On the back of four big-selling studio albums and a first Top 30 hit in the US, Peter Gabriel had firmly established himself as an international solo artist by the end of 1982. This initial run of success deserved a celebratory huzzah, duly trumpeted with his debut live album, recorded in Illinois and Kansas that December. Issued the following summer, Plays Live was also subject to a little studio tinkering, though Gabriel’s droll liner notes stress that the essence of the shows remains intact, “human imperfection” and all.
As a document of an upward trajectory, Plays Live is certainly impressive. The central core of Gabriel’s longtime band – guitarist David Rhodes and bassist/Chapman Stick guru Tony Levin – is already in place, joined here by drummer Jerry Marrotta and synth player Larry Fast. They motor through the crowd-pleasing stuff admirably enough: the punchy DIY, the hit Shock The Monkey, the obligatory burst of joy that is Solsbury Hill. The sombre, piano-led Family Snapshot and a dissonant Intruder find Gabriel at his arthouse best.
By 1987, So had hoisted him into the superstar bracket. Live In Athens 1987 captures Gabriel on the final night of the This Way Up tour, perched on the hilltop Lycabettus Theatre that October. Previously available only as the P.O.V. concert film, this is its first time on vinyl.
Magnificent it is too, even minus the eye-popping visuals. Levin and Rhodes are joined by drummer Manu Katché and keyboardist David Sancious, making for the classic Gabriel line-up. Their rhythmic power and versatility is something to behold. It’s most keenly felt in No Self Control’s explosive punctuations and the shimmery dynamics of San Jacinto, though the show ultimately belongs to Gabriel himself (as well it should) with his stunning vocal on Don’t Give Up and a longform In Your Eyes, duetting with Youssou N’Dour. With two more vinyl transmissions on the horizon – Secret World Live and Growing Up Live – it’s a bumper year for Gabriel fetishists.
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