Air Canada Centre in Toronto, ON
Sept 19, 2012
Review by: Chad Hutchings
Photos by: Pete Nema
To mark the 25th anniversary of his monumental album So, Peter Gabriel took an equally monumental show on the road, stopping at the Air Canada Centre for one pretty wild Wednesday night.
Taking the stage of the huge venue full of huge fans, the aged but energized Gabriel laid the night out like an itinerary: one leg acoustic, one electric, and a conclusion featuring So played in its entirety. Two female vocalists and his original band were at his side to accompany him for this exploration that would end up breaking the 2 hour mark, including (in his words) “The legendary Mister Tony Levin”. And, while the artists' ages are a glaring topic to discuss, birth dates really didn't factor into the expansive performance that begs for a description using all sorts of synonyms for epic.
The acoustic section was a brief sort of beast and felt more like a jam session than a massive stage production best fitting the ACC, but that was alright with me. However, as for the crowd still getting settled in their seats under the slightly-too-bright house lights, there was an obvious restlessness. It was as if a big chunk of the fans didn't quite know what to do with such a subdued opening to the night, especially what with how things kicked off with a new track played by Gabriel alone on keys with Levin on electric upright bass - a difficult way to warm up an audience. Luckily, that vibe lasted for all of two tunes and the restless audience was soon ready to really listen. For their part, the band was quick to transition into a livelier set of tunes, including a semi-acoustic "Shock The Monkey" that boasted a blend of understated vocals and intermittent bursts of power showing Gabriel's typical style that hasn't suffered with the passing decades.
Soon came the electric “retro” portion of the night, bringing along the kind of energy that the enormous venue needed in order really engage its massive audience. On-stage, the lights went wild, with the plain and gentle acoustic glow replaced by wild colours and schemes that saw throbbing spotlights, a glowing UFO donut, and multiple wheeled boom arms reaching like huge robotic limbs to throw light from every direction. Peter Gabriel and his band let loose with a sound so smooth that it was easy to take the talent for granted - like listening to a high-def recording. And, despite his fame and his status, the singer proved that he still doesn't take himself too seriously to be weird, breaking out goofy dance moves and hamming it up for the fans, most of whom quickly found their feet and stayed standing to the conclusion of the encore. The electric segment was heaping with classics that had the crowd cheering exponentially louder as tracks came and went, culminating in the kind of roar that could shake a room when this second section came to a head at "Solsbury Hill" - a song that is admittedly quite literally my favourite piece of all time, but one which I believe was performed without equal from as near an objective take as I can muster (the audience helped plenty, with thunderous “Boom boom boom” contributions that were moving in the sappiest and most shameless way).
The final third of the night (a span that actually lasted for about fifty percent of the artist's time on-stage) saw Peter Gabriel's best-selling career release performed from start to finish, with this tour being his first time doing so in the album's 25 year history. The hugely popular So was Gabriel's refocus on conventional pop work, but it still retained a lot of the experimental sound and graveness that got his earlier recordings so much attention and that made up what many consider his definitive sound. On-stage, too, the tracks played out in the same mix of peculiar pop and darkness, and Gabriel mastered the dynamic. "Red Rain" stood alongside "Sledgehammer" and "Big Time" alongside "We Do What We're Told" in the kind of clashing feeling that really no album should get away with, but the artist wore that hat perfectly and the audience had love written all over their faces (at least the faces that were in my line of sight).
For most of the crowd, of course, that love was really what the night was about. The gauntlet of the years could have taken a vicious toll on the performer and the room could have been washed out in cold fluorescent lights, but that audience likely still would have been moved by the magical way the performance stirred up memories and by the very experience of seeing such a legendary and influential performer on-stage. Lucky for everyone, Peter Gabriel and his band did justice to that magic and put on a performance that was easily the equal of any show they'd played in 1986.