DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Peter Gabriel: Live in Athens, Blu-ray [2013]

A great two-for-one package for Gabriel fans.

Published on January 14, 2014

Peter Gabriel: Live in Athens, Blu-ray [2013]

Peter Gabriel: Live in Athens, Blu-ray [2013]

TrackList: This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds); San Jacinto; Shock the Monkey; Family Snapshot; Intruder; Games without Frontiers; No Self Control; Mercy Street; The Family and the Fishing Net; Don’t Give Up; Solsbury Hill; Lay Your Hands on Me; Sledgehammer; Here Comes the Flood; In Your Eyes; Biko.
Studio: Eagle Vision/Real World EVB334649 [Distr. by Eagle Rock Ent.] (2 discs)
Director: Michael Chapman
Video: 1080p  for 16×9 widescreen, Color
Audio: Disc one: English PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1. Disc two: Dolby Digital 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 5.1 Surround
Extras: 28-page insert booklet; Disc one: 41-minute Youssou N’Dour concert, 11-minute bonus interview with Paul Gambaccini (with six-language subtitles option), five-minute “Sledgehammer” video in 5.1 audio; Disc two: Intros for selected videos (with four-language subtitles option), “Games without Frontiers” (2004 live version), 1977 “Modern Love” promotional video; 2000 “The Nest that Sailed the Sky” promo video, Trailers for three other Peter Gabriel films, Credits for all music videos
Length: Disc one: 116 minutes; Disc two: 23 music videos (various times)
Rating: *****

(Peter Gabriel – vocals, keyboards; Manu Katché – drums; Tony Levin – bass, backing vocals; David Rhodes – guitar, backing vocals; David Sancious – keyboards)

This double-disc Blu-ray package, Live in Athens 1987, is a real treasure trove for Peter Gabriel fans. It was filmed over three nights in October, 1987 at the open-air Lykavitos Theatre in Athens, featuring Gabriel’s then-current stage band. The Blu-ray commences with a 41-minute performance from opener, the Senegalese afro-pop star Youssou N’Dour and his tour group, Le Super Etoile de Dakar. The secondary bonus disc contains Play the Videos, with 18 music videos plus extras, which add up to 23 Gabriel music videos, which range from an early promo film for “Modern Love” (from Gabriel’s self-titled 1977 debut as a leader) to videos used to support Gabriel’s 2002 release, Up. Bonuses include introductions (some new, some older) to selected music videos; a 28-page insert booklet with comprehensive credits and notes; multi-language subtitles for some video; and much more. Gabriel enthusiasts could spend many hours going through the supplements.

The Blu-ray set-up is nicely done. It allows viewers to watch the entire Blu-ray (from the Youssou N’Dour concert through Gabriel’s memorable presentation), or to play just one of the concert performances, or skip to specific songs.

As any Gabriel admirer can expect, the concert is a smorgasbord of Gabriel’s material up to 1987, with outstanding versions of tunes from all of his albums up to that point (excluding the Birdy soundtrack). Gabriel provides some political context to his college radio hit, “Games without Frontiers,” and expresses his dramatic physicality during “Shock the Monkey,” where he jumps around with primate-tinted abandon. He and his backing band are stimulating on the upbeat numbers, but layer a quiet sonic panorama on slower tracks such as “Mercy Street,” the character-driven, vivid “The Family and the Fishing Net” and eerie “San Jacinto.” The musicians exhibit professional and easygoing camaraderie. At the start, during “This Is the Picture,” they gleefully move in synchronized, choreographed unison in a horizontal line at the front of the stage. Elsewhere, bassist Tony Levin (also a member of King Crimson), guitarist David Rhodes, keyboardist David Sancious (formerly in Bruce Springsteen’s E. Street Band) and drummer Manu Katché (his résumé runs from Sting to Joni Mitchell), display the kind of interaction and interplay only seasoned artists could muster.

The remastered sound quality is superb. Both the DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital 5.1 are crisp, clear and satisfying. The mixing and mastering give the music and musicians ample and sturdy width. Some viewers could switch off the visual imagery, just listen to the music, and be just as thrilled. However, the visuals are an important element and are also handled splendidly. The original 35mm negatives were meticulously restored and digitized, and the result is many times improved over the initial VHS (dubbed P.O.V.) which was offered in 1990. The film camera crew, director and editor combine to create a strong cinematic vision. Many close-ups, pans, zooms, shots from the audience, from overhead, from the stage and elsewhere provide a viewpoint which furnishes both fine detail and an expansive setting. There are a few, minor problems. One is that the slightly harsh stage lighting delivers a moderately cold coloring; another is the unavoidably dated costuming (large, white coats and jackets, and big lapels); and somewhat more noticeable is the darkness which sometimes permeates the stage, when dim lighting or bright spotlights are the only illumination, so that some stage elements are obscured in the blackness (on the other hand, that blackness is now pictorially incisive). Disc one additions involve a new, never-before-issued version of the “Sledgehammer” music video with 5.1 audio, titles, and credits; plus an 11-minute 1986 BBC interview.

The second disc, Play the Videos, is also a visual and auditory pleasure. The remixing by Daniel Lanois and Richard Chappell brings fresh and stimulating auditory alchemy. While the accompanying booklet does not have song lyrics (which is a shame, since some of Gabriel’s words make for discerning reading), the other credits are still available. Play the Videos has three options for audiophiles: Dolby Digital PCM 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround. Personal highlights include the surreal “The Barry Williams Show,” a satire of daytime television talk shows (most notably Jerry Springer’s manic TV program); the dreamlike “Mercy Street,” with black-and-white cinematography and otherworldly imagery akin to one of Maya Deren’s avant-garde films; and the keyed-up “Sledgehammer,” which has lost none of its restless energy (in his introduction, Gabriel explains the massive and sometimes excruciating amount of work which went into producing the video). Blu-ray extras consist of three trailers for other Gabriel video releases (Growing Up Live: A Family Portrait; Growing Up Live; and Secret World Live); a live version of “Games without Frontiers,” and the visually stunning short “The Nest that Sailed the Sky.”

—Doug Simpson




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