New Blood at Hammersmith Apollo - review
Our Man at the Hammersmith Apollo Reports Back on Peter Gabriel Live
Over two nights last month, lucky Londoners were able to get more than a hint of what to expect from this autumn's New Blood album when Peter took to the stage at the HMV Apollo (nee Hammersmith Odeon) in the company of the 46-strong New Blood Orchestra.
A handful of cover versions from last year's Scratch My Back project were played on both nights, including The Magnetic Fields' The Book Of Love and Peter's decelerated redrawing of Paul Simon's The Boy In The Bubble. But New Blood's task is to present Peter's songs, culled from right across his solo career, in an orchestral setting. And again, dispensing with the traditional weapons of the rock armoury - no guitar, bass or drums - the lyrics were exposed and laid bare, often taking new meaning with the passing of the years.
The New Blood Orchestra were simply superb. Under the energetic conductorship of Ben Foster, they pushed and pulled, soared and plummeted. No more so was this versatility displayed than on Darkness. Here the original's snarling guitar was replaced by appropriately stern strings that then moved through more delicate passages to end with the pin-prick-silent climax. On Intruder, the orchestra effortlessly evoked a pervasive air of unease and danger, with John Metcalfe's suspense-filled arrangement echoing the work of Alfred Hitchcock's composer of choice, Bernard Herrmann.
On several songs, once the vocals were finished, Peter - and backing vocalists Melanie Gabriel and Ane Brun - would leave the stage, handing the spotlight to the orchestra for them to flex their impressive muscles with more moments of high drama. They were dazzling on The Rhythm Of The Heat, all fury and boom, while the strings and brass section went into fierce combat with each other on Digging In The Dirt. The crushing climax of the next song, Signal To Noise, provoked extraordinary ovations from the audience on both nights. The only time that an even heartier reception was heard was, unsurprisingly, for Solsbury Hill, transformed from wistful tune into meaty, celebratory romp.
But there were plenty of quieter, more reflective moments too. Mercy Street, dedicated to the confessional poet Anne Sexton, was suitably sombre, while San Jacinto delightfully shone with spectral sparkle. Blood Of Eden, stripped down to largely just double bass and Tom Cawley's elegant, eloquent piano, turned jazzy at the edges.
For the encores, Ane Brun - first onstage both nights with a couple of solo numbers of spooky, frost-coated folk - took the Kate Bush role on Don't Give Up, while special guest Sevara Nazarkhan emerged to duet on In Your Eyes. Peter, his soaring vocals in fine form despite a chest infection, played the avuncular ringmaster to perfection, his demeanour a combination of gravity and good humour; the latter no more so than when he found himself wound up in his mic cables - "that old favourite".
Anyone feeling gutted that they missed out on these ecstatic, comparatively intimate shows should worry not. Both nights were filmed in 3D for a future release. Watch this space.