They still have their art-school aesthetic, and the chops to lay down those impossible rhythms. But most of all, they didn’t forget the dance moves.
Peter Gabriel’s Friday show at Planet Hollywood was the uniquely odd mix of both a Las Vegas debut and a nostalgic revisit to all his tours that never played here over the years, specifically the blockbuster “So” album of 1986.
At 62, Gabriel has lost his hair and the agile physique of all those halcyon days that never included Las Vegas. But he still has the commanding presence, the mysterious voice and a showman’s instincts; highbrow, but not without humor.
During “Sledgehammer,” Gabriel was framed by bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes, strutting out their synchronized bad-Motown moves. It was laugh-out-loud funny because it celebrated the years, but also because these guys had already pummeled you with the full-on, epic prog-rock workout, “The Family and the Fishing Net,” showing you just how serious they could be.
Gabriel knows “Sledgehammer” is just the wee bit better known of the two songs to probably two-thirds of the audience. So when he walked out alone at the beginning, he took time to patiently explain the show’s structure, even joking the “So” album would be the reward “for those who make it through.”
The house lights stayed up for the “unplugged” beginning, including a new song in progress (“The process is sometimes as interesting as the end result,” Gabriel explained) and, strangely enough, a piano-centric breakdown of “Shock the Monkey.”
Midway into the chilling assassin’s portrait “Family Snapshot,” the full stage lighting dramatically fired up with multiple images on the rear screen. The rest of the show was carefully staged as an art-gallery video project, stagehands circling the band with video cameras or tripod-mounted lights.
The “So” album proved to be so much more than a ticket-sales hook. Gabriel rose to the challenge of how to stage the more obscure tracks such as “We Do What We’re Told” while adding surprises to the others: “Mercy Street” sung while lying on his back, “Don’t Give Up” as a theatrical, “Death of a Salesman” duet with Jennie Abrahamson.
The original running order shifted only to save “In Your Eyes” for last. Gabriel updated the stirring finale “Biko” in his introduction, noting that smart phones now allow people in Syria and other countries in duress to “feel connected, a part of a new world.”
All of it — whether it was a first-time experience, or nostalgia for those who had seen Gabriel in other cities — made us wish we could somehow make up for lost time.
(Photos courtesy of Eric Kabik for Caesars Entertainment.)