"Peter Gabriel - New Blood - Live in London" is the summary of Gabriel's work over the last few years - work that has for some, been a lamentable tangent. Yet for his real fans it has been a powerful and surprising turn that instead of following the doggedly linear path of expectation, has rewardingly led to an beautifully surprising revelation of this great artist's very soul. Melody and harmony, the heart and the core of Western music, is what makes a piece of music either work or not. How they are propelled and delivered, with rhythm and timing, are what really defines the many varying 'styles' of Western expression, and style while addressing the tastes of different audiences, is really something that is secondary. A piece really only works if it has a beautifully and elegantly constructed melody, sometimes called "hooks" in 'Rockspeak', and is supported and fleshed out by equally beautiful harmony. In this case, when Peter Gabriel decided to strip away the Rock idiom and trappings of his music and let the heart and soul of his work shine through so radiantly, he really only followed through on the increasing personal transparency that he's been working on since 1986's "So". Over the ensuing years Gabriel looked deeper and deeper into the dark and vulnerable corners of human nature and used himself, primarily, as the lens for that looking. His bravery and candid honesty was, and is, still, quite striking and admirable. Songs like "Darkness", "Washing of the Water", "Digging in the Dirt", "Don't Give Up", "The Blood of Eden", "I Grieve" and "Secret World" are all fantastic examples of this fearless and slightly uncomfortable self-examination and personal revelation. So for Peter Gabriel fans, REAL fans, can this final act of revelation be so inconsistent with the rest of the impressive body of his work? I think not. In the end it is as natural a move as anything else he's done. For me, it is the final distillation and crystallization of the essence of a remarkable artist and his life-long thrust for honesty and revelation. "New Blood" succeeds not only in this, but on all levels and aspects of its creation and producion. If this man were to die today, "New Blood" couldn't provide a better epitaph. But as always, there's a lot more to come, I think, and as he advertised in his very first solo tour ads - "Expect the Unexpected" ...
The "New Blood" program starts with yet another classic stage entrance from Gabriel. As the opening strains of "Intruder" ominously sound, Gabriel is NOT onstage. When he first starts to sing, very quietly and eerily, almost at a whisper, he is finally seen skulking and creeping in through the back ranks of the orchestra on his way to the front. Perfect. Even with a show that is very low on the technical "WOW-factor", he still finds a way to give us a remarkable bit of showmanship. What an entrance. The show moves on through his cover songs from "Scratch My Back", the very best ones, like "The Boy in the Bubble", "Apres Moi", "The Book of Love" and Lou Reed's proposal song to Laurie Anderson, "The Power of the Heart". They are nicely peppered in amongst his own work towards the start of the program. His own work is perfectly represented and carefully chosen for 'translation' into the orchestral medium. "Walllfower", "San Jacinto", "Washing of the Water", "Darkness", "Biko", "The Rhythm of the Heat", "The Blood of Eden and "Don't Give Up" seem almost BETTER done this way. "Biko is even more stirring now than it ever was. It's hushed beginning gradually builds like the movement it celebrates, like those first candles that become the 'fire". Like Ravel's "Bolero" it slowly, inexorably, builds adding a breathtaking expectation and a final consummation that is almost overwhelming. Some arrangements are strikingly different and some, like "Mercy Street", are so close to the original it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to seem them transcribed this way. John Metcalfe's arrangements then, collaborated on with Gabriel himself, are a huge accomplishment. They not only display remarkable invention, they also allow the great emotional depth of his music to radiantly shine through. That emotion, always inherent in Gabriel's music, no matter how excitingly delivered in his electrifying stage shows, in essence, is really what Gabriel fans have really felt drawn to all this time. Yes, the wonder and imagination of his stagework, right from those first fox-heads, batwings and flowers, through the day-glo reflective workman's vests and the Rober Lepage 'transformer' stages was always something to see, all of it designed to elicit excitement and awe. But now it's all down to feeling, naked, vulnerable, absolutely transparent feeling. And how noble and enriching it really is.
Gabriel is in GREAT voice here. Over 60 and he sounds as good on all the notes as he ever did. His higher tenor range is still there, the trademark falsetto is just as high-flying as ever, the raspy growl, the stirring wail and the subtle nuances of inflection, all of what makes his voice so immediately recognizable is all here on beautiful display. All this themes are covered, from deep, personal psychological reflections, to human rights issues, to themes of hope and resolution and affirmations of the unlimited power of right to change the world. "Biko", "Wallflower" and the evermore relevant "Signal to Noise" send powerful messages in this day of falling despotic monsters, 'Arab Springs' and the North American "Occupy" wildfires. Gabriel's quiet but unshakeable conviction in the triumph of good in the human spirit, is as stirring and relentless as ever.
And of course, the film is shot with imagination, with artful creativity in the lighting and the many projections. Always cutting edge in everything he does, Gabriel's taste and skill show no signs of atrophy or degeneration. Indeed, he says in the small documentary that is included, "Blood Donors", that there is a risk at his age of becoming "a heritage act", merely trundling out the old faves for the sake of nostalgia. He states though that his intent is still to provide something of real interest and relevance. I think he's done that quite nicely here. The sound is pristine, the picture quality crystalline and richly hued. Like his "Growing Up Live", this is a stunning piece of film documentation as well as being a artfully crafted medium in itself. The program is LONG, at a rewarding 162 minutes and it covers his entire career - 22 songs in all. For REAL Peter Gabriel fans, this is a triumph and a MUST. And don't fret, those who want to hear the crunching guitars, the scintillating synth textures, the gut thumping beats of drums and percussion, and that unmistakeable, iconic voice, Gabriel promises that his next outing will be a very different turn of form from orchestrations and seriousness. He says he wants to do something more rhythmic and indeed, fun, next. Whatever he does, you know you can expect something truly great. But the key with him is to not expect. Besides, it's much more fun to be surprised, anyway.