Band Concert Review
Peter Gabriel & The Secret World
Any chance collision and I light up in the dark
There you stand before me, all that fur and all that hair
Oh, do I dare ... I have the touch
-"I Have the Touch", Security, 1982
I am standing backstage at the Peter Gabriel concert after opening night in Chicago just mingling with assorted people. A friend and mentor, Lonn, has flown all the way from Los Angeles to see the opening night show with me. We are talking with Melanie Gabriel, Peter's daughter and back up singer on his current tour. Before we know it, like a scene out of a movie, Lonn is speaking to her and she slowly leads us out the door to the private dressing room area. She disappears only to return, to say, "He’ll be right with you". Shortly thereafter, he appears…Peter Gabriel.
Peter Gabriel recently opened his first tour in a decade in Chicago. However, my journey leading up to that night started 2 years prior to it. On November 20, 2000, Bon Jovi was in town. I sat in the 4th row dead center overlooking the sold-out crowd. It was then I noticed someone in the pit in front of the stage, Lonn Friend. Anyone who loved hard rock in the late 80's or early 90's knew this man. He ran RIP magazine. RIP was a magazine of vast magnitude, mainly because of Lonn. He not just covered these bands and artists, but he had individual interaction with them. There he stood, the Jann Wenner of his time, with his glasses, beard, Anthrax jacket and all, just like one could imagine him. I wanted to go up and say "hi" but had no idea what I would have said. So I didn't. About six weeks later my good friend, Sonya who is my all things Bon Jovi news source, emailed me asking if I read Lonn’s review of the Chicago show. I said I had not. She sent it to me and I was blown away. It was one of the two utmost pieces of writing on rock n' roll I have ever read (the other being Jon Landau’s 1974 review of Boston show from an up and coming artists whom he dubbed "The Future of Rock N' Roll", the man turned out to be Bruce Springsteen).
I was so enthused by the article that I sent it to just about everyone I knew; because it flawlessly summed up the feelings I experienced that night. One of my best friends girlfriends even emailed me and said that it made her want to go to a Bon Jovi concert-something she would deny if I told her boyfriend. However, like Cameron Crowe's autobiographical film, Almost Famous, the article was about the unadulterated ecstasy of rock n' roll. The thrill and exhilaration one has when seeing their favorite performer live in concert is unlike anything else in this world and one that is quite intricate to put into words. Shortly thereafter, I emailed Lonn thanking him for writing such a zealous piece. I offered up a bootleg of the Chicago show to him. He replied with an address.
Fast forward 9 months to a post 9/11 world. I sent Lonn a rather lengthy email with a few things, a book, and various U2 bootlegs, the band whom at that moment in time spoke to me. From that time on, we exchanged emails, back and forth, explaining the daily struggles that we encounter in our journey called life. He also added me to his mailing list, Breath of Fire, which he sends out periodically whenever there is something he wants to write about or get off his chest. In late December 2001, he sent out a piece on Peter Gabriel. Gabriel is an artist that I have followed since my heart fell hard for music back in 1987. Since then, his music has continued to intensify in my life. The man and his music continue to reveal themselves to me every time I listen to one of his albums. After reading his piece, which was centered on the Gabriel song "Father, Son" from his import only album Ovo, music that was made for the Millennium Dome in London, I sent Lonn a long email explaining how I too felt the connection to Gabriel and his music. From there, a more than just a student-teacher relationship was forged, a friendship had also been struck.
Peter Gabriel is someone I marvel at with such immeasurable admiration that there are not words in any tongue that can quite call to mind the sentiment that his music actually brings. Gabriel's music is almost certainly carries a more spiritual importance for me than any other music I listen to. Why is that? I'm not sure, but I sense that a large part has to do with the Kairos retreats I attended and led in high school. When I tell people this, the next question they ask me is "What is a Kairos retreat?"
