You’ve got to hand it to Peter Gabriel. The English singer-songwriter, who started his career with Genesis and created a successful solo career that allows him, 40+ years later, to bring his current i/o tour to arenas all over Europe, isn’t resting on his comfortable laurels.
As he has demonstrated with his experimental-leaning discography over the years, and his involvement in human rights campaigns, Gabriel has an inquisitiveness that has kept him asking questions of a global nature.
When the show begins at the 3Arena, such questions are the ignition of nearly three hours of a setlist, as Gabriel addresses the crowd next to a soon-to-be smouldering fire, and engages us in thoughts about the nature of time, technology, and the universe.
It feels more like the arena-sized stage show of a philosopher giving a talk about human evolution, than a pop concert. But it makes sense for Gabriel whose affinity for visualisation of art and ideas has seen him, outside of music, help develop the use of cameras in the protection of human rights with Witness, and in music, to explore complex ideas with technology in his music videos and songs.
But this is alas, an arena pop show, and Gabriel talks briefly of AI and the Abbatars that have made such a technologically-driven spectacle in London of late, only to use Abba Voyage as a self-deprecating way of acknowledging that his own, very real avatar is 20 years older and 20 pounds heavier, the opposite of the Swedish pop masters’ show.
As the night’s musicians assemble under a marquee moon around a campfire and underscore a human trait of storytelling and singing together, the elemental becomes grander, the micro becomes macro, as the band leave their circle for a bigger one, on the stage for the night.
The i/o tour is no greatest hits show
The i/o tour is no greatest hits show. It presents itself like a science experiment, with crew dressed in orange jumpsuits checking instruments and manning cameras. Each song is presented with visual artwork by a different artist, (named in advance), bringing the art gallery to a multimedia-driven arena stage.
Gabriel’s voice is still recognisable and strong, with his falsetto easily gilding out a number of times as his eight-piece band (who are given many generous credits on the night) bring these universe-roaming songs to life.
World-building ambient experimental pop songs
While first set of the night features the established – 1992’s album Us (‘Washing Of The Water’, ‘Digging In The Dirt’), 2002’s Up (‘Growing Up’) – the majority is drawn from more recent history, and the eventual release of Gabriel’s tenth studio album I/O later this year, that feature a clutch of songs from the record that Gabriel has been releasing since January.
Luckily, the songs from I/O are as mostly as good as anything that has made his name to date. ‘Four Kinds Of Horses’, ‘i/o’ and ‘Playing For Time’ draws a through-line of that inquisitiveness and invention – world-building ambient experimental pop songs striving for greater meaning without losing sight of a tight pop hook.
Only ‘Panopticon’ doesn’t quite land, grasping at the complex topic of “the creation of an infinitely expandable accessible data globe” but sounding a bit more like it’s coming up short with Elon’s instant opinion-driven social media platform.
Before ‘This Is Home’, another new song, Gabriel shines a literal spotlight on the former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and highlights her work with the The Elders (an organisation of former global leaders he co-founded with Nelson Mandela who work together for peace, justice, human rights and sustainability), specifically her recent visit to Palestine with former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, in which they said there was “ever-growing evidence of apartheid”.
The first set of the night comes to a close with the jolt of Gabriel’s most well-known song, the bludgeoning pop smash ‘Sledgehammer’, which remains as fun as the first time you heard it.
The video for the song was groundbreaking at the time of course, and 36 years later, it’s heartening to see Gabriel continue to explore the possibilities of technology in his backdrops, and to continue to bust some dance moves he’s been doing for as long.
i/o tour – second set
The show’s second set features more familiar music, with hits from 1986’s album So – ‘Solsbury Hill’, ‘Red Rain’, ‘Big Time’ and an elongated version of ‘In Your Eyes’ serving as reliable frames for the second part of the show. A stirring version of ‘Don’t Give Up’, featuring Ayanna Witter-Johnson duetting in place of Kate Bush, is at once, desolating, inspiring and overspilling with emotion.
A transportive version of ‘Darkness’ is accompanied by an optical canvas in which a live avatar of Gabriel echoes his movements like Rey in the Mirror Cave from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with the show’s backdrop is constantly shifting – expanding and contracting as each song sees fit.
Surprisingly, it’s once again the new songs that match those greatest hits. A gentle open-hearted soft ambient orchestral song called ‘Love Can Heal’ is particularly revelatory, with Gabriel gesture painting on canvas as he sings.
There is a moving tribute to his mother and her love of music on ‘And Still’ and new song ‘The Court’ is a cinematic epic, that builds tension with rhythm and piano before a memorable refrain.
‘Road For Joy’, a song released just eight days ago, is cemented proof that Gabriel hasn’t lost his touch in creating experimental pop masterclasses since 1977.
The show closes with second encore ‘Biko’, a song in tribute to the South African activist who died in the hands of the apartheid state in 1977, prefaced by a tribute to those in present day in Ukraine and Palestine who are in a similar position. As each band member leaves the stage, only a drumbeat and, eventually, the audience singing the refrain remains.
Gabriel’s ability to draw parallels, whether it is recent history or natural events of the past, and to present them with expanding innovation and creativity across decades, is indicative of the i/o tour, and Peter Gabriel at his level best – experimenting, inquisitive, accessible, insightful and, still looking for the right answers for humanity, after all these years.
Peter Gabriel i/o Tour Setlist
1 – Washing of the Water
2 – Growing Up
3 – Panopticom
4 – Four Kinds of Horses
5 – i/o
6 – Digging in the Dirt
7 – Playing for Time
8 – Olive Tree
9 – This Is Home
10 – Sledgehammer
11 – Darkness
12 – Love Can Heal
13 – Road To Joy
14 – Don’t Give Up
15 – The Court
16 – Red Rain
17 – And Still
18 – Big Time
19 – Live and Let Live
20 – Solsbury Hill
21 – In Your Eyes
22 – Biko