His 1986 album So, and particularly it’s mega-single and video “Sledgehammer,” had firmly established Gabriel – who up until this point, was more of a cult-favorite with prog-rock fans – as one of the biggest artists in the world.
It was a brief moment in time, to be sure, and one which Peter Gabriel would never fully recapture in terms of achieving the same level of mass mainstream acceptance. Today, he remains a highly respected artist and musical innovator, and there is certainly no denying his influence in exposing pop audiences to the musical melting-pot of multi-cultural rhythms commonly referred to now as “world music” (among other things).
But these days, Gabriel’s fan-base consists mainly of a cult of devotees, not unlike the one that bought those first few solo albums after he left Genesis. The thing is, one suspects that is exactly how Peter Gabriel prefers it.
In that respect, Live In Athens 1987 represents a snapshot in time when Gabriel was sitting pretty on top of the music world, and the energy and exuberance of the performance captured here certainly reflects this. Eagle Rock has also put together quite a package here for Gabriel fans.
In addition to the complete Athens concert – including Youssou N’Dour’s five song opening set, and previously unseen footage from the show of Gabriel songs like “Intruder” – the double DVD package also includes the complete Play collection of Gabriel’s original music videos. Everything here is digitally restored and remastered to perfection, and the sound in particular is excellent throughout.
It’s a great representation of just where Peter Gabriel was at as an artist at the time, and a fantastic showcase for the amazing band he was fronting. The sound mix wisely favors the crack rhythm section of bassist extraordinaire Tony Levin and drummer Manu Katche for one thing. The camera angles are especially kind to Levin, who is simply a miracle to watch this up close and personal. Gabriel and the rest of the band – including guitarist David Rhodes and keyboard virtuoso David Sancious – also seem to be having a great time onstage, which makes this concert a lot of fun to watch.
However, the loving care taken here in recapturing a concert recorded in 1987, occasionally also has the unfortunate side effect of dating some of the performances. On “Intruder” for example, the performance is undeniably powerful, but so is that overpowering, big eighties drum sound that pretty much everyone was using back then. Likewise, David Sancious is almost criminally underused here, limited mostly to the cheesy-sounding, synth-heavy flourishes that are also musical trademarks of the time period. Anyone who has ever heard Sancious’ amazing work on something like Bruce Springsteen’s “New York City Serenade,” is bound to be left scratching their heads here.
That said, there is still a lot to like about this DVD package. The video restoration job is excellent – focusing mainly on the concert itself, and wisely ditching Gabriel’s home movies from the original P.O.V. VHS source material. As we already mentioned, the sound is equally exquisite.
The performance itself is also pretty special, at least once you get past the costumes (waist-length coats, anyone?) and cliches of the time it was made. Everyone from the band to the audience is clearly feeling the love here – especially when Gabriel falls backward into the audience during “Lay Your Hands On Me” (predating the crowd surfing of the grunge era by some five years).
All told, between the concert; the bonus Play disc of videos (some of which are very rare, and all of which serve as reminders that Gabriel was a music video innovator); and extras like a 1986 interview with Paul Gambaccini, this is also a very generous DVD package, packed with well over three hours of material.
For Peter Gabriel fans, this is a must-own.