For his introduction to Las Vegas, Peter Gabriel couldn't have seemed more at home. Upon casually strolling out onstage — house lights on — he explained the structure of the show. Then, he and some of his band played a new, unfinished song with no set lyrics, like a no-whoop jam session in front of 5,000-ish people.
From there, the art rocker and his band played a half-acoustic, half-electric suite of Gabriel's greatest hits, keeping the house lights on until killing them and opting for a crew of techs pushing around cranes of spotlights, creating a working-soundstage vibe despite the arena rock feel of songs like "Secret World." That song, along with many others, saw Gabriel and band members busting out quasi-choreographed moves like a geezerly One Direction making up moves on the fly.
Contrast all that to a positively resounding performance of "Red Rain" — which began the complete performance of the 1986 album, So — and you had a dynamic show where you didn't know what was coming around the bend. Gabriel brooded behind the piano during ballads, pantomined like a Broadway musical actor, leapfroged from one end of the stage to the other, yelped and yelled during the loudest, proggiest moments, interacted with bandmates with an often playful, but sometimes earnest, demeanor, and projected out to the crowd during the floodlit anthems.
Gabriel may often employ an understated vocal delivery — both in song and conversation — and avoid the pomposity of his Big Rock peers. But his show is nonetheless larger than life, and despite his monkish appearance, he's a performer always aware of his audience. Who knew Peter Gabriel was such a showman? Even though I'd like to have seen him play our city earlier on, the one nice thing about finally seeing Vegas holdouts like Gabriel is not just the payoff of anticipation, but the element of surprise. The so-called Entertainment Capital of the World still hasn't seen it all, and we clearly hadn't seen an enduring talent like this, who is clearly not taking a paycheck or phoning it in.
That all said, the star of the show might have been So, and the flawless, full replication of it by the same band who took it around the world when it was brand new. It remains evocative and exotic and, at points, epic. I never had to hear midtempo love song "In Your Eyes" again, but Gabriel and crew flesh it out, magnify it, and remove it from all the contexts with which we normally place it. They made it both familiar and fresh, which is a tall order when it comes to nostalgia concerts. And even if it was billed as such, Gabriel's show rarely felt like one.