With reptile tongue, the lightning lashes towers built to last
Darkness creeps in like a thief and offers no relief
Why are you shaking like a leaf
Come on, come talk to me
- "Come Talk To Me", Us, 1992
Kairos is a Four-day retreat religious retreat usually taken in high school, which is a spiritual quest. My high school, Loyola Academy, held a number of these retreats every year. I was fortunate enough to go on one in October 1993. I was even more blessed to lead one in February 1994. The eight days I spent on that retreat still strike home with me today. This was a time of arousing and recognition of young souls and their emotions. One of the things that are commonly used for reflection is music. Peter Gabriel's music was used in heavy rotation during this retreat, especially the album Us. The retreat is about breaking down walls you build up, so that people can see the face behind the face. It’s a place where your masks come off and people see you for who you are imperfections and all. I've always been a tad bit emotive for my own good. However the prevalent elation I received from these eight days were seeing other people let their guard down and to let other people into their secret worlds.
I made friends with people on that retreat that I never thought I would have relationships with. People who appeared to be from another world, but somehow we connected on so many levels, that it was impossible to ignore the love that was generated by our time at the Cabrini Retreat Center in Des Plaines, IL. When the retreat ends, we learned about "living the 4th". It means taking what you have learned on your 4 days and putting it into action in the real world. The retreat leaders (four teachers and six peers) then leave us with a song to sum everything up; in October '93 that song was "Come Talk To Me".
I took what I learned and shared on that retreat back with me into the real world. I sustained friendships that I made on the retreat and strived to live the fourth, each and every day. However, life can play tricks on you. One month upon my return, my aunt and grandmother passed with a day of each other, on November 17th and 18th 1993. It was my mom’s mother and sister. My grandmother had lived a full life, but my aunt, was taken before her time by the big "C". I watched her struggle for years with the disease, yet always be optimistic and rosy. The leading source of comfort that helped me through that experience was the camaraderie of my friends. During that time, I felt God channeled through them.
In February of 1994, I was chosen to lead the retreat, an attainment I am still proud of to this day. Five other Ramblers and I made this voyage together: Kevin Hug, Chris McHugh, Jim Marrese, Ed Shin and Ryan Vaile. I was already close friends with Chris and Kevin, but while I knew the other three, this retreat allowed us to become friends of a different nature, not just good friends, but 6 people whose ideology and soul were constantly on search for inner peace. We met at least once a week up until the retreat to discuss different things and our speeches. When it came to discussing the final speech where we sum up the whole retreat, we needed a theme and a song to do it with. Jim immediately spoke up and said "Secret World" by Peter Gabriel. That song says it all and we should base our final speech around that song. Chris grabbed his Us disc and we all took a peek at the lyrics and instantaneously agreed.
The songs on the retreat also helped the people on it reach a deeper spiritual meaning of the events. To this day, I still keep a mix of the songs played on that retreat in my car. Whenever I hear "Solsbury Hill", I think of Chris' pious speech; "Washing of The Water", I think of Jim’s love in action speech; "Sometimes" by James, I think of Kevin's from-the-gut candor; Richie Sambora's "The Answer", which I played, took on a deeper meaning than I could have ever hoped for. Numerous people asked me where to get it, as they said they felt a presence in the room when I played that song (and if I ever meet the spiritual soldier Sambora, I will give him my Kairos cross as a thank you for helping me channel my thoughts, feelings and my speech about God and his purpose through his song). Music defines our lives, where we are, where we are going and who we are. To this very day, whenever I hear "Secret World", I think of Ed, Jim, Ryan, Chris and Kevin along with others who were on that retreat with us, Will Kelly, Jason Rynes and others with whom I forged friendships with them because of those four days. To this day there is rarely a day that goes by where I don’t think about the people with whom I had a connection with over this retreat eight-plus years ago.
On foundations built to last
But nothing fades as fast as the future
And nothing clings like the past, until we can see
More than this, more than this
So much more than this
There is something out there
More than this
It’s coming through and more than this
I stand alone and so connected and I’m all there right next to you
-"More Than This" Up, 2002
Fast forward to 2002, eight years after I left high school, I still think about my Kairos experiences everyday, and when I do, I think about Chris, Jim, Ed, Kevin and Ryan as well. However, since then, outside of a few soundtrack bits here and there, we have had no new music at all from Gabriel since 1992. The drought came to an end in 2002, Peter Gabriel released his first all new studio album in over a decade. Over the course of the last ten years, my life had gone through so many changes that I can not even begin to list them. I had been driving for one month when Us came out and here I am, 26 years old, 4.5 years out of college, still lost and searching for my place in the secret world.
