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Peter Gabriel’s “So”: Still so great

By Dave McKenna,

Peter Gabriel built his current tour, which ended with a fabulous and wondrously received stop at the Patriot Center on Sunday, around “So.” That’s his 1986 album that was so instantly ubiquitous just about everybody in Western civilization with access to a radio the year it was released knows every song.

After throwing in a few of his better-known non-“So” singles (“Shock the Monkey” and “Solsbury Hill” being the most crowd-pleasing of the bunch), Gabriel got to material from his landmark release, though the LP’s playlist was reworked for the show to reflect what he said was “the order in which it was originally intended.”

During the album-opening “Red Rain,” fans swung their arms toward the heavens and screamed along to the supremely melodramatic and melodic chorus, with its anti-arms-race or pro-environment or just plain spacey message. Gabriel isn’t lanky and lithe like he was during his days as a youngster fronting Genesis, but he still likes to dance. For the industrially funky “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time,” Gabriel coaxed bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes (band members who both played on the original “So” sessions) to join him in goofy line routines, which inspired crowd members to dust off moves that, from the looks of things, most hadn’t attempted since attending late-1980s frat parties soundtracked by “So.”

Back in the day, Gabriel wore alien masks and skintight body suits onstage, and he’s still playful with his garb: On this tour he sported multilayered and accessorized stage garb, with big boots that made him look like a futuristic commercial fisherman. When the now-full-figured Gabriel lay down onstage and stared upward toward strategically placed cameras for the dirge-ish “Mercy Street,” the image on the screens conjured Marlon Brando as Col. Kurtz in the climactic scenes of “Apocalypse Now.” On “Don’t Give Up,” with each verse outlining the lot of a loser at sports and/or romance and/or employment, Gabriel brought backup singer Jennie Abrahamson up front to sing the pep-talk-y chorus that had originally been crooned by Kate Bush. Abrahamson’s no Bush, but neither is anybody else on the planet.

Fans of all ages and either gender could be seen wiping tears away during the album’s closer, “In Your Eyes,” while blubbering along to lines like “I want to be that complete / In your eyes,” and the rest of its steroidally romantic lyrics. Even Gabriel, a supporter of Amnesty International’s efforts from way back, choked up while introducing his encore of “Biko,” an anthemic tribute to South African anti-apartheid martyr Stephen Biko, who was murdered by government forces in his home country in 1977. “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire!” Gabriel sang for the dead revolutionary, and the crowd sang him home with the arena full of the oh-oh-ohs Gabriel requested.

How great was this show? So great.

© The Washington Post Company