Peter Gabriel

Plays Live

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Although he had thrived on live performance as a member of Genesis, Peter Gabriel waited until he was four albums and six years deep into his solo career -- with the hit album Security and the Top 40 "Shock the Monkey" chalked up to his credit -- before he took the plunge into concert recording with this album. Released as a double-LP and two-CD set (but also later in a single CD "highlights" edition, missing four songs), this is a fine summing up of the artist's early solo years. Most of his biggest hits and key album tracks are represented in tight, inspired performances -- the notes concede that some of what is here was sweetened after the fact in the studio, but the immediacy of the stage performances wasn't lost in the process, and that emotional edge and intimacy give songs such as "Solsbury Hill," "I Don't Remember," and "Shock the Monkey" a sharper, deeper resonance than their studio renditions, fine as those are. It's that side of the performance that makes this release well worth owning, for anyone enamored of Gabriel's voice or songs, even if nothing here wholly supplants the studio originals. And the band -- Tony Levin (bass, stick, backing vocals), Jerry Marotta (drums, vocals), David Rhodes (guitar, vocals), and Larry Fast (keyboards) -- is in excellent form as well. What is lacking is the cohesiveness that one might have gotten from a live album assembled from a single concert; derived from a multitude of shows, the individual songs are excellent unto themselves, but there's little sense (or even the illusion) from song to song of any forward momentum across the album, and that might be the one major flaw here. But this is a suitable capstone to the first phase of Gabriel's solo career, and also a peculiar one in certain respects -- given the effort that obviously went into assembling the album, the packaging is almost minimalist by the standards of live albums and double albums of the era (the LP version even put both platters into a single sleeve).

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