A long-awaited artifact, Live in Athens 1987 corrects the period-piece wrongs of Peter Gabriel’s original film from the So tour — eliminating the edited-in backstage footage that slowed 1990′s P.O.V., as directed by Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” cinematographer Michael Chapman.
Instead, Live in Athens focuses, as it should have all along, on the music that emanated over three nights at Greece’s Lykativos Theatre. Digitized and remixed for this reissue, the evening sparkles with new detail, new depth — and new songs from the concert. “This is the Picture (Excellent Birds),” for instance, is given a complete reading in this new iteration, whereas in the original P.O.V. video, the Laurie Anderson collaboration was reduced to a sampled intro.
There was already much to recommend here. After all, this set may include the best-ever live versions of “In Your Eyes” and the difficult-to-replicate studio construct like “Shock the Monkey,” not to mention the nightmarish “No Self Control” — thanks, with the last two, to the layered percussive additions of Manu Katche and David Sancious’ inventive keyboard fills. Youssou N’Dour’s presence on the former makes this version of “In Your Eyes” all but definitive. Tony Levin adds a stormy gloom to “Mercy Street,” even as Gabriel (at the absolute peak of his vocal powers throughout) lays prone — being scarily scanned by a descending lighting rig.
Elsewhere, “San Jacinto,” a devastating indictment of the subjugation of native people’s culture; the initially unavailable “Family Snapshot”; Gabriel’s scalding war protest “Games Without Frontier”; and the crowd-pleasing “Solsbury Hill” positively tremble with emotion. Later, Gabriel finds his 1980s-cool jacket torn to shreds during that memorable crowd-surfing moment from “Lay Your Hands on Me,” an image that would grace the cover of the VHS edition of this show.
Gabriel’s apparel returns miraculously in tact for “Sledgehammer” — clearly filmed on a separate night — but that takes nothing from the song, as Guitarist David Rhodes leads the group into a nasty little groove. “Intruder,” also not included on the VHS version, is updated with the now-famous gated reverb effect that Phil Collins employed on 1980′s Peter Gabriel: Melt — then, of course, on radio hits like “In the Air Tonight.” Also new to this project: “The Family and the Fishing Net,” from 1982′s Security, which is given a fierce reading.
The obvious stumbles are few. Through Sancious offers some intriguing asides, and Levin is reliably brilliant, “Don’t Give Up” suffers without a strong vocal counterpoint to Gabriel. (On 1986′s So, it was Kate Bush; Paula Cole also played this role on tour.) And “Here Comes the Flood,” a song that once tingled like a raw nerve, feels a little undercooked on this night. Still, the set closes with a thunderous update of Gabriel’s tribute to Apartheid-era martyr “Biko,” and it’s given a new resonance by the addition of the Senegalese legend N’Dour and his group.
Disc 2′s video presentation includes all of Gabriel’s most memorable MTV-era clips, including “Shock the Monkey” and “Sledgehammer,” remixed here by So-era co-producer Daniel Lanois. Also of interest are a reworked video for “Games Without Frontiers,” with new images from Michal Rovner; along with updated films for “In Your Eyes,” “Washing of the Water” and “Solsbury Hill,” which found Gabriel collaborating with Graham Dean, David Stewart, Clare Langan and others.