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    Peter Gabriel delivers ‘So’ hits and new ‘i/o’ songs in powerful Kia Forum show
    • October 14, 2023

    At the end of the night, after old songs and new, Peter Gabriel wrapped up a gorgeous night at the Kia Forum with a challenge to the audience.

    “What happens next is up to you,” Gabriel said as he left the stage followed by members of his band, one by one, until only Manu Manu Katché’s booming drumbeats remained, echoing through the arena as the crowd sang the final haunting refrain of “Biko.”

    In one way, his words reflected the message of the song just finished: Can you find the courage of Steve Biko, the South African anti-apartheid activist, whose fight against that evil cost him his life?

    But in the broader sense, Gabriel could have been talking about every song in the set on Friday, and the themes that he’s explored in his music throughout his life: “Birth and death, with sex in the middle,” as he’s described the songs on his new album, “i/o,” but also war and peace, humankind and nature, kindness and love.

    Be brave, and our world thrives, the 73-year-old English singer-songwriter said in words and music throughout 22 songs and three hours on Friday. Be blind, and do we even survive?

    The concert in Inglewood was Gabriel’s first in the Los Angeles area since 2016 at the Hollywood Bowl when he and Sting, who made his own return at the Bowl a week ago, shared the stage for two nights at that venue.

    Unlike then, when the set included hits from both artists’ catalogs, this stop was something quite different. Yes, it included some of Gabriel’s best-loved songs – he played five of nine songs from the 1986 album “So,” perhaps his biggest critical and commercial success.

    But Gabriel also played 11 of 12 songs from “i/o,” his first album of new material in 20 years; it hasn’t even been formally released yet, though nine of the new tracks have been released as singles, arriving one by one on the full moon every month since January.

    That’s a big ask of any audience, and if you came hoping to hear “Shock the Monkey,” “Games Without Frontiers,” or deeper album tracks, well, you went home disappointed. But Gabriel’s audience isn’t like others, and for the most part, went with him wherever he chose to go on Friday.

    The night, which was divided into two sets with an intermission, opened softly with Gabriel walking on stage alone to introduce the show to come. We’re going to travel through time tonight, he said, and consider our lives and our world and the power we have, for good or ill, to change things.

    Bassist Tony Levin, who’s played in Gabriel’s band for 47 years, joined him; sitting before a huge circular screen on which a closeup of the moon was depicted, they began to play “Washing the Water,” an old song, during which the other seven members of Gabriel’s band took their places in a semi-circle beneath the moon, then “Growing Up,” older songs from “Us” and “Up” respectively. (The man loves his two-letter titles.)

    A trio of new songs followed, each with introductions by Gabriel, each with the work of a different contemporary artist chosen by Gabriel to illustrate the single and be used in the videos on screen.

    “Panopticom” was inspired by the rise of AI, which holds the power to either kill us off more quickly or help us see and know our world in a clearer, positive way. The title track “i/o” reflects the manner in which modern life overwhelms and devours the natural world.

    And sure, those are fine messages, but the songs don’t work because of that. They, and most of the new stuff, work because they arrived unfamiliar but finished like classic Peter Gabriel tunes. “i/o” was a catchy, fun upbeat rock song. “Four Kinds of Horses” might have been about war and peace, but to the ears, it’s a gorgeous moody piece carried by the cello, violin and French horn on stage.

    The first part of the show did include a few old faves. “Digging In The Dirt” from “Us” remains a slightly under-appreciated companion to “Sledgehammer,” the No. 1 single from “So,” which closed the first half of the show with a joyful, energetic performance by Gabriel and the band, and a loud, enthusiastic response from the audience. (Guitarist David Rhodes, who’s played with Gabriel for 44 years, displayed an easy familiarity with the singer as they did a little synchronized step-and-kick dance during “Sledgehammer.”)

    Even before the stop-motion animation of the “Sledgehammer” music video, Gabriel has explored the visual side of performance from his days in Genesis to his solo career, and the stagecraft on Friday was subtly beautiful as evidenced by the opening of the second set.

    A stagewide transparent scrim obscured a clear view of Gabriel and the band as they opened with “Darkness,” from “Up,” and “Love Can Heal” from the new album. Gabriel sang behind it, sometimes in silhouette, sometimes, as the spotlights shifted, like a ghost behind the screen. At one point he seemed to “paint” on it, moving his hand to create swirls and streaks of green and red light that followed his onscreen shadow as he walked the width of the stage.

    The bespoke artwork for each new song also added elements of happiness, sorrow, sometimes joy and laughter. “Love Can Heal” included a moody painting of a couple cocooned in an embrace by British artist Antony Micallef. It was followed by “Road to Joy,” one of the most fun and upbeat tracks on the new record with artwork by Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, who contributed a piece titled “Middle Finger in Pink.”

    The back half of the show delivered more hits, including a trio from “So.” “Don’t Give Up” was lovely as ever, with cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson singing the duet part that Kate Bush did on the album. “Red Rain” was as powerfully thrilling as ever. And “Big Time,” the offbeat, upbeat bookend to “Sledgehammer” was pure, joyful fun.

    Not much from Gabriel’s earliest solo albums was included in the set, though “Solsbury Hill” closed out the main set. “In Your Eyes” served as the first encore, done in a slightly rearranged version with a longer intro and outro to the gorgeous melody of the main track.

    And then “Biko,” a song about suffering and injustice and the will to resist. Not tied to any particular conflict in the world, but clearly as relevant today as it was in 1980 when it arrived three years after his death. What happens next is up to you.

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    ​ Orange County Register