Written by Rick Guererro
Jun 12, 2003 at 08:00 PM
ImageThere were “face cams”, a song performed inside of a bouncing plastic ball and even a song performed upon Segways. But in the end Peter Gabriel and band provided all that was necessary to capture the Houston crowds attention during his two hour performance at the Woodlands on Thursday night.Coming off his recent European tour, Gabriel brought a new setlist to his fourth stop in the U.S. featuring material spanning his solo career of 25 years. With storm clouds providing a dramatic backdrop, he once again demonstrated his prowess as one of rock’s premier showmen. And as one of the world music community’s best friends, too.

He personally came on stage to welcome those who showed up early and to introduce the opening act of his U.S.tour, Sevara Nazarhkan from Uzbekistan. Singing traditional, Sufi and folk peasant songs against a rhythm comprised of Western and Central Asian instruments, her powerful, seductive voice coupled with her stage presence prepared the crowd for the diverse influences that have impacted the music of Peter Gabriel.

Opening up with “Red Rain”, he provided red meat for the diverse crowd of twenty-somethings and older, die-hard fans. And while he gave up a good helping of the 1986 album, “So”, he also mixed in four songs from his new release”Up” including his second song, “More Than This”.

Up indeed. With his voice still clear and resonant, the modest but enthusiastic crowd were on their feet for “Secret World”, showcasing the power of his six piece band anchored by bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes.

A veteran of stints with Paul Simon, James Taylor and Carly Simon, nowhere are Levin’s talents better on display than when he’s with Peter Gabriel. In the studio and on the stage his fingerprints have been all over Gabriel’s music since 1977 providing bass lines that are part Charles Mingus and part John Entwhistle. Rhodes has been on every recording and tour since 1980 and along with Levin, their intensity and spirit (down to their mutually shaved heads} matches Gabriel’s vision of bringing his songs alive.

Accenting the the songs industrial rhythm, he and his backup singer (and daughter) Melanie, sang “Games Without Frontiers” while zipping across stage upon two-wheeled people mover Segways in sync as they move deftly around each other.

Storm clouds started to move in during “Mercy Street” and it built to a crescendo as the band tore thru “Darkness”, another new song that allowed David Rhodes to shine on a searing lead. Much of the crowd viewing from the lawn section headed for shelter from the wind and the rain and the large video screens came down as Peter Gabriel appropriately sang the duet “Don’t Give Up” with Melanie Gabriel. Not having the strongest voice, she would at times be lost in the mix. But her plaintive and simple delivery worked.

Performing the new song “Growing Up” in a huge clear bouncing ball called a Zorb, he clearly had a lot of kid in him as he became a human hamster while walking, jumping and stopping on a dime inside the plastic sphere. When the song ended, the audience had little time to contemplate what they had just seen as the opening guitar strains of “Solsbury Hill” began. Despite a miscue and having to restart the song, the crowd was in too good of a mood for anything to spoil the moment. Gabriel, skipping and leading Melanie, Levin and Rhodes in a parade across the stage was obviously enjoying himself and acknowledged the crowd several times during the show.

A rocking “Digging in the Dirt” from 1992’s “Us” followed with Gabriel wearing a helmet with a “face-cam” mounted which he manipulated to provide an up and close and personal view. Then it was “Shock the Monkey” and the surprisingly powerful, hip-hop version of “The Tower That Ate People” from “OVO”, his 2001 effort that was received with mixed reviews.

It was a nice bridge to his 1986 hit “Sledgehammer”. And he reveled in it as he worked the audience while wearing a suit covered with miniature lights. He closed the set with yet another new song, “Signal the Noise”.

With only a little prodding from the appreciative crowd, Gabriel and company along with Sevara and her band came back on stage for “In Your Eyes”.

Gabriel came back one last time for the poignant “Father/Son”. Probably not the crowds choice for the last song of the night. But the lasting impression that will remain will be the power and range of Peter Gabriel’s voice. And throughout the sixteen song setlist, he also reaffirmed his power and range as a songwriter and performer. From the funkiest to the most heartwrenching he continues his vision of performance art in song. And yeah, it rocks.