Father, if you are reading this, you win again. I was introduced to Peter Gabriel Plays Live during my most recent trip up North. When I browsed the record stores at Tynemouth Market the morning after, and happened upon this record, I must admit I believed in fate. This, from the former frontman of Genesis, is a masterwork in entertainment. Playing with Tony Levin (bass, stick, backing vocals), Jerry Marotta (drums, vocals), David Rhodes (guitar, vocals), and Larry Fast (keyboards), Gabriel manages to reproduced beautiful and unique versions of the studio originals, spread across his six previous albums.
Most of his biggest hits and key album tracks are represented in tight, inspired performances — the notes concede that some of what is here was sweetened after the fact in the studio, but the immediacy of the stage performances wasn’t lost in the process, and that emotional edge and intimacy give songs such as “Solsbury Hill,” “I Don’t Remember,” and “Shock the Monkey” a sharper, deeper resonance than their studio renditions, fine as those are. AllMusic
This album is made up of pieces recorded during Gabriel’s 1982 tour. They present mature considered reproductions of his key studio successes. My highlights must begin with Family and the Fishing Net. This ominous offering is apocalyptic in its outlook, speaks of the absurdities on the minutiae of weddings and is inspired by early poetry of Dylan Thomas. It is followed by the extraordinarily creepy and urgent Intruder, where Gabriel sings of breaking into a woman’s house and never being caught. Watch out for the stunning end to this track.
Gabriel’s unearthly wail and the artful force of bassist Tony Levin and drummer Jerry Marotta transform both the chilling reverie “Family Snapshot” and the anthemic rocker “D.I.Y.” “Biko,” Gabriel’s salute to South African civil-rights martyr Steven Biko, comes vibrantly alive, its tragic martial pace inflamed by Fast’s bold synthesized bagpipes and guitarist David Rhodes’ angry fuzz chords. Rolling Stones
The first track on side 3, and the first track I was shown by Papa, San Jacinto is easily my favourite. This track speaks of the artificial world of Palm Springs as contrasted with the comparatively genuine life approach of indigenous inhabitants on the other side of the San Jacinto Mountain Range. This is followed swiftly by Solisbury Hill, arguably the most famous track on the album, which needs no description except that is is bloody brilliant.
Plays Live offers the perfect vantage point to admire everything, with the caveat that his third album is best experienced in its original studio form…On Plays Live, Gabriel re-affirms his place as a live performer with few peers and manages to give his catalog a fine spit-and-polish in the bargain. Prorography
Biko is my final highlight. Gabriel sings of anti-apartheid civil rights activist Stephen Biko, who was assassinated in 1977. This is a superb choice to end an album of this magnitude on. It is just forceful and potent enough to shock, but the melody is sufficiently restrained that one can truly focus on the words spoken.
Overall, while this album lacks some sequencing (such is the plight of compilation albums), Gabriel has presented a wonderful offering to the altar of Music. Plays Live covers all bases, it is fun, catchy, evocative, well researched and striking. I recommend it to you for momentous evenings, or even evenings when some trifling squib ghastly person dares to impugn your reputation. It’s certainly made me feel better.