Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Peter Gabriel – Live Blood – Eagle Records (2 CDs)

Progressive rock icon shines with full orchestra.

Published on April 23, 2012

Peter Gabriel – Live Blood – Eagle Records (2 CDs)

Peter Gabriel – Live Blood – Eagle Records ER202662, (2 CDs) 141:25 [4/24/12] ****: 

(Peter Gabriel – vocals, arrangements; featuring the New Blood Orchestra conducted by Ben Foster, John Metcalf (“In Your Eyes”); with vocals by Melanie Gabriel, Ane Brun, Tom Cawley and special guest, Sevara Nazarkhan; John Metcalf – arrangements)

As many artists before him (most recently, Sting), Peter Gabriel has rearranged his musical catalogue to accommodate a large orchestra. Most rock songs benefit from stripped down constructs. When Metallica and Deep Purple performed with an orchestra, some of the primal fury of their music was dissipated. A founding member of the art-rock group Genesis, and a unique solo artist, Gabriel’s music has enough complexity and texture to survive a transformation. On March 23rd and 24th he recorded over two hours of live performances including tracks from the New Blood and Scratch releases. Arranged for a forty-six instrument orchestra, intricate renditions of his solo repertoire (and a few covers) are revisited. What sets Peter Gabriel – Live Blood apart from the casual power rock amplification is the artistry of Gabriel’s vocals. He has a scratchy voice, but evokes deep sentiment with it. He can transition from deeper baritone pseudo-talking to piercing higher register wailing with flawless precision.

Disc One mixes some classic Peter Gabriel with some unusual covers. (Apparently, Scratch was conceived as the first half of a songwriter reciprocity that may or may not be completed.). Clearly, Gabriel and co-arranger John Metcalf have their own perception of musical interpretation. Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble” appeared on Graceland as upbeat Township Jive, with infectious pulse. This version is brooding, almost dirge-like. Regina Spektor’s “Apres Moi” is theatrically understated with Middle-Eastern wailing, whispers and menacing string accompaniment. At the core of his original material is the depth of feeling. “Biko” resonates with heartfelt pathos. Gabriel injects his cache of vocal skills in a dignified tribute to the South African martyr. Minor touches like a French horn underscoring the soothing tone of the song. An innate sense of pace in “San Jacinto” (with percussive reeds) is uplifting and complements the hypnotic flow.

Disc 2 resurrects important songs from commercially successful albums. “Digging In The Dirt” delivers stage bravado with rhythmic intonation and unison vocals. There are signature tempo brakes that mitigate the emotional fury, only to have the pizzicato orchestra strokes bring to crescendo flourish. The sincerity of his message is not lost in overproduction. “Mercy Street” maintains the heart-tugging vocals and harmonies. Vocal fades and a creaking falsetto are impressive. Gabriel has never refrained from rock and roll pretense and this version of “Solisbury Hill” (including call and response with the orchestra) pumps up the crowd. Many people associate “Red Rain” with the feckless John Cusack character holding a boom box in the pouring rain. However, PG reclaims the piece with striking violins and haunting cello. His ability to sustain both an ebb and flow to the passion of the music is uncanny. The backup singers (Melanie Gabriel, Ane Bruen and Tom Cawley) blend in perfectly and provide an understated counterpoint. The orchestra gets to flex its muscle on pieces like “The Rhythm Of The Heat” and “Downside Up”.

The live acoustics of this recording are dazzling. Delicate passages on flute or bassoon have studio aesthetics. The booming power of the strings (in particular, the twelve combined violas and cellos) can be felt in bottom mix. Peter Gabriel – Live Blood (also available on Blu-ray) succeeds where others fail.

CD 1: Intruder; Wallflower; The Boy In The Bubble; Apres Moi; Washing Of The Water; The Book Of Love; Darkness; The Power Of The Heart; Biko; San Jacinto
CD 2: Digging In The Dirt; Signal To Noise; Downside Up; Mercy Street; The Rhythm Of The Heat; Blood Of Eden; Red Rain; Solisbury Hill; In Your Eyes; Don’t Give Up; The Nest that Sailed The Sky

—Robbie Gerson

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