Movies: Peter Gabriel – Growing Up Live (2003)

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by Tom Johnson

Perhaps it was a reaction to claims by fans and detractors alike that Peter Gabriel’s previous live offering, Secret World Live, was really more “live” than live, that Gabriel decided to both offer up untouched soundboard recordings of each show on his summer tour and to quickly release a live DVD documenting a night on this European tour.

It would make sense — release the most raw audio footage in order to refute those who claimed Gabriel had to supplement his last live album with so much overdubbing that it really was more of a studio album than a true live album, then back it up with something visual. However, being true to himself, Gabriel reportedly did overdub some minor things — mostly in-between song talking, thankfully, as he spoke to the audience almost entirely in Italian (the concert was filmed in Milan, Italy) and a few minimal vocal overdubs in songs where needed. These are acceptable, as it’s impossible to expect that a performance will go off perfect everytime with as much activity as a Gabriel concert typically features.

And what of the performance? Growing Up Live features Peter Gabriel and band in top-notch shape, deftly recreating his intricate studio material with ease and flair, and making subtle, tasteful changes where necessary. The presence of female vocals in Gabriel’s work necessitates the need for a female vocalist at all times, a task Gabriel decided to bestow upon his daughter, Melanie. Reviews of her singing abilities were mixed, but as presented (and overdubbed) here, she is a fitting, if unremarkable, compliment to Gabriel’s soulful wailings.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Five favorites from the Peter Gabriel catalog, spanning both the obvious (“Big Time,” “Shock the Monkey”) and the more obscure (“Washing of the Water”).]

The set list concentrates on his newer material, heavily favoring his newest album at the time, Up, with a good deal of Us and So material, one track from Ovo, and an unreleased song (“Animal Nation,” which wound up on the “Wild Thornberries” movie soundtrack, of all things.) The show begins on a quiet note with a solo piano take on his overlooked “Here Comes the Flood,” from his first album and the only song older than So besides the crowd-pleaser “Solsbury Hill.” This is a decidedly different tactic than Gabriel has used in the past, perhaps indicating that this will be a more intimate show. Known for his elaborate stage productions, Gabriel typically goes all out to make sure the event is more than just a concert. This time, however, it seems more a struggle than a natural extension of the Peter Gabriel experience. Some tactics seem gimmicky and pointless — for instance, the band’s drummer is covered up by a translucent tent during “Darkness” — and others seem hoky and too Vegas, such as when Gabriel and daughter Melanie suspend themselves upside-down on a hanging rig and run around that way for the majority of Ovo’s “Downside Up.” I get the concept, but it’s this kind of circus-like atmosphere that detracts from a show’s intimacy.

Melanie then climbs aboard a small boat during “Mercy Street” as the in-the-round stage circles the band, who are stationary in the static center circle. Yes, it illustrates the song, but it really seemed unnecessary. Clever use of video-editing and effects, however, make the awkward and out-dated Up single “The Barry Williams Show” a visual feast that justifies the space on the setlist for this sub-par track. Gabriel works best when he’s focusing on the emotion of the song, rather than making a spectacle, and dark, quiet tracks like “Sky Blue” and “Signal To Noise” from Up benefit greatly from this more understated treatment.

The Milan audience must be thanked, however, for pushing the perforance just slightly farther. While the editing, setlist, and band’s performance assured the quality of at least the music would be high, the audience is so energetic and enthusiastic that they goad the band on to the level of stellar. Responding with great roars of applause, or going completely silent, this is a rare thing — an audience that appears to actually know, in great detail, all of the artist’s work. Not only do they respond with great enthusiasm, they carry on, spontaneously echoing the chorus of “Animal Nation” as Gabriel introduces his band, and even anticipating “Sledgehammer” when only the slightest of hints of the song begin to converge together. It’s an audience like this that makes a concert fun, and makes Growing Up Live a must-have release for even casual fans of Peter Gabriel.

Bonus material is minimal, but notable: “The Story of Growing Up,” a short documentary on the making of the tour, Tony Levin’s tour photography (which is accompanied by an unusual, stripped down version of “More Than This” that makes the set worth owning by itself,) and an interactive version of “Growing Up” for your computer.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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