A warm autumnal evening in southern Europe. An open-air theatre cut into a hill, the lights of a capital city twinkling beneath. Five musicians take to the stage, five musicians at the peak of their game. A few thousand acolytes approvingly roar at their arrival. Ear-to-ear smiles are visible in every direction, both in the crowd and onstage. This is the last night of a tour. A long tour. A very long tour.
We are in Athens and it’s October 1987. More significantly, it’s the climax of Peter Gabriel’s This Way Up tour, an endeavour that kicked off nearly 12 long months previously, tens and tens of thousands of miles ago. And to mark the significance of the occasion, an extensive film crew has assembled, keen to document the last days of this monumental trek. Over many, many months, this jolly caravan has travelled throughout North America and Europe, from Buffalo to Bologna, Milwaukee to Munich, Toronto to Toulouse. It’s nearly all over. And here in the Greek capital – with this film crew poised in their vantage points, aiming their various cameras at these five men – the occasion will be preserved for eternity.
The performances captured in Athens would emerge three years later as the film P.O.V., where they would be intercut with 8mm footage shot by Gabriel himself of life on the road, in the recording studio, at home. It was a top-line, A-grade production; Martin Scorsese wore the hat of executive producer while Michael Chapman, Scorsese’s cinematographer on Raging Bull, called the shots. It very rapidly became essential viewing for Gabriel’s millions of followers worldwide.
But this was 1990 when VHS still ruled the racks. As the years passed and technology reshaped itself, P.O.V. remained an artefact from a time past, fondly cherished but left on the shelf, never to receive a re-release in the digital age.
Until now. Well, in a way. The performance footage shot by Chapman has been dusted off for a second coming, with more than 150 reels of the original 35mm negatives painstakingly restored, digitised and remixed in 5.1 surround sound. Shot over three nights at the hilltop Lycabettus Theatre, those concert performances, on the last leg of that seemingly endless So tour, have been made available on DVD. The result goes by the name of Live In Athens 1987.
“For many years, I have been asked to release the P.O.V. tour film on DVD. In fact, more so this So tour than any other. When we started to look at the So anniversary release, we discovered what a huge undertaking assembling and re-editing would be. Before we could start, we needed to restore and digitise something like a ton and a half of concert film. Because it was such a huge undertaking and was taking so long, we decided to focus on just the footage of the concert.
I felt that taking a much more filmic approach with this new version would providing something quite different in character from the original video version.”
As a concert film, it was brilliantly shot and has now been equally brilliantly remastered, a crystal-clear record of Gabriel and band in their mid-80s pomp. Shorn of the additional 8mm footage he included on P.O.V., this new take offers the viewer a distraction-free, front-row seat.
The viewer is placed right in the heart of the action all the way, from the band’s cutely synchronised choreography on opening number This Is The Picture, right through to the skin-pricking closer Biko. In between, we’re lost in music, spellbound by the spectacle, totally absorbed by the perfect tightness of a band that’s been on the road for so long.
And, this being the full-length concert performance, there’s the additional thrill of a few songs not previously included on P.O.V. – among them astonishing versions of Intruder and Here Comes The Flood. The band’s exuberance is total and absolute, and matched by the ecstatic reaction of the capacity audience, no more so than when Gabriel unleashes the big guns during the set, most notably those eternal favourites Sledgehammer and Solsbury Hill.
Along with his regular band from this stage of his career – David Rhodes on guitar, Tony Levin on bass, David Sancious on keyboards and Manu Katché on drums – Gabriel is also joined on stage towards the end by Youssou N’Dour and members of his band Les Super Etoiles de Dakar. It’s not the only appearance by the Senegalese superstar on this release. The opening section of the concert features the similarly restored footage of support act N’Dour and band’s tremendous set, as introduced by Gabriel. This excellent performance – including a smouldering version of his epic song Immigrés – has never seen light of day before and completes a full record of what occurred under Greek skies back in 1987.
Among the bonus features is the Sledgehammer video, presented for the first time in 5.1 audio and complete with titles and credits not normally seen when broadcast. There’s also an interview that Gabriel conducted with Radio 1’s Paul Gambaccini in 1986 where he discusses his plans for the videos of songs off the forthcoming So, as well as his ambitions for the accompanying live show.
And now, thanks to this gloriously remastered and re-edited film, those heady days can be revisited, a reminder of the closing stages of one of the great rock tours of recent times.
The double DVD package contains both the Live In Athens live show complete with Youssou N’Dour’s opening set which is being made available for the very first time and also the Play DVD featuring 23 original promotional videos.