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Music DVD Review: Peter Gabriel – New Blood – Live in London

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Does anyone besides me miss the old Peter Gabriel?

You know, the guy who used to dress like a giant flower, or wear a rectangular shaped box on his head, all the while reciting nonsensical stories to introduce his songs with Genesis in concert? Or how about the guy who, as a solo artist, made those wonderfully arty, but nonetheless goofy videos for songs like “Sledgehammer”?

That Peter Gabriel is all but gone on New Blood – Live in London, a new concert DVD that also serves as a companion piece to his latest album New Blood. Instead, Gabriel has opted to join the likes of Sting and David Byrne in that exclusive “artistes club” of aging, white rock musicians continuing their careers during their twilight years, by running as far away from their rock and roll pasts as possible.

Like both Sting and Byrne, Gabriel has long displayed a flair for the more “artistic” side of rock and roll. But for most fans, songs like “Roxanne,” “Burning Down The House” and “Shock The Monkey” remain far more memorable than any experiments in world beat, classical, or in this case, a re-imagining of past work recorded with a 46 piece symphony orchestra.

In fairness to Gabriel, it works better here than on previously ill-fated attempts at merging rock with classical by artists ranging from Deep Purple to Spinal Tap. It’s an interesting enough idea in theory. But in most cases, it’s usually a failed one in actual execution. Although there are those few and far between exceptions here, New Blood – Live in London mostly continues the long tradition of that rule.

The problem here, is that by removing rock elements as basic as guitar, bass and drums, some of Gabriel’s best songs lose a lot of their original firepower. On this DVD, Gabriel wisely steers clear of his more funk based, hit material like “Sledgehammer,” in favor of a setlist heavier on deep album cuts like “Intruder” and “San Jacinto.”

But in these newly sanitized by strings arrangements, you can’t help but notice the lack for those little things that made the originals such standout tracks. The absence of the big drums of “Intruder” and the rising keyboard swells of “San Jacinto” in particular are both sorely missed here.

Immaculate as the performances themselves are, they suffer from the same thing that burdens most of these types of experiments. The simple, yet effective hook of the original song is all but buried in a sea of strings and woodwinds. Even on a song like “Biko,” which you’d think would benefit from the bigger arrangement (particularly on vocals), much is lost to the bloated symphonic sound.

Gabriel himself, who in the past has shown himself to be an animated and engaging performer, is also uncharacteristically stiff and serious here. It’s enough to make one yearn for the leather-jacketed Rael stage character from his Lamb Lies Down On Broadway days.

Still, New Blood – Live in London does have its moments. The DVD is a stunner in terms of both sound and visuals. Some of the visual effects also have the same endearingly goofy quality of Gabriel’s early eighties music videos. The “Red Rain” which falls across the screen during the song with the same name, achieves a borderline 3D effect, and serves as welcome relief from all the otherwise dead seriousness of this concert. Similar visuals dotted throughout the performance provide an equally effective compliment to the music.

As expected with something like this, the audio mix likewise more than lives up to the challenge of capturing something as intricately layered as the sound of a full orchestra. Technically speaking, the performance is also top notch (save for its lacking any apparent element of soul).

Gabriel fans will also appreciate the setlist, which mostly eschews the hits in favor of drawing on comparatively more obscure chestnuts from Gabriel’s catalog. The new arrangements are also interesting enough on a first listen. They just don’t resonate deeply enough to warrant those repeat listens.

I dunno’ Pete, maybe an unplugged concert, next time…or at least something that rocks a bit more.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.facebook.com/chefrocks kim

    San Jacinto has been my favorite ‘solo’ Gabriel tune…….Love Red Rain too….Sorry to her they kinda ‘Suck’ here!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    They don’t really suck Kim, they’re just different. Technically, they are flawless. They just lack a certain soul, that’s all.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    What’s up, Glen? Are you involved with OWS?

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    So far, all I’ve done is buy the shirt Roger…LOL. Definitely with them in spirit though.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    You’re based in Seattle if memory serves. It’s a hop, skip and jump. They need on the ground reporters, and we would appreciate a first-hand account.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Good review, Glen. Sounds like ol’ Pete’s gone and fully committed to the self-indulgence. I hate when these cats lose the fun factor.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Roger, I’d love to get involved with this, I really would. I’m definitely in agreement with what the OWS people are doing, in fact I basically predicted this (or something like it) would eventually happen.