I walked into the record store on Tuesday September 24, not sure what to expect, I bought Up and listened to it almost non-stop for the next two weeks. It's an album of songs trying to deal with transformation and fear in our life. Gabriel has stared down the barrel of life over the last decade and come to the realization that we will not be here forever. Maybe seeing his father grow old, his own children grow up or the fact that he turned 50 a few years back that brought about these feelings, only Gabriel truly knows. However, what I did find was an artist who had spent the better part of a decade looking for the right batch of songs in which he would be able to tell his story. Shortly after having digested the album and its themes, I learned that Gabriel's tour would ride through Chicago in mid-November. Through his fan club, I got pretty good tickets in the pre-sale. Shortly thereafter the announcement came that Gabriel would be shifting his tour itinerary and the tour would be starting right here in Chicago. No sooner did that happen, but Lonn sent me an email with a flight itinerary saying: "Here Comes the Flood; Prepare for the adventure my young friend...xL".
On the evening of November 12, many amazing things happened, I finally was able to cross off Gabriel's name from my list of "Must see performers" after waiting a decade, and more importantly, I met two men who have influenced my life in ways that words can not express. A little before 5pm, my cell phone rang, I picked it up, said "hello" and heard "Tony Kuzminsk... I’m here". I knew it was Lonn. For anyone who has ever seen him on a Vh1 Behind The Music or the Headbangers Ball in the early 90's, you know exactly what he sounds like. I cruised over to O'Hare and picked him up. From there, we made our way to the United Center on the cool and breezy 40 degree Chicago night. We arrived at the United Center early and scoped out the arena. Luck had it, that we did not need to use my 2nd level seats. We found ourselves in the first row behind the soundboard, For this tour, Gabriel is using an in-the-round stage. For those who aren't sure what this is, the stage is in the middle of the arena. Just think back to Def Leppard’s "Pour Some Sugar On me" video and you'll have a perfect visual. One can only imagine what the theater god of rock had planned.
Before the show started, we shared stories and I asked several questions. Lonn has lived an remarkable life beginning his career with Larry Flint, continuing that journey with RIP magazine, something an idea Althea Flint came up with and something Mr. Flint entrusted to Lonn to handle, which he did for 8 years. In that time, he hung with the biggest and best in the hard rock world. More importantly, unlike other magazines, these artists trusted this man, which is why you can see him on numerous Behind The Music specials (including Metallica, Bon Jovi, Anthrax, and the great one on the year 1987). He took the higher road and wrote about their music and not whom they were dating or what they looked like, it may have only been rock n' roll but he liked it and wore it on his sleeve…and still does.
During the recording of Metallica's now legendary self-titled album in 1991 (aka The Black Album), Lonn was given unprecedented access to the progress of this album. On the verge of breaking up, Bon Jovi let him tag along to Japan in early 1991 for a series of shows that may have made or broke the band. He put Guns N' Roses on their first magazine cover and somehow managed to conjure up the only Temple of the Dog performance at RIP's 5th Anniversary bash in fall of 1991. He now works on his own time and his own rules but I saw the few days he was in Chicago as a time to bond and to discover some lessons from this music warrior.
The Blind Boys of Alabama opened the show for Gabriel. We witnessed them get an entire arena on their feet chanting for more, especially during their amazing version of "Amazing Grace" performed to the music of the great Animals classic, "House of the Rising Sun". After their set, Lonn and I got a momentary glimpse of the set list. Lonn asked me what he would be opening with; I turned to him and said "Here Comes The Flood". He just sat back, smiled and began to tell me how he saw him open with it at the Roxy Club back in 1977. I also saw the final song that would be played and smiled, because it was a song that both of us had a connection to.
