Apparently the time for dark, snowy nights has passed in New England for this season. In fact, it never really got started, as we experienced an unnaturally snow-free winter. I’m not a big fan of snow and ice, but the lack of thereof is a shame in one sense. The fact is that Peter Gabriel: New Blood – Live In London is perfect viewing for a one of those quiet winter nights.
This is serious music, melancholy even, presented with enormous skill and imagination by Gabriel and the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra. The concert is an offshoot of the Scratch My Back project that Gabriel began in 2010. On that album, Gabriel covered songs by other artists with an orchestral backing. It was followed by the New Blood studio album, on which Gabriel performed his own songs with an orchestra. An album called I’ll Scratch Yours, on which artists will return the favor by covering Gabriel songs, is forthcoming.
The first half of the concert, which was filmed at the Hammersmith Apollo last year, features several of the Scratch My Back songs, including splendid versions of Paul Simon’s “The Boy In the Bubble, Regina Spektor’s “Apres Moi,” Stephin Merritt’s (Magnetic Fields) “The Book of Love,” and Lou Reed’s powerful marriage proposal to Laurie Anderson “The Power of the Heart.” Mixed in are Gabriel tunes like the show-opening “Intruder,” and “Washing of the Water,” which Gabriel performs with his daughter Melanie, who, along with Ane Brun, provides strong backing vocals throughout.
I would have enjoyed hearing a live rendition of Bon Iver’s “Flume,” my favorite track from Scratch My Back, but that’s a quibble.
The balance of the show is all Gabriel. For me, the casting of his classic songs in the orchestral format, without guitars, drums, or even synthesizers, proves that these songs can stand on their own in any setting. It’s a continuation of Gabriel’s ongoing history of innovation, with fresh takes on songs like “Biko,” “San Jacinto,” “Mercy Street,” “The Rhythm of the Heat,” “Solsbury Hill” (which incorporates Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy”), “In Your Eyes,” and “Don’t Give Up.”
The orchestral arrangements by John Metcalfe are stunning throughout, and the New Blood Orchestra is effectively conducted by Ben Foster. Blend in Gabriel’s still powerful voice, outstanding vocal turns by Melanie Gabriel, and Ane Brun, well-designed lighting and special effects, and first-rate audio, and you have the finest concert film I’ve seen since Concert For George in 2003. Don’t wait for a snowy night. Watch it now.