New Blood: Live In London
[Eagle Rock (2011)]
I so admire musicians who stretch and push the envelope. It might be Springsteen bringing The Seeger Sessions to the world, or Metallica collaborating with the San Francisco Symphony, or perhaps jazz great Diane Schuur lovingly interpreting country classics. Growth and validity as an artist are truly not possible without an honest attempt at experimentation and change.
My admiration is intact for Peter Gabriel as he once again creates differently with the 46-member New Blood Orchestra at London’s Hammersmith Apollo in March of 2011. But the outcome of this particular endeavor is less than favorable. There’s a pervasive heaviness and monochromatic ambiance, and effective sonic resolutions are sometimes not reached. The opening “Intruder,” attractively scary in other performances, does not benefit from its new arrangement that is devoid of guitar, bass, or drum kit. Paul Simon’s luminescent “The Boy In the Bubble” is rendered flat. “Wallflower,” from the 1980s Amnesty International tour era, becomes boringly sweeping when backed by strings. (At a performance in Chile in 1993, this piece built in meaningful intensity to an exquisite poignancy.) The 3D images during Stephin Merritt’s (The Magnetic Fields) lovely “The Book of Love,” and other visual effects throughout the concert, are pretentious.
On the other hand, “Digging In The Dirt” cuts like a knife and indeed takes on a new dimension with orchestral support; the atmosphere becomes electric for “Solsbury Hill”; and “Biko” retains its emotional magnitude—as always. But this is too little in the larger scheme of things. So by all means, applaud Gabriel’s effort, but accept that not all adventures lead to end-of-journey jubilation.
Ellen Geisel (Ballston Lake, NY)