If Peter Gabriel had graduated from Hogwarts, he probably couldn’t have conjured a better trick than what happened during the first five songs of his two-set show at Red Rocks Monday night. Lightning flashed behind the stage as Gabriel opened his show with a languid cover of “Heroes,” the mixed Colorado/English symphony orchestra creating a swelling dreamscape of sound for Gabriel’s still-potent voice.
The continued natural light storm drew lots of “oohs” from the crowd, and by the third song, a slight drizzle had started. However, as Gabriel started singing “Après Moi,” with its line “Après moi, le deluge, after me comes the flood,” the deluge started in earnest. After all, why shouldn’t a British musician bring a little bit of home with him? As Gabriel wryly noted, “When you are in the bosom of nature, you need to be careful of what you wish for.”
The first set consisted mostly of covers, tracks that Gabriel recorded on his new album “Scratch My Back.” Some, such as the well-known cover of “The Book of Love,” and his positively stunning take on Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage,” reached glorious heights, while others, such as the ethereal, yet oddly dispassionate, version of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” fell flat. The first set closed with Gabriel’s transcendent “Biko,” with New Blood Orchestra conductor Ben Foster echoing Gabriel’s plea to the crowd for acknowledgement that “The rest is up to you.”
After a brief set break, Gabriel returned for a set that that was peppered with most of his popular solo songs, beginning with “San Jacinto.” After the enthusiastically received “Digging in the Dirt,” Gabriel reached into the lesser known parts of his catalog for a smoldering take on “Signal to Noise.” Listening to the song, you could easily win a bet with someone foolish enough to say that a symphony orchestra can’t rock.
Gabriel, in fact, made plenty of room for the orchestra to stand out, starting with his position on stage (stage right), with Foster occupying the middle position, as well as much of the spotlight activity. Gabriel would frequently leave the stage during a song, allowing the orchestra, or his backup singers, the brilliant Ane Brun and Gabriel’s daughter Melanie, to shine. Melanie more than held her own, especially on “Downside Up,” while Brun stepped out on the second encore of “Don’t Give Up.”
While a hauntingly disquieting “Mercy Street” was probably the highlight of the night, the fans appreciated “Red Rain” and the set-closing, jaunty “Solsbury Hill,” during which he skipped back and forth across the stage. Gabriel kicked off his three-song encore with the expected “In Your Eyes,” drawing on the orchestra to infuse the song with new life.
Click here to read our list of 11 “Back Scratchers” that really work — a collection of cover songs inspired by Gabriel’s latest album.