Peter Gabriel: New Blood, Deafening Thunder, Blinding Lightning & Red Rain at Red Rocks

Après moi le deluge translates to ‘after me comes the flood’ and can be traced back to the King of France, Louis XV (1710-1744), but when Peter Gabriel uttered those words from the stage at Red Rocks on Monday night during his cover of Regina Spektor’s Après Moi, it felt more like a prediction.  On command, the black clouds hovering above smashed into each other with such ferocity that the percussion from the heavens threatened to drown out the New Blood Orchestra while the rest of us drown in sheets of rain.  It was only 15 minutes into what would be a 3 hour show and we were soaked through and through.  Maybe something was lost in translation because the storm didn’t wait for the departure of our host, Peter Gabriel brought the storm with him.

The stage lit up red just after 8:00pm as we were guided to our seats by the sounds of  Gabriel covering David Bowie’s Heroes. The lightening flashing across the horizon, seemingly touching down on the buildings downtown.  The large rows of fluorescents were elevated to expose the master of ceremonies standing stage right, dressed simply in black with a microphone in hand and a full orchestra at his back.  Center stage was held by the chief conductor.   In a surprisingly calm voice, Gabriel told us of his first exposure to human suffering with Amnesty International in 1986.  A short anecdote before going into Wallflower.  There was an intimacy created at this point that stuck with us the entire evening.  Red Rocks served as his living room, we were all his guests.  I found myself leaning forward, hanging on every word, worried I might miss something.

they say there isn’t any such thing as wrong weather, just wrong clothes, this is for those of you in the wrong clothes…

Nature proved is superiority over us through Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble and Arcade Fire’s Your Body Is a Cage and then decided to move elsewhere, leaving us with one of those perfect nights between the monoliths.  The thunder continued to compliment the orchestra, the lighting spectacular outperformed thousands of dollars in technology and the concert blew away all expectations.

Sting opened the Red Rocks season last year with a full symphony and many were disappointed in his performance (myself included).  The arrangement and delivery of his songs fell flat to many there that night.  This disappointment led to lower expectations for the New Blood Tour.  A tour in which Peter Gabriel would perform cover songs, deep tracks and maybe a few hits, all without the assistance of guitars or drums.  Peter Gabriel’s voice with nothing but an orchestra (half from England and half from whatever locale they were playing that night).  These low expectations were put to rest for good with his rendition of The Magnetic FieldsBook of Love.  The original is one of my favorite songs and his cover captured the heartbreak and the humor perfectly, his voice providing us shelter from the storm and his stick-figure drawings causing us to laugh away our chill.

After quite a few covers from his latest album, the first set wrapped up with three original songs.   Not all songs can wear the orchestra equally and Darkness is one composition that felt uncomfortable under the weight, but Washing of the Water showed off not only the instrumental talent on stage, but also his daughter’s voice.  Melanie Gabriel was born with the pipes made for Red Rocks.

The set ended at 9:00pm with Biko and once again Gabriel proved there can be politics in pop music without pretentiousness.  There can be pride without ego.  After just seeing U2 on their bloated 360 Tour, I have to say Bono could learn a thing or two about humility from Gabriel.

‘when you are sitting in the bosom of nature, you better be careful what you ask for’

The second set opened 20 minutes later with San Jacinto providing the soundtrack to the train of people getting back to their seats.  As soon as everyone was settled and a good hour and a half into the night, we were treated to the first ‘hit’.  Digging in the Dirt got the crowd on their feet and provided further proof that this tour was not just a ‘money-grab’ from an aging artist.  He might not even resemble that much younger man with snails crawling on his face, that man in that video that aired on MTV every few minutes back in those last days of videos on MTV, but he still sounds like him.  Better even.  And this is when I noticed the crowd…the crowd I had expected to be letdown by the absence of hits like Sledgehammer and Shock The Monkey, disappointed by the mellow nature of the show, walking away complaining about this thing or the other.  But this was not that crowd.   This was not a crowd who suffered through the covers waiting for songs from their past.  This crowd was engaged every second of the way, willing to go wherever Gabriel wanted to take them.

The experimental Signal to Noise took the orchestra to new levels, the conductor’s motions like special effects.  The standing ovation was well deserved.  Downside Up was Melanie’s time to shine.  Mercy Street was a highlight of the night, as was the ‘high up on the red rocks!’ during The Rhythm of the Heat, a song about a man wandering Ethiopia but easily translated to our surroundings here in Colorado.

Throughout the night, one by one, every member of the orchestra, the backup singers, the lighting crew and anyone else involved in the tour were recognized by the man himself.  Instead of dragging this out like some kind of acceptance speech, he peppered it in here and there…showing his respect without taking away from the show.  One of these introductions led into the best vocal of the night…Blood of Eden.  ‘And all the while the distance grows between you and me’ couldn’t have been further from the truth.  At this point in the night, we were all just old friends back together again.

‘ going to drain the wonderful African sounds out of (The Boy in the Bubble)…make it another boring white man’s song with some of the best lyrics ever written’

Intruder’s set was as creepy as the song itself, turning every screen into a CCT watching over Red Rocks like Big BrotherRed Rain could not have been more appropriate and was my personal favorite of the evening.  But it was Solsbury Hill that turned the amphitheater into a karaoke bar, everyone ‘going boom-boom-boom’ with the thunder above.  It was our turn to show nature what we could do and we turned that least likely of songs into a rock ‘n roll anthem.

The night could’ve ended right there and there wouldn’t have been a disappointed face in the house, but the orchestra played on and Gabriel returned to stage a few minutes later for In Your Eyes9,000 people standing around like John Cusack with a boombox above his head singing ‘oh, I want to be that complete’.  Sure, it might be cheesy, but that was the 80’s!

Don’t Give Up ended the night with Melanie doing her best imitation of Kate Bush and nailing it.  We walked out of the venue, guided by the bright light of a moon that had broken through the clouds to the sounds of New Blood serenating Ship and Creation Rocks with The Nest That Sailed the Sky.

Anyone who says this is Peter Gabriel out of ideas, resting on his laurels and making one last money-run obviously doesn’t get it.  If you get a chance to catch this performance, it is something special.  Something you won’t regret.  I was not a huge Peter Gabriel fan walking into Red Rocks on Monday night, but after a brilliant performance, I left a believer.

‘high above the red rocks!’

Setlist: (click for video)
Set 1
Heroes (David Bowie)
Après moi (Regina Spektor)
The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon)
My Body Is a Cage (Arcade Fire)
The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields)
Washing of the Water
Set 2
San Jacinto
Digging in the Dirt
Signal To Noise
Downside Up
Mercy Street
The Rhythm of the Heat
Blood of Eden
Red Rain
Solsbury Hill
In Your Eyes
Don’t Give Up
The Nest That Sailed the Sky