast Center on Friday.

Gabriel’s current tour spawned from his latest project titled Scratch My Back in which he covered songs from various artists including Radiohead, David Bowie, and Arcade Fire. The idea is for the artists covered to respond with an album titled “I’ll Scratch Yours” in which they return the favor and cover a Gabriel song. Although the singer is still waiting to be “scratched back”, he’s continued on with the orchestral approach he took on Scratch My Back and has brought it upon his own songs as well.

Although taking the rock element out of rock songs may not be the most popular endeavor (as evidenced by the modest Comcast Center crowd that failed to fill in even the covered seating section) it did prove quite interesting. One could tell right from the start that things were going to be different as the show began with a slow, chilling version of David Bowie’s “Heroes”. The song set the tone for the night as the show would play out in a very mellow manner. Gabriel joked about explaining his intentions for “The Boy in the Bubble” to Paul Simon saying he was going to “drain away” all the African tonality until it’s “just another miserable white boy song”. However, there was some truth behind Gabriel’s kidding as his stripped down version of the song seemed to remove any uplifting sentiment and accentuate the tragedy in the lyrics. Thankfully, the singer had the audience feeling warm again after telling a sweet story about doing yoga with his father before the ballad “Father, Son”, during which he featured clips of himself with his 99 year-old dad. Fans melted when Gabriel said he burst into tears while his father helped him stretch saying it was the most intimate moment they shared since he was a child and telling the audience, “If you still have loved ones grab ’em while you can”.

After ending the first set triumphantly with “Biko” as fans stood up and put their firsts in the air with the singer, Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra returned for a second set that was slightly more uptempo and included some of Gabriel’s better known work. After belting out “San Jacinto”, Gabriel gave a Broadway-esque performance of “Digging in the Dirt” considering the orchestra and how animated he appeared during the verses. “Signal to Noise” followed and produced the night’s first standing ovation, however, it was not for the star but rather the orchestra as New Blood rocked a percussion-heavy finish to the song. “Rhythm of the Heat” would later do the same as conductor Ben Foster led the orchestra through a captivating coda. “Solsbury Hill” would cap off the second set as Gabriel let loose and began skipping around the stage cheerfully while the orchestra appropriately kicked in a bit of “Joyful, Joyful”.

Returning for the encore, Gabriel pleased fans by finally playing his biggest hit “In Your Eyes”. Although fans were just happy to hear it, the song’s delivery was actually a bit underwhelming, although it was enjoyable seeing backup singer (and show opener) Ane Brun show off her range. After the momentum shift in “Don’t Give Up” brought fans to their feet, the night ended nicely with the instrumental “The Nest That Sailed the Sky” as Gabriel joked, “it’s important to be in a good place before bed”. After a soft, mellifluent night with Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra fans likely found it simple to rest easy.

Setlist

First Set
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)
Father, Son
Darkness
Washing of the Water
Biko

Second Set
San Jacinto
Digging in the Dirt
Signal to Noise
Downside Up
Mercy Street
The Rhythm of the Heat
Blood of Eden
Intruder
Red Rain
Solsbury Hill

Encore
In Your Eyes
Don’t Give Up
The Nest that Sailed the Sky

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