Peter Gabriel performing his i/o Tour at The Utilita Arena Birmingham on Saturday 17th June 2023.

Images and Review by Kevin Cooper

Peter Gabriel was at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Saturday night as he embarks upon his first tour in nearly ten years, and performing his first new original material since 2002. His latest album i/o is still without a confirmed track listing and release date that may or may not be some time later this year.

But that did not stop Gabriel from delivering a set list that was heavy on new tunes; in fact there were eleven new songs that entertained the crowd. Although he has released a new song every full moon, there were many that were unfamiliar showing that he is not afraid to do things differently.

It is 51 years since he elevated Genesis to a band that everyone was talking about when he unexpectedly took to the stage at a Dublin gig clad in his wife’s Ossie Clarke dress and a fox’s head and a decade ago he opened shows on his world tour by playing a song that was unfinished. So it was with a great deal of excitement and anticipation that this crowd greeted the legendary King Crimson bassist Tony Levin and Gabriel to the stage for an acoustic version of Washing Of The Water.

He then proceeded to light a campfire front of stage where the rest of his eight piece band sat in a circle, whilst a huge moon hung above them which created a nice intimate setting for another acoustic delight, Growing Up. Conjuring up a huge warm sound from rock, funk, folk and world music elements, the musicians enhanced Gabriel’s hoarsely soulful voice on the likes of new songs, Panopticom, and i/o whilst Four Kinds Of Horses was a surprisingly gentle vision of an environmental apocalypse.

With fantastic staging, there were enormous hi-definition screens displaying dazzling visuals that artfully interacted with the music, none more so on the likes of Playing For Time, Olive Tree and This Is Home. For the end of the first set, the arena erupted and everyone jumped out of their seats for his 1986 massive hit, Sledgehammer, which saw the 73 year old Gabriel engaging in a bit of dad dancing.

For the second set, he played behind a vast length of clear plastic that suddenly and repeatedly turned opaque casting the singer and band in silhouette and which functioned as a kind of see through cinema screen on which photographs and words were displayed.

He delivered a sinister moving version of Darkness from 2002’s Up and an authentically moving version of Don’t Give Up which featured the night’s most simple yet striking bit of theatre, while vocalist Ayanna Witter-Johnson sang the chorus originally performed by Kate Bush, Gabriel sat slumped on the drum riser, head bowed. It was a beautiful magical moment.

The band were clearly enjoying themselves, encouraged throughout by Gabriel, who often sat behind a huge keyboard and at times the interaction of trumpet, violin, percussion and keys stole the show. Red Rain was drum led and upped the tempo whilst Live And Let Live had the crowd on their feet dancing, even though they hadn’t heard it before.

Closing the second set with the fabulous Solsbury Hill, Gabriel had delivered two and a half hours of music that entertained throughout. After encores of In Your Eyes and Biko he left the stage to rapturous applause. Whether it was the old or new music that the fans enjoyed the most what was certain was that none could say that they didn’t get their money’s worth.