Chase Center, San Francisco
October 11, 2023
Photos by Raymond Ahner
The most recent album of original material by Peter Gabriel, Up, was released in 2002. Now, over two decades later, his follow-up is being set to be released by the end of the year. Titled i/o, Peter has set out on tour in support of the album. After a European leg, Peter and his band stopped at the Chase Center in San Francisco as part of the North American leg of the tour.
Coming onstage by himself at the beginning of the show, Peter talked about the creation of the planet, a large circular screen hanging down above him showing a display of the full moon. Soon after, he sat down and put a keyboard on his lap before longtime bassist Tony Levin came onstage and sat beside him, the two opening the show with a stripped-down rendition of “Washing Of The Water” from his 1992 album Us. The song had never been a particular favorite of mine, but hearing it in this rendition of it did bring some tears to my eyes, which would be a common occurrence as the show went on. After that, the rest of the band came onstage and sat around Peter and Tony, all of them forming a semicircle.
Peter’s band for this tour consists of longtime guitarist David Rhodes, drummer Manu Katché, multi-instrumentalist Josh Shpak, keyboardist Don-E, guitarist Richard Evans, cellist and vocalist Ayanna Witter-Johnson, and violinist and violist Marina Moore. The nine of them, all sitting down, played the song “Growing Up” from Peter’s latest album, Up. It was a perfect display of the musical prowess of all of the musicians, and a stage-setter of what was to come for the rest of the show. As the song finished, the circular screen moved up, and the band took position throughout the rest of the stage.
What followed was a celebration of his upcoming i/o album, as Peter and his band primarily played songs from the upcoming record. “Panopticom” is a more rocking number, the circular screen that now hung over the stage changing its display from an ominous red circle to an all-seeing eye as the chorus hit. “Four Kinds Of Horses” is a more atmospheric song, its stuttering rhythm reminiscent of the material from Up, while the title track, “i/o,” whose lyrics are about being one with nature, reminds of of the more upbeat singles from his 1986 album So in terms of its composition.
It can be seen as a negative to tour for an album that hasn’t been released yet and play mostly songs from that album. But Peter has worked around that issue by releasing a song from the i/o album on each full moon of the year (so far ten of the album’s twelve songs have been released). As each song from the album was played throughout the show, the artwork for each single was displayed on the multi-part screen behind the band. Unfortunately you could tell that a chunk of the audience hadn’t heard these songs, as most of the audience (at least in the section around me) only seemed to come alive when Peter played one of his older songs, like the dynamic “Digging In The Dirt.”
One thing that happened to me throughout the show was something that I made mention of earlier. During “Playing For Time,” a piano-led ballad from his upcoming album, the song not only brought tears to my eyes, but made me cry outright. The song isn’t one that I ever felt that strongly about, but seeing it in a live setting was truly overwhelming for me. This happened multiple times as the show went on: during Peter’s duet with Ayanna Witter-Johnson (who absolutely killed it) of “Don’t Give Up,” the heartfelt “In Your Eyes,” and “Biko.” All had tears streaming down my cheeks.
Something else about the show that I feel is worth noting is how painstakingly Gabriel seems to have been involved in the development of every aspect of the show. It’s no secret that he tries to go all-out during his live shows, going all the way back to dressing up as various characters onstage when he fronted the band Genesis. But unlike other live acts who seem to put the priority on their stage show first and the songs second, Gabriel has ensured that the two perfectly go hand-in-hand.
After closing the first set of the show with the mighty “Sledgehammer,” the second set started with a screen being lowered at the front of the stage. The raucous intro of “Darkness” blared through the venue as Peter stood behind the screen, his harsh black silhouette moving behind it. The songs sinister tone always reminded me of other songs in his catalogue like “Intruder” and “Moribund The Burgermeister,” but as he sang “I’m afraid of loving women, and I’m scared of loving men,” the song hit me like a punch in the gut. The screen stayed onstage for the tonally different “Love Can Heal” as Peter seemingly used a wand to paint animated clouds and hearts on the screen during the tender ballad.
The second set featured less songs from i/o than the first one, with more of an emphasis on the singles from So, of which three were performed: the aforementioned “Don’t Give Up,” “Red Rain,” and “Big Time,” all of which got an incredibly enthusiastic response from the crowd. As the set came to a close, Peter talked about how he would drive to and from his first job and pass a flat-top mound every day to and from work. Its name? Solbury Hill. The crowd erupted as the band played Gabriel’s first truly classic song, an uplifting number about taking control of your destiny.
After a first encore of “In Your Eyes,” which was a truly beautiful performance, Peter and his band came back onstage to an incredibly dark stage. Peter dedicated the following song to those who have the courage to stand up for what they believe in all over the world, and for one man in-particular whose courage cost him his life: Stephen Biko. The band played the stark instrumental opening of Peter’s anti-apartheid song “Biko” as the circular screen above them had a border of sharp neon red, and soon displayed a photo of Steve Biko over the band as Peter sang, “When I try and sleep at night I can only dream in red, the outside world is black and white with only one color dead.” Each band member put their fists in the end to the vocal chant that closes the song out as they slowly left the stage, one by one, leaving just Manu Katché onstage playing the minimal beat of the song. Soon, he too finished, stepped out from behind the drum kit, and left the stage. It was a somber and sobering ending to a show that was both full of joy and hope for the future.
I’ve been to a lot of shows. Hundreds, even. But believe me when I tell you that this was, without hesitation, one of the best that I’ve ever seen. I’ve been a Peter Gabriel fan for over half of my life and have never had the opportunity to see him live until now, and it was well worth the wait. Mark my words, new songs like “Road To Joy” are going to go down as classics in his catalogue, as beloved as songs like “Sledgehammer” or “Shock The Monkey,” and I feel blessed to have been able to see the tour in support of his first new music in over twenty years. His full artistic vision is on display during every song of this show, and if you have seen this tour, then you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, and you have the chance to see it, then there’s nothing to debate. Go see Peter Gabriel.