Peter Gabriel – O2 Arena, London, June 19, 2023

Fake news, AI, the future... and some great songs

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It’s a trope of the mature artist to want to strip everything back in late career – to drop the production tricks and reveal the truth. Where, then, does that leave Peter Gabriel, whose career has been built on the power of theatrical presentation, at an arena show?

As mushrooms grow and strawberries rot on screens behind him, and works by favourite artists like Ai Wei Wei complement his performance, you’d maybe think that Gabriel was having none of it and sticking firmly to his position.

It turns out, though, from his initial Pythonesque appearance (strolling on in a flat cap), to his humorous digressions (“I grew up on a dairy farm – only the bull was worried about AI… artificial insemination”) it seems these days Gabriel’s mission is to enjoy the tricks of the performance trade, but also dismantle the power hierarchy and convention of a rock show.


The tone is conversational and intimate. There’s no big entrance. There’s a lot of talking and thanking the band, as he discourses on what concerns him: fake news, AI, the future, and the fate of the individual.

Which all has a charming father-in-law-reads-that-book-about-mushrooms quality, and is certainly a change from hanging upside down in a harness or dressing up as he has in the past but possibly preaching to the choir. For all his diverse interests, you couldn’t fail to get the idea from the songs (“Love Can Heal”, “Live And Let Live”) and the feeling in his voice – the man can still very much hit those soulful high notes, that Gabriel is a pretty right-thinking guy. In case you for some reason thought he might be content with a hits set, there’s a new song “Olive Tree”, from a forthcoming project. VR-themed? Need you even ask?

As the evening progresses Gabriel untethers from the conceptual, Brian Cox feel of the first set (highlights: “Growing Up” “i/o”, “Sledgehammer” which he had to fit in somewhere), to a second half more coherently-programmed for mood. Ayanna Witter-Johnson is our ersatz Kate Bush on “Don’t Give Up”, while the sumptuous “Red Rain” and “Solsbury Hill” end a second set which illustrates how well his funky and textural world pop has travelled.


Ultimately it’s testament to Gabriel’s charisma that as much as he tampers with the dynamics of a big rock concert (a campfire? An actual interval?), his performance – see his “Big Time” formation stepping with bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes – can effortlessly bring it back. The encores are epic and expansive versions of “In Your Eyes” and “Biko”, which endorse again the eccentric and utterly unique figure which Gabriel cuts. This is someone who became a superstar using all the tricks of the 1980s, but who did it honourably and in his own way then. Clearly, he sees no reason to change that now.

Tony Levin
(bass and stick)
David Rhodes (guitar)
Manu Katché (drums)
Richard Evans (multi-i
Ayanna Witter-Johnson (cello and piano)
Marina Moore (violin and viola) Josh Shpak (trumpet, French horn and keys)

Setlist: Peter Gabriel – O2 Arena, London, June 19, 2023

Washing of the Water
Growing Up
Four Kinds of Horses
Digging in the Dirt
Playing for Time
(with Tom Cawley)
Olive Tree
This Is Home

Love Can Heal
Road to Joy
Don’t Give Up
(vocal by Ayanna Witter-Johnson)
The Court
Red Rain
And Still
Big Time
Live and Let Live
Solsbury Hill

In Your Eyes



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