Peter Gabriel: Live in Athens 1987 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. About that aspect ratio: does it represent the original photography? I don’t know. While shot with a home video market in mind – and an ensuing “original aspect ratio” of 1.33:1 on VHS – the program used 35mm photography and may have been “protected” for a wider ratio.
If anyone has heard comments from those involved about the “preferred” ratio, I’d be curious to learn the details. Viewing the program now, I can’t say that I saw any obvious artifacts of cropping from 1.33:1 down to 1.78:1, so if the presentation lost information, it didn't appear clear to me.
Whatever ratio questions exist, the Blu-ray undoubtedly offered the highest quality of visuals. Indeed, the use of the 35mm photography made this easily one of the most attractive 1980s concert presentations on the market.
Sharpness mostly seemed solid. Occasionally, wide shots came across as a little soft and ill defined. However, those examples appeared infrequently and did little to distract from the rest of the presentation, which usually looked concise and detailed. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws looked absent.
Most of the color variation came from lighting, as Gabriel and band tended toward white and black garb. Heck, even the colored lights remained fairly restricted; this wasn’t a monochromatic affair, but it lacked many prominent colors. Within those confines, though, the hues looked well developed and accurate. Blacks were deep and dense, while low-light shots came across as clear and appropriately visible. Athens looked quite good and was substantially more appealing than I’d anticipated.
As one expects from a concert presentation, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundfield focused on the front, where the elements showed strong stereo imaging. Pete’s vocals appeared set in the middle, while the instruments were accurately located and they demonstrated nice breadth and delineation. I could distinguish the various instruments with ease, as they were placed in a natural and clear manner. They also blended together smoothly to create a forward soundstage that consistently created a real and involving setting.
As for the surrounds, they broadened to a reasonable degree. While they didn’t include much unique audio, they embellished the forward channels in an enveloping way. For instance, during “Intruder”, the back speakers offered an eerie reverb for Gabriel’s vocals. We also got the usual crowd noise from the surrounds. They weren’t dynamic partners, but they suited the style of the program.
Audio quality was solid – in a manner of speaking. On the surface, the show sounded great, and that was a problem, as it often didn’t sound “live”. I strongly suspect that significant portions of the 1987 concert were re-recorded in the studio, especially in regard to Gabriel’s vocals, which rarely – if ever – seemed “live”. These frequently displayed a heavy studio feel and I’d be shocked to learn that many came from that night in 1987.
They did vary somewhat, as some songs sounded more “real” than others. “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” actually left the impression they might’ve been recorded live, but “Mercy Street” seemed so canned that it felt like I was watching a music video with the studio version slapped on top. The situation improved as the show progressed, so the majority of the “fake-sounding” vocals appeared in the concert’s first half; I remained suspicious of later singing too, but at least these elements blended better with the setting.
It was tougher to judge the genesis – ha! – of the instruments. Those also tended to seem a bit too clean, but I bought them as “live” much more easily than I did the vocals. I suspect studio reworking occurred with the instruments as well, but it seemed much less glaring.
This became a substantial distraction for me, as I couldn’t quite get into the performances as much as I’d like because some of the vocals sounded so “fake”. Take “Games Without Frontiers”, for example. A song that always soared live, it kicked into action well – until we got to Gabriel’s heavily reverbed vocals. Is it possible they sounded like that on stage? Maybe, but I doubt it; I’ve been to hundreds of concerts – and have seen scores of concert videos – without encountering vocals that sound this way.
The issue made it tough for me to rate the quality of the soundtrack. Again, on the surface, it sounded great, as it showed good clarity and a dynamic tone. The instruments remained crisp and vivid during the concert with warm low-end.
But it just sounded “wrong” too much of the time. I went with a “B” just because the quality was so good that I didn’t think a lower grade would be right, but if the track had seemed more “real”, it would’ve been an “A”. The canned feel didn’t ruin the show for me, but it ensured I’d not enjoy it as much as I would’ve if it’d consistently boasted actual live vocals.
When we shift to extras, we encounter a performance from opening act Youssou N’Dour. We get his complete 41-minute, 44-second set, presented with the same picture/audio quality as Gabriel’s section of the evening. Indeed, if you simply choose “Play Show” from the main menu, it’ll run N’Dour’s segment and follow up with Gabriel’s. I appreciate the inclusion of N’Dour’s set; it adds value to the disc.
Conducted by Paul Gambaccini, a 1986 interview with Peter Gabriel runs 11 minutes, five seconds. Right around the release of So, he discusses the gaps between album releases, the record’s title, music videos, musicians, plans for live performances, reflections on his time with Genesis, thoughts about then-current technology and his future in music. We don’t get a ton of vital information here, but the interview proves to be engaging, and it’s interesting to see Gabriel immediately before he entered superstar status. (And it’s funny to hear the four-year gap between Security and So viewed as “long” given how little work Pete’s produced since 1986!)
The Blu-ray ends with the classic ”Sledgehammer” music video. Presented with DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound, this memorable video looks and sounds quite good here.
Speaking of videos, this release packs the entire Play DVD from 2004. That disc includes 23 videos over Gabriel’s career; I discuss it in detail via this link. Other than as a way to save space, it’s useful for those of us who already own the DVD, but it doesn’t appear to add to the Blu-ray’s retail price, so I view it as a nice “free” bonus.
Finally, we get a booklet. It includes credits, photos and liner notes from Nige Tassell. Note that the booklet also includes text for Play.
One of rock’s all-time great live performers, we get a good feel for Peter Gabriel via Live in Athens 1987. Presented in a clean, concise manner, we find a nice representation of a strong concert. The Blu-ray offers very good visuals and bonus materials; audio suffers from some apparently re-recorded vocals but still sounds strong. Despite some sonic qualms, I find more than enough to like here to recommend Athens.