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Thursday, December 19, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Concert Review

Passion and theatrics still a Gabriel hallmark

Seattle Times staff critic

Concert review


Peter Gabriel, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Charles and Hukwe Zawose, Tuesday night at KeyArena.

Peter Gabriel's Tuesday spectacular at KeyArena affirmed him as one of rock's most serious and musicianly citizens, though its elaborate stage mechanics and millennial earnestness often blurred the line between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Is this, in fact, what it means to "grow up," to pedal oneself in circles, while singing, inside a gigantic "earth ball" of bubble wrap? Along with the huge white egg "laid" from a mother ship lowered and raised in slow-motion from the ceiling, which in turn shed its skin and delivered a planet that delivered a bubble, all this seeking your inner child and re-birthing was a little much.

On the other hand, one had to marvel at a rock star who, instead of prancing around like he was 25, has come to terms with life as a middle-generation adult — touring with his daughter (Melanie), singing about environmental and social issues and reconciling with his father.

Gabriel's four-hour show spanned the breadth of his career, from early hits like "Solsbury Hill" and "Shock the Monkey" to a sampling of five songs from his new album, "Up," none of which were as compelling as his earlier work. As always, his musical signature was the ceremonious, futuristic, anthemic whoosh of synthesizers, with Gabriel's voice cutting passionately through the haze.

Dressed in a layered, ancient-future black tunic with sci-fi overtones (as was the rest of the band), with his silvery beard and hoarse, casual introductions, Gabriel cut a Sean Connery-like figure. After a slow start, the show split wide open with the rolling, tambourine-driven "Secret World." Gabriel held the tension with "Sky Blue," a silvery mood piece on which he was joined by one of the opening acts, the inspiring Blind Boys of Alabama.

On "Downside Up," Gabriel and Melanie hung from the underside of a giant dais, trotting in circles, upside down. The yearning ballad "Mercy Street," dedicated to poet Anne Sexton and entwined with Irish whistle, was another highlight, as Melanie clambered into a symbolic canvas "boat," that "floated" on the revolving stage.

The crowd stood up and belted back the refrain of the rocking "Digging in the Dirt," which marked the debut of the giant bubble, followed by "Growing Up," when Gabriel climbed inside it. Tanzanian musicians Charles and Hukwe Zawose (the other opening act) joined Gabriel on "Animal Nation," then the show pumped into overdrive with "Solsbury Hill," on which Gabriel rode a bicycle, and "Sledgehammer," which had the rock star wired with a special jacket, pocked with blinding electric light bulbs.

Closing with the new, anti-war anthem "Signal to Noise," Gabriel offered an encore that included his obsessive love song, "In Your Eyes," the high point of the night.

Gabriel's extraordinary band, featuring bass hero Tony Levin and jazz keyboard ace Rachel Z, played with great joy and precision in what was, overall, an elaborately-choreographed, impressive show.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com .

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