Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 22, 2004)
If you watch the DVD for City of Angels, you’ll find an interview with Peter Gabriel as he discusses his contribution to that flick’s soundtrack. We also hear from others as they relate their appreciation that Pete took time out from the recording of his own upcoming album so he could offer something to Angels.
Boy, that effort must have really drained him, for Pete’s next album – entitled Up - wouldn’t hit the shelves until about four and a half years after the theatrical release of Angels! No, I don’t actually blame Angels for the delay. Pete obviously had been at work on Up for quite some time prior to the film. In fact, “I Grieve”, his contribution to Angels, appears on Up, albeit in a different version.
I don’t know why it took Pete 10 years between albums. Us came out in the fall of 1992, and even that seemed like an eternity since its predecessor, 1986’s So. Allegedly Pete has so much material left over from Up that another album – perhaps entitled Follow-Up - will supposedly come out soon. I’ll believe that when I see it.
At least Up led Pete to hit the road for the first time in eight years. The “Growing Up” launched in the fall of 2002. It began as a simple theater performance – I think designed for Pete to get his feet wet after so long – and soon became an elaborate indoor arena show staged in the round. “Growing Up” spent most of its time that way, but when Pete came back to the US for a second leg in the summer of 2003, he scaled down the concert for outdoor amphitheaters; many of the same components remained, but without quite the same level of ambition.
On this DVD called Growing Up Live, we find one of the large arena shows. Shot over two nights in May 2003 at the Filoforum in Milan during May 2003, Growing Up ably documents the show before it hit the amphitheaters. Not surprisingly, the concert focuses most heavily on songs from Up. Six of its 17 tunes come from that album: “Darkness”, “Sky Blue”, “The Barry Williams Show”, “Growing Up”, “More Than This” and “Signal to Noise”.
The remaining 11 tracks come from a mix of sources. Not released in the US, the millennium project Ovo produces “Downside Up” and “Father, Son”, while “Animal Nation” comes from an unlikely source: the Wild Thornberrys Movie. Us offers “Secret World” and “Digging In the Dirt”, while the smash So provides “Red Rain”, “Mercy Street”, “Sledgehammer” and “In Your Eyes”. Finally, “Here Comes the Flood” and “Solsbury Hill” both emanate from 1977’s Peter Gabriel.
Back in the Seventies with Genesis, Pete made his name as an elaborate showman, and Up continues that trend. Performed in the round, the visual aspects of the concert focus on the center of the stage, from where objects lower. For example, during “Growing Up”, a “hamster ball” comes down; Pete enters it and rolls it around the stage.
The perimeter of the stage also comes into play. During “Downside Up”, Pete hooks himself to a device that allows him to walk around the edge while upside down. For “Solsbury Hill”, Pete stays on the ground, but he rides a bike around the outside of the stage.
Most of the songs stay with more subdued visual elements, though. Pete offers enough theatrics to spice up the show, but he doesn’t rely on them to an extreme. Part of me wishes he’d done more of that sort of visual material, but part of me feels satisfied that he didn’t go nuts with gimmicks.
In any case, Growing Up documents a good but not great show. One issue relates to the imbalanced setlist. Actually, that was a concern with the 1993-94 Secret World tour, as it included precious few songs recorded prior to So. Actually, as documented on the DVD, it featured even fewer old songs than did Growing Up, as only two of its tracks – “Solsbury Hill” and “San Jacinto” – predated 1986. (Some 1993 shows featured even fewer than that; “Solsbury” was sometimes the only older track.)
At least Growing Up adds “Here Comes the Flood” to old stalwart “Solsbury”. Still, it’d be nice to hear Pete broaden his repertoire more to rely less. I’m happy to get a substantial amount of new material, but I’d prefer less So. I know it’s his biggest album, but it still doesn’t need to feature quite so prominently. Pete got into pre-1986 hits like “Shock the Monkey” and “Games Without Frontiers” during the 2003 amphitheater shows, and it’d be good to see him expand to some less well-known numbers as well.
Despite those minor gripes, the setlist of Growing Up seems fairly well balanced. As was the case with Secret World Live, Pete probably leans too heavily on slow numbers, though. The show doesn’t sag in the middle ala Secret World, which really started to drag at one point. However, it also doesn’t enjoy as many highs as Secret World. It’s more consistent but less dynamic.
Parts of the same band accompany Pete here, as we find long-time Gabriel partners guitarist David Rhodes and bassist Tony Levin. I believe none of the others played with Pete in the past, though one’s known him her whole life: his daughter Melanie, who offers backing vocals. I wouldn’t call this the best band to support Pete, but they seem more than up to the material and render the songs well.
Pete literally looks like a different man in 2003 compared to 1993. With more to his waistline and less to his hairline, you’d be very hard-pressed to recognize him. Though this might startle folks, I must admit it’s nice to see a rock star who doesn’t obsess over his appearance and who accepts his aging. Pete could have gone the hair plug route but obviously didn’t think it mattered, which it doesn’t.
Pete seems a little less active on stage compared to the old days, and I don’t think we’ll see him crowd surf like back in the Eighties. Nonetheless, his command of the stage remains. Some performers simply look like they’re in control of things, and Pete displays that attitude. This means that even when he stands still, he makes things interesting; he can communicate more with a glare or a hand gesture than other performers relate in entire shows.
For the most part, Growing Up goes with a simple and fairly effective visual presentation. Director Hamish Hamilton depicts events concisely and without too much quick cutting or gimmicks. Some exceptions occur, though, such as the occasional use of split-screen. This mostly happens between songs and allows us to see the action onstage as well as behind the scenes material. This occasionally becomes a minor distraction, but not to any substantial degree.
Otherwise, Hamilton keeps goofiness to a minimum. Songs like “The Barry Williams Show” go for unusual tactics such as artificial TV interference. I could live without that, but it does suit the lyrics, so I won’t complain too much.
Overall, Growing Up offers good documentation of a good concert. Neither side of the equation seems outstanding, as I’ve seen better live shows and better performance DVDs. Nonetheless, this one maintains a high standard of quality across the board and presents a satisfying piece.