Locked as one
In this empty room
Spine against spine
Yours against mine
Till the warmth comes through
Remember the breakwaters down by the waves
I first found my courage
Knowing daddy could save
I could hold back the tide
With my dad by my side
-“Father, Son”, Ovo, 2000
The lights go down and from the back of the arena Gabriel and bassist Tony Levin make their way to the stage. Gabriel takes his spot at his keyboard right in front of us. When we got to the seats, we had no way of knowing where the band would be set up and having him right there in front of us was dreamlike. After a decade absence, the man who redefined rock theater was back. He introduced the first song as a song he wrote for his father. Immediately Lonn turned to me and said, "Oh my god, this is the song I wrote about". It was a surreal moment, to see him play such a magnificent song, one, which almost none of the 15,000-plus people there had heard before. "Father, Son" was the first glimpse of what was to come on Up, it is as good as anything he has ever written and is worth the $30 import price of Ovo. As he ages, I feel that he senses the end of a lot of things, especially life. It is especially apparent that he views this from most of Up and from this song, a sort of acclamation to his still living father. Fortunately for Gabriel, he wrote this song before it was too late. His music is usually about living in the here and now, the moment, where we can still do great things. Many artists write about relationships at the end of a cycle, whereas, Gabriel has written about them in the present, showing that it is never too late to come to terms with someone you love. From there Gabriel mixed between contemporary material and old warhorses. Surprisingly the new songs from Ovo and Up hold their own with the songs from So and Us.
I myself, feel that Up is a stunning and mystical album that requires repeated listens. It's one that grows on you. It has much more melody than may first appear on original listens. More than that, the nature of the album, is deeper than anyone critic has given it credit for. The album is a dark meditation of finding yourself, who you are and where you are going. This thirty-year-old veteran is still growing up. The fear of "Darkness" leads to the uncertainty of the leaving the comfort of the womb in "Growing Up". This was demonstrated incredibly, during the show, with Gabriel entering a gigantic plastic see-through ball. He performed the "Growing Up" from within this ball, roaming around the stage and jumping up and down; he was in the center of it, which reminded me of a womb. He somehow seemed at great comfort performing within this gigantic ball as he rolled around the stage, thrilled the audience. Its no coincidence the tour is called the "Growing Up Tour", after a decade of hibernating, he is reborn.
Other highlights came when the second stage came down from above. Gabriel took a video camera around a roller and performed "The Barry Williams Show", with shots of the audience thrown up on a screen. The song is about the absurdity of talk shows and our fascination with them. Gabriel has taken his new material and made theater out of it, just like he has in the past. Even in songs like "Downside-Up" and "Animal Nation" work well within the context of the set, the latter catchy enough to almost have everyone singing along to it. Unlike the carefully structured set of the "Secret World" tour from 1993, this set allows a little more breathing room for change. The exquisiteness of "Sky Blue" is accentuated by the Blind Boys of Alabama, whom join Gabriel for the ethereal number. Feeling free to wander and roam the set continued with the upbeat rocker, "More Than This". The song questions our existence in the 21st Century, and where we are going. Does any of it matter? So much more than this / There is something else there /When all that you had has all gone.
Besides seeing the new songs take on a life of their own, I finally was able to witness the miracle of the songs that invaded my heart over a decade ago. "Mercy Street" and "Solsbury Hill" were standouts and involved the stage to revolve around and around. Mercy Street was solemn and had his daughter Melanie provided backing vocals from a rowboat. "Solsbury Hill" saw Gabriel bring out a bike, which he rode around the stage while singing the song. A quarter century later, the song sounds as salubrious as it was back in 1977. However, the standout tracks for me were "Come Talk To Me" and "Secret World" for reasons I have already explained. "Secret World" especially stood out and it really brought the crowd together and kept them on their feet, the same way “Born To Run” brings roars from a Springsteen concert. The song of removing masks to reveal ourselves to people and who we truly are is a song and theme that struck a chord with the audience as it received one of the largest roars from the crowd on that night. It is amazing how well this material has aged, the inner struggle of dealing with someone you love and their inability to communicate.
'Til I could see the face behind the face
All that had gone before had left no trace
Down by the railway siding
In our secret world, we were colliding
All the places we were hiding love
What was it we were thinking of?
