Peter Gabriel performing ‘So,’ his biggest-selling album, in Las Vegas concert

The tour that finally brings Peter Gabriel to Las Vegas is, almost ironically, something you would expect on the Strip: his biggest-selling and best-known album (“So”) played start to finish, following a popular drift in the concert industry.

“I’ve never done a retro tour before,” he concedes of today’s show at Planet Hollywood Resort. “Robert Plant and I were always teasing each other (about) who would be the first to succumb to the reformed old band thing.”

But Gabriel is rarely so predictable, and the forward-thinking musician always seemed only a degree or two removed from bigger things in Las Vegas. A proposed idea for a high-tech, adult theme park called Real World never got off the ground, but sounds in retrospect a lot like the Electric Daisy Carnival.

“The original Real World idea was a mixture of science and art, and that’s still something that fascinates me,” he says. “The idea of mixing some traditional handmade cultures with futuristic technology is something that I think is of the future. This handmade, high-tech approach is going to see a rebirth.”

Robert Lepage, who helmed “Ka” for Cirque du Soleil, also staged two of Gabriel’s tours (“Secret World” in 1993-94 and “Growing Up” in 2003-04). Mark Fisher, the set designer for Cirque’s “Michael Jackson: The Immortal,” was Gabriel’s collaborator on a Cirque-like show at London’s Millennium Dome in 2000.

During the boom years, was he ever invited to bring any of his big ideas to Las Vegas? “There’ve been a couple of very loose discussions but it’s never really evolved,” he said Sunday, while waiting to perform at the Red Rocks amphitheater near Denver.

“I am actually planning another show after this one,” he added. “I’m trying to get a show that will travel without me, but will be quite an interesting and spectacular thing if I can pull it off. And if we can get some momentum behind it, Vegas might be a great first location to test it out.”

Fans will have to wait for further details. “Well, it’s all in my head yet, and I haven’t yet unloaded it to my collaborators,” he says, beyond the fact that it doesn’t involve circus performance.

He’s a little busy now anyway. The “So” tour celebrates the 25th anniversary (even if a year late) of the album that shook MTV and dragged Gabriel from “art rock” to mainstream popularity.

“I think we were pop stars for a couple of weeks,” he says of the days immortalized by John Cusack holding his boom box aloft to play “In Your Eyes” to Ione Skye in “Say Anything.”

“Then the casual listeners who come around for the hits sort of went off to the next hit maker, and we were left with the core of fans that have probably been there for the other stuff, and who don’t get too bored when you’re in the middle of ‘The Family and the Fishing Net.’ ”

More devout fans have no fear that Gabriel’s experimental nature is intact. He opens the show with a song-in-progress, part of “an acoustic starter,” followed by “an electric main dish (including ‘Fishing Net’) and ‘So’ is served as the dessert.”

Watching Brian Wilson perform the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” made Gabriel see the excitement of a classic album performed in its entirety from a fan’s eye. As with so many tours with this hook, it boils down to a neglected song or two and preserving the original order of the tracks.

“That’s something that I did think was interesting,” Gabriel noted, admitting to a perfectionist’s tendency of “spending hours, or days trying to get the sequence right, looking at rhythms and keys. In those days I would have cassettes of just the beginnings and endings of songs” so he could “try all the different permutations of one to the other.”

“Sometimes I miss that about (today’s marketplace) of ‘just download this song or add it.’ You often found that as a listener, some of the tracks I liked the least were some of the ones I grew to like best.”

And while Gabriel’s running joke with Plant obviously involved the bands Genesis and Led Zeppelin, Gabriel has in fact reunited with musicians who backed most of his solo work: bass wizard Tony Levin, guitarist David Rhodes, keyboardist David Sancious and drummer Manu Katche.

“It felt strange and very familiar at the same time when we started,” he said. “It is strange the way relationships just carry on exactly the same way they were really, except maybe you hope you’ve mellowed and are a tiny bit wiser for having lived longer. But I wouldn’t put a lot of money on it.”

In that spirit, Gabriel says that having a second go-round as a family man – having children ages 4 and 11 with second wife Meabh Flynn – makes one “very conscious how privileged you are” and more determined to enjoy it.

He plans to follow the tour with a year’s sabbatical, traveling the world with his family. “It’s something I meant to do when I was 50, but I’m running 12 years behind.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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