Peter Gabriel has long been a proponent of cutting-edge technology and grand theatrics. On his Summer 2003 North American tour, he once again pushed the proverbial envelope, thinking and acting outside the antiquated orbits of the traditional multimedia mega-conglomerates. The artist has teamed up with online distributors www.TheMusic.com to present the Encore Collection. This series allows enthusiasts the ability to legally obtain CD copies of every concert on the 19-date run. This is a definite win-win for both the musician and consumer, as these limited-edition releases eliminate the market for inferior bootlegs, which often sport spurious (at best) sound. Each show was professionally documented by Ben Findlay, who has been onboard since Us (1992), and is a staff recording engineer at Gabriel's Real World studios. Joining the vocalist on-stage for 06 26 03 - Milwaukee, WI Marcus Amphitheatre is a five-piece instrumental ensemble with Ged Lynch (drums/percussion/congas), David Rhodes (guitars/backing vocal), Rachel Z (keyboards/backing vocals), Tony Levin (bass/electric cello/backing vocals), and Richard Evans (mandolin/guitars/dobro/whistles/backing vocals). In a nod to well-deserved nepotism, Gabriel's daughter Melanie (backing vocals), provides some understated yet simply stunning contributions. While each is a unique presentation in and of itself, the set list primarily consists of the same core material, spanning the breadth of Gabriel's solo career. Each two-disc release is complete and unedited, with superior sonics derived straight from the live mixing desk [read: soundboard]. The packaging is simple yet effective, consisting of a double-pocket soft cardboard jacket with tour design, date, and venue on the front, and the running order for the CDs on the rear. Die-hard completists will want to be aware of the existence of the Encore Collectors' Box, which gathers all the shows into one place. A Deluxe Road Case was also made available -- sporting a metal alloy shell, tour book, and an autograph from the artist himself. However, within a matter of weeks the Road Case quickly sold out of the 150 individually numbered and hand-assembled compendiums. Adding to the festivities are very special guests, The Blind Boys of Alabama who had recently contributed vocals to Gabriel's concurrent pop effort, Up (2003), as well as the lesser-known Long Walk Home: Music from the Rabbit-Proof Fence. They are heard on the rarely performed "Sky Blue," taking the slot normally occupied by "Come Talk to Me." Listeners who did not attend should note that the odd popping sound during the "Father, Son" finale is not a technical error, but rather fireworks which were illuminating the amphitheater.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer