Sunday, February 21, 2016

Blood → Storms: Red Rain

We transition from Blood to Storms with this great track from Peter Gabriel.

Two of the best concerts I ever saw were Peter Gabriel shows. He was a riveting performer—some people just know how to command a stage—and the music that he made was complex, interesting and intense. Gabriel’s reputation as a live performer began with Genesis, when he would appear on stage in a variety of bizarre costumes, masks, headgear and makeup, but in the two solos shows that I have seen, he was mesmerizing, even without a single fox head.

The two shows were also very different. The first one was in 1980, at the Asbury Park Convention Center. I’ve written about the opening act, Random Hold, and how it was fun being sort of recognized in our brand new WPRB T-shirts. At the time, Gabriel was still kind of a big name, but not what I would call a superstar as a solo act. His first album was all over the place, although it did have “Solsbury Hill” on it—still one of my favorite songs. I happened to enjoy his second album a great deal, although opinions were and are mixed (Gabriel refused to include any of the songs from it on his first “Greatest Hits” collection). But his third album (titled like the first two Peter Gabriel, and generally referred to as Melt) was where he seemed to put it all together. It is a dark, foreboding album, filled with menace and many songs about borders and frontiers, both internal and external. Unlike his first two discs, it was consistent throughout, and without any really weak tracks.

This was the material that Gabriel drew from for the bulk his Asbury Park show, starting with the album and show opener “Intruder,” which popularized the “gated drum” sound that later became an 80s cliché. Although it was not a small space, the Convention Center stage was not huge, and the show was not lavish, but it was effective. I will never forget how blown away I was after leaving the concert.

After Melt, Gabriel released the similar, maybe even more atmospheric, Security, which featured the song “Shock the Monkey,” then put out an excellent live set and did the soundtrack to the movie Birdy.

One morning in mid-1986, I had just gotten up and turned on the radio in bed. The DJ announced a brand new song from Peter Gabriel, which immediately piqued my interest. It was “Sledgehammer,” a song that was so unlike anything I expected from Gabriel, with its funk beat, horns and playfulness. Based on the remarkable quality of the music, the great videos and, later, the movie, Say Anything, the album So catapulted Gabriel back to superstardom. “Red Rain,” though, is not from the playful end of the spectrum—it is, instead, a solemn song about serious issues such as AIDS and nuclear fallout. The exact meaning of the red rain symbolism is unclear, or at least it derives from a number of different dreams that Gabriel had, some of which include blood falling like rain. The hi-hat that is prominent was played by Police drummer Stewart Copeland, which represents the rain.

I saw Gabriel for the second and last time on the tour for So, at Madison Square Garden in December, 1986 with my future wife. I remember that show because, not only was the music great, the show was big—lots of lights and lots of musicians on stage (many of them from Super Etoile de Dakar, the band of Youssou N’Dour, who opened the show and also sang with Gabriel, most memorably on "In Your Eyes").

The video above is a crappy video of “Red Rain” from a later show on the tour, which gives some sense of the power of the song live. The last time I posted an mp3 of a Gabriel song, I was cited for a copyright violation, and will not risk that again. I have to say that after So, I found Gabriel’s music less interesting. It almost seemed like he was trying too hard, and his music became difficult and unenjoyable. And then, for a few years, he focused on cover projects and orchestral versions of his songs, and they were not to my liking either. He’s working on a new album now, and will be touring with Sting, so we will see in what direction this always interesting artist will be heading.

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