"Secret World", Us, 1992
The Us album is one of my top five albums of all time. Each and every song on this album speaks to me in some way. When I have been at my darkest hour, I have pulled out this album to listen to. Whenever I encounter a wall I feel that is too big to climb, whenever my heart has been broken, I listen to this album. Somehow, the music, the lyrics, the spirituality and essence of this album give me peace of mind.
The main set closed with the extortion full blast with the "Signal To Noise". My only criticism is that "I Grieve" was left out of the set. This song is a magnificent ballad-rocker which some have defined as a post 9/11 tribute (even though it first appeared in the "City of Angels" soundtrack back in 1998). This song could have been the main set closer, and in my mind, would work better. The hit home the idea that there id life after death in the most important of things; people in our lives. After descending below the stage, the band reappeared for another song, with the Blind Boys of Alabama. "In Your Eyes", one of the greatest love songs ever, would appear to be the final song of the evening. Believe it or not, but "In Your Eyes" was not released as a single till 1989 and it was because of the Cameron Crowe film, ...Say Anything. Even harder to believe is that the song only reached #41 on the charts, yet I believe it's his most popular song. It's a song that both men and women love, a rarity, it's not as sappy as a power love ballad, but evokes such joy and emotion that one can not help but beam their largest smile when hearing it. The Blind Boys added some nice harmonies to the song and upon its ten minute-plus completion, everyone took their bows and left the stage, but I had a feeling that there was more to come. I was right; Peter emerged one last time, took his place at his keyboard and went into "Here Comes The Flood". He played a stark and beautifully haunting version (much like the re-recording of it on "Shaking The Tree"). He then bowed, was swept off the stage and the house lights went on. Normally this would be the end of my night, but the night was just beginning to ignite.
In everyone that’s out on the street /In all the dogs and cats
In the flies and rats /In the rot and the rust
In the ashes and the dust
Life carries on and on and on and on
-"I Grieve", Up, 2002
After the stunning two and a half hour show, we get escorted backstage to where they have a waiting room for us. Lonn had secured passes for the backstage area for us. One by one, certain band members come in. Lonn introduces me to some of the folks. Meeting Tony Levin, Peter's bass/stick player was a real treat. Here is a guy who has played with everyone from Richie Sambora to Alice Cooper to John Lennon. However, little did I know that the introductions were just starting? Peter’s daughter, Melanie walked in and Lonn went up and introduced him and me to her. We begin to talk. I ask her if she's happy to have the first show out of the way and she smiled, gave me a look of relief and said "yes". It was her first performance in front of an arena sized crowd, so it had to be unnerving. Up close she is quite beautiful, she is the type of girl who is just unpretentiously striking in person, more so than any camera could show. However, beside the fact that she is 26 like me, I did not really say much (much to the chagrin of many of my friends). I just had my mind on other things and was enamored just by watching Lonn talk to her. He mentions how he used to work with Bob Ezrin (he producer of Peter's first solo album) and how he worked for Peter's record company a few years back. The next thing I know, we are whisked out of the waiting room to a back door where the beautiful Melanie disappears into a room. She comes back out and tells us "He'll be right with you". Shortly thereafter, the man appears. Peter Gabriel, a bit tired from opening night, but gracious enough to invite us into his dressing room.
Lonn is a marvel to watch because he's an enlightened bard of rock n' roll. He loves it as much as his life, much like me. This is his moment and time to bask in. he has met Peter before and Peter knows him from his writings. Bob Ezrin has given Peter many of Lonn’s pieces, one of which was the "Father, Son" piece. Peter says "I really enjoyed reading your epistles". Believe it or not, Lonn's writing is much longer than even what I write in this space, yet every word has passion behind it, something that 99% of the music critics out there are missing. Whenever you read one of Lonn's articles, you can tell he has passion for the topic, no matter what it may be.