    The problem is, between the stresses of the day job and the final copyedit phase of the Neil Young book, I just don’t know where I’d ever find the time. I know that sounds like a copout, but it really is the truth. From what I understand anyway, the Seattle group is pretty disorganized too, for whatever that is worth.

    Back to the review though…thanks for the comment Jordan. I really wanted to like this, but he’s just taking himself way too serious here. Why guys like Gabriel, Sting, Byrne, etc. insist on running like hell from what got them to the dance in the first place — rock — and headfirst into pretentiousness bordering on parody, just totally befuddles me.

    If Starbucks had a fulltime radio station, those three guys would be in full-on heavy rotation, right alongside the Kenny Gs of the world. Its sad, really.

    -Glen

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Anyway, Glenn, didn’t mean to distract, just wanted to touch base because I knew you’d be all for it.

    Good luck with your project.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    No worries Roger, and its always good to hear from you. Eat the rich, brother…

    -Glen

  • PomPy

    Do youStill drive a horse and cart? Or have you, like Gabriel moved on and tried new things? You should appreciate what he is, as well as what he was….he is a visionary, innovator and humanitarian. I for one think that the wold would be a poorer place without the likes of him who have the conviction to follow his ideals and beliefs. By the way I have a nice modern model T ford for sale if you do wish to move on…..

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I do appreciate Gabriel for what he is, and have always respected his willingness to experiment with different styles in the pursuit of his vision. I just found this one a bit boring, and think he is taking the whole “artiste” thing way too seriously. It’s not so much the arrangements (although they are mostly overblown), but rather the lack of any real soul here that left me cold. Model T Fords, now those have got soul…

    -Glen

  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    Glen, your review is right on the money. I’m having a hard time getting into this recording. The songs don’t translate well into this new sterile concept. Yesterday, I saw another aging white star musician, Johnny Winter, and he’s still as uncompromising and brilliant as ever.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Exactly what I was trying to get at — the songs don’t translate well in the new arrangements. Thanks for straightening that out, Triniman.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Forgot to add one thing Triniman…and that’s your comment on Johnny Winter. From what I understand, he is in failing health these days. So to know that he can even withstand the rigors of a stage performance, let alone kick the ass you report he did, is really great news. I’ll look forward to reading your review…

    -Glen

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “In fairness to Gabriel, it works better here than on previously ill-fated attempts at merging rock with classical…”

    I’d say Yngwie Malmsteen does a far better job at Classical / Rock Fusion,but, he’s basically Classical to begin with so I wouldn’t really have a point.

    Still, I don’t think Mr. Gabriel really does that great of a job. To rework his material into a Classical / Orchestral work suggests,to me, that his voice was the strongest part of those songs. I kind of disagree. The material has lost its soul because the original instrumentation & musicianship was just as crucial to the meaning of those songs as his voice & lyrics were. Personally, I think if he didn’t go the minimalist route with these works that they would have had some real strength in translation. BUT, he didn’t so they don’t, imho. The one thing I do appreciate though is his appreciation of the finer pieces of recording equipment and formats. It is a pristine recording and I’m surprised you didn’t mention that Glen. The 48kHz @ 24Bit CD (almost DVD audio) format sounds fantastic.

    Not to hijack the thread, but for a killer dramatic rock album with some “orchestral”-like compositions, you should check out the new album from Paatos entitled “Breathing”. The only (somewhat inaccurate) thing that comes to mind right now is Portishead meets Porcupine Tree

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    While I didn’t go into the exact tech specs (and thank you for doing so, Brian), maybe you missed this line?:

    “As expected with something like this, the audio mix likewise more than lives up to the challenge of capturing something as intricately layered as the sound of a full orchestra.”

    -Glen

  • Marcio Hofmeister

    Disagree. Totally. Do you want more from the same, forever? He already did that. And we already saw. We can buy Secret World Blu Ray, if we want.Now he is getting old, and the orchestra, with all harmonics and colors, is a very good perspective. The show is so beautifull, and I can’t wait to see it live, november 13, here, in Brazil.

  • http://www.ericgudmunsen.com Eric Gudmunsen

    I’m watching this on Sky Arts as I read, and yes, I concur with your findings sir. I’d rather surf youtube for archive Genesis footage and watch Gabriel as he should be watched.

  • http://cinemasentries.com El Bicho

    I don’t concur. I enjoyed the new interpretations, certainly not sterile unless you are narrowminded and unable to appreciate instruments aside from guitars and drums. No mention of the vast improvement in Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” disqualifies the taste of the naysayers.