Peter Gabriel has always
been one of rock's greatest showmen, but even he can't control the weather.
As if on cue Saturday night, the heavens provided an impressive light
show and a torrential downpour as Gabriel and his six-piece band performed
the transcendent ballad "Red Rain" to kick off a strong set at the Tweeter
A few songs later, the sound crew furiously mopped the stage, concerned
about the moisture that blew in horizontally under the pavilion to collect
around the musicians' electronics. The good-natured Gabriel just made the
technicians part of the act, jokingly introducing each of them in turn.
Having survived a break with Genesis to thrive as a solo artist, a brush
with bankruptcy thanks to his fervor in launching the WOMAD Festival, and 36
years of turbulent ups and downs in the music industry, the 53-year-old
singer and songwriter wasn't about to let a little water stop him.
Last November, Gabriel made his first visit to Chicago in 10 years on the
tour supporting his last album, 2002's understated art-rock masterpiece
"Up." At the United Center, he performed in the round and took full
advantage of the unique circular stage by rolling around the edge inside a
giant transparent ball during the haunting and ethereal "Growing Up" (which
features the key line, "My ghosts like to travel").
The absurd sphere returned on Saturday, but the singer's traveling was a
bit more limited--he had to content himself with menacing and nearly rolling
over guitarist David Rhodes during a fiery lead, and bouncing up and down in
place during the choruses.
The rest of the man-made (as opposed to natural) theatrics were toned
down, too, but they really weren't missed. No matter how elaborate the
special effects, the focus of any Gabriel show is always on the music. Not
only was he in fine voice, but he was playing with one of the best bands of
Veteran bassist Tony Levin and drummer Ged Lynch powered the rolling
polyrhythms of songs such as "Digging in the Dirt" and "Shock the Monkey,"
while second guitarist and whistle player Richard Evans and keyboardist
Rachel Z created a minimal but hauntingly lovely ambience during "Mercy
Street," Gabriel's tender homage to the late poet Anne Sexton.
Another understated highlight came when the star performed a duet with
his daughter, backing vocalist Melanie Gabriel, during an inspiring version
of "Don't Give Up." But the moment that most fans will carry with them was a
rousing instrumental vamp in the middle of "Solsbury Hill." Wireless one and
all, Gabriel, Levin, Rhodes and Evans pranced in a joyful conga line around
the entire outside perimeter of the pavilion (the lingering rain be damned)
before returning to end the tune onstage.
In keeping with his generous habit, Gabriel appeared early in the evening
to introduce his opening act, the 25-year-old Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan,
whose debut album "Yol Bolsin" was released on his Real World label.
Nazarkhan's set of Sufi peasant songs recalled a less intense, less
accomplished Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. She was more impressive when she
returned to join Gabriel during the first of his well-deserved encores, the
always-rousing "In Your Eyes."
Most people remember the tune from Cameron Crowe's romantic comedy "Say
Anything," which found Chicagoan John Cusack standing in the rain blasting
the song on his boom box in an effort to win Ione Skye. It was hard not to
think of that scene as Gabriel's show drew to a close much as it started, in
wet but wonderful fashion.
Hmmm. Maybe the musical magician has some influence on the weather after