I had no idea we were even going backstage before I picked Lonn up, or else I may have thought out what I would like to say to this man who has meant so much to me. What do I tell him? Should I tell him that his music speaks to my soul? That his music has saved my life more times than I can possibly count? Should I lay my heart on the line and tell him that the Secret World Live and Us single-handedly helped me get through college? Maybe I should tell him the story of a friend from college who got a call one night from an old friend who told him he was going to end his life. This person pleaded with him not to do it, and said he would do anything for him. The request was to speak in person; however, the distance between them was 3 hours. He asked "s there something you can hold onto for 3 hours?"The friend said that the song "on’t Give Up" by Gabriel, gives him piece of mind. So he put that song on repeat for three hours before his friend could show up and talks him through his darkest hour. This man in front of me was partly responsible for this person still being alive.
The bottom line was that I had no idea what to say to someone who has moved me in ways that very few humans have done. Then it became as clear as the light that he has given me. I would tell him about Jim, Chris, Kevin, Ryan and Ed. I would disclose to him about Kairos and how his music was so instrumental in making those retreats extraordinary. I am standing in his room and begin to chronicle this journey to him. The entire encounter in my mind is clear and blurry all at the same time. I can envision the man perfectly, but my words are muddled as I think back to that night. He smiled at me when I told him that, but I don’t think he knew what to say. I may have sounded like a gushing aficionado, but I wanted to let him know how much his music means to so many people. I needed to let him know how about the scores of dark holes my friends and I have crawled out of because of this man and his music. I' not fully certain if he really understood anything I was talking about, but I know that I got to say what I wanted to say. Maybe someday he’ll read this piece, which is coming from my soul, and he'l better understand what an impact he has made on my life. His music has inspired me to live with my heart on my sleeve, to come and talk to people, to break down secret worlds, to climb hills that can' be climbed, to wash the water from the digging I have been doing in the dirt and most importantly to not give up.
All of these things I wanted to tell him, but I' sure he hears it everyday. The bottom line is that, I thought about people from eight years ago, with whom I spent 4 days with when I saw this man. I still think about them daily. I see Chris every week; he runs a bar near my house and 2 days prior to the Gabriel show, lost his grandmother. I went to the wake, just like he did for me nine years earlier giving me some proof there is a God. Kevin lives in Florida, but he' a soul mate, I can tell Kevin things I can' tell anyone else, because of our frankness with each other. Unfortunately I have not stayed in touch as well with Ryan, Ed or Jim. I know that Jim lives in Chicago and I need to seek him out. Keeping in touch with Ed and Ryan in college was challenging, they were always moving around. I haven' seen Ryan in 6 years and the only time I see Ed is when he is on TV. He' appeared on a few Fox shows and even was on ER a few times, yet I have not seen him in the flesh in a long time. However, I hope that draught comes to an end soon. Seeing the man Gabriel in concert has brought about a whole slew of feelings and emotions I have not felt in a long time. I hope that somehow, someway, this piece makes its way into each of their email boxes wherever they may be, if it does, I just want them all to know that I think about them and the Secret World we tried to break every day, I love you guys and miss you.
Peter Gabriel was a gentleman and talked to Lonn and me for twelve minutes in his dressing room. It was a dreamlike encounter to say the least. He then politely excused himself; there were a bunch of people in a waiting room waiting to meet the man. We walked out with him and wished him luck on his upcoming tour. While there, Lonn got an autographed set list and, even though I am not a fan of asking for autographs, I needed a memento because I didn' think anyone would ever believe me that I not only got to see Peter Gabriel from the front row, but spent a precious 12 minutes with him in his dressing room, talking about life, music, rock n'roll and what this man and his music means to people like Lonn and I. We walked out through the arena, which was pretty much abandoned by this point. As the cold Chicago wind hit us, we were passing the Michael Jordan statue in front of the United Center; we were both still animated from the meeting. We were like two kids in a candy store, holding our autographs in hand, we shared twelve minutes with the man who laid the lamb down on Broadway and the man who thirty years later, still has the touch. What a night, I was able to spend time with my literary mentor and one of my life mentors. Not only that, but the spirit of those I have shared Gabriel' music with were there as well. So were other spirits of the past. Life does carry on and on. I am going to spend time this holiday with those I wrote about in this article and will find those I have lost touch with. If I have walked away with anything from that night, it is that life (and God) does carry on in the people we meet.
Digging In The Dirt