Peter Gabriel From The Fireside To Artificial Intelligence: Input/Output Tour At The O2 Arena

The O2 Arena is stop number 18 on Peter Gabriel’s European tour of album i/o a meditation on technological advancement and the place of humanity and storytelling.  Peter Gabriel has never shied away from a big concept and where better to share a big concept than Europe’s grandest arenas.

Peter Gabriel is known for musical innovations, his collaborations with musicians from all over the world and his progressive worldviews, this tour is a cumulation of these things.  The tour features a supergroup of a band which includes some long-time collaborators and rising star, incredible multi-instrumentalist, Ayanna Witter-Johnson.  He has also commissioned multi-media visuals to match the music

Before the musicians gather on stage a giant circular projection screen eases down from the rafters lit by a pin-sharp dimensional image of the moon, moving barely detectibly through its phases.  Below is a smouldering campfire.  The musicians gather around and are namechecked one by one, something which Gabriel will return to throughout the performance, generously crediting his fellow performers starting with his regular bandmates; Tony Levin, David Rhodes and Manu Katché.

Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena

Peter Gabriel (Kalpesh Patel)
Peter Gabriel (Kalpesh Patel)

Tony Levin provides a gentle, tinkling New Orleans jazz intro for the gospel-tinged opener Washing of the Water.  It’s on Growing Up that the audience first hears the force of the ensemble.  Tribal rhythms pound through the chest, as it softens into claps and the beat fades, the moon turns blue and draws back.  With just a pulse remaining, Gabriel begins a presentation of his hopes for the future of AI and a utopian transparent world, that he calls a ‘Panopticom’. He seems to expect total agreement from the audience on what is a very divisive issue, most clap and cheer others, perhaps some of the same people who openly criticised Gabriel running a competition with Stability AI, in answer to this Gabriel previously responded with a post on his website clarifying that he has joined in signing an open letter requesting a global pause on the development of AI whilst its applications and, ethics and risks are considered. To hear him speak at the O2, you would be forgiven for some confusion on his position.

As the moon transforms into a swirling red circle not dissimilar to the nefarious camera ‘eye’ of Hal 2000 from A Space Odyssey, my concern for his understanding of the implications of AI grows!  Red turns to blue and a giant human eye without a lens follows Gabriel as he moves around the stage.  Screens to the sides show a camera eye view with facial recognition of the performers.  The huge, full-force chorus is rich with a full complement of electric strings, heavy drums and rushing vocals.

Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena

Peter Gabriel
Peter Gabriel

On Four Kinds of Horses, watching cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson, French horn player Josh Shpak and violinist Marina Moore bring so much value to the sound is lovely.  John Metcalf’s orchestral arrangements lend power to the live performances. Gabriel pauses between songs to explain the meaning and process behind new songs.  This does slow the pace somewhat, just as you should never explain a joke for fear of scooping all of the humor out of it, concepts like i/o are best left to individual interpretation.

A hit of the 80s Digging in the Dirt is reworked with a frenzied prog-rock intro.  Whereas Playing for Time brings guest Tom Crawley’s gentle piano which harmonises with strings and vocals to create a beautiful pared-back melody.   Between songs, Gabriel ruminated on how Berkeley scientists have been turning thoughts into video. Before a joyful turn from Richard Evan on mandolin on Olive TreeHome was grouped as audience members still hot from the scorching weather lounged in their seats.

It is at this point that Peter Gabriel announces the show will be in two parts, part one will end with Sledgehammer, this is all the signal needed for the audience to jump to their feet for one of the most danceable songs of the 20th Century.  Gabriel dances across the stage punctuating the chorus by making fists and miming hammering the sides of his head.  His voice has not deepened over the years, it is still pitched perfectly for his classic songs as his new material, still rich with gravity and soul.

Graphics trail dissolving silhouettes of the musicians creating staggered images that replicate across the panels into a dazzling animated dance for, Darkness, which is a heavy almost industrial track which oscillates between soft melodic and spoken word and raging rock music.  The art takes centre stage with witty graphics for Road to Joy made by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, Gabriel having chosen to commission him as he is someone who has given the finger to authority and can now, metaphorically, give the finger to death. The additions of horn and synth guitar courtesy of ‘Mr Donny’ McLean make this song an absolute banger and the audience find their feet again.

In this second half, Gabriel moves seamlessly between songs, picking up the pace he has abandoned prefacing every song with an explanation.  Highly anticipated Don’t Give Up feels appropriate in the line-up and the set list is well considered.  Ayanna Witter-Johnson lends a delicate and tender vocal which is a worthy match for the original vocal recording by Kate Bush.  Her voice adds a little extra soul to a beautifully executed and staged number.

Songs The Cord and Red Rain benefit from the full complement of seven musicians on stage at any given time which makes for a full sound and lots of intricate arrangement and orchestration weaving through layers of lush piano and a full rock assault. Over time the audience relaxes back into their seats for the heartfelt And Still which Gabriel dedicated to his mother.  This moment of calm is broken as the intro to Big Time launches everyone back up.  There is a pattern of familiar songs reigniting the crowd, Live and Let Live sees only one lone person in the floor seats dancing like no one is watching, which of course was not the case as the first thing that happened is they were picked out by the live camera and broadcast on the big screen.  Credit to them, as they continued dancing for the benefit of roughly 18,000 people.  By Solsbury Hill they were no longer alone, and Gabriel, himself reinvigorated, skipped around the stage like a toddler with too much energy.

  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena
  • Peter Gabriel @ The O2 Arena

A predictable favourite and a surprising choice of encores close out the show with a stirring finish.  Peter Gabriel has curated a show of image, music and story, as an alternative to the huge Vegas-style circus shows the O2 is becoming famed for.  He has brought high culture to the arena experience with large-scale graphics, access to gallery-style art and a contemplative look at the huge questions of our age.  Proving that even as we claw our way from the Anthropocene Era storytellers are here to guide us from the humble campfire to the digital landscape.

Visual artists

David Spriggs: Red Gravity for Panopticon, Tim Shaw: Lifting The Curse for The Court, Annette Messager: Mes voeux (avec nos cheveux) for Playing For Time, Olafur Eliasson: Colour Experiment No. 114 for i/o, Cornelia Parker: Snap for Four Kinds Of Horses, and Ai Weiwei: Middle Finger In Pink for Road To Joy

The i/o Tour restarts in September 2023 with 24 dates across North America.

Review of Peter Gabriel at The O2 Arena on 19th June 2023 by Sarah Sievers. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.

Duran Duran Bring Hits And Deep Cuts To The O2

Warren Zeiders (David McClister)

Warren Zeiders Shares Heartbreaker

Hershey, Pennsylvania-hailing Country star Warren Zeiders has released his first track of 2024, Heartbreaker. Written...
Darren Kiely (David McLister)

Darren Kiely Drops Sophomore EP From The Dark + New Video For Ocean

Irish prodigy Darren Kiely has released his sophomore EP, From The Dark. Produced by David Baron and featuring...
Twinnie - CMT Next Women of Country @ Islington Academy (Kalpesh Patel)

Twinnie Ends Her Sad Girl Era With New EP Blue Hour

International Nashville-based British country crossover artist Twinnie is bringing the curtain down on her...
The Script (Jordan Rossi)

The Script Return With New Album Satellites And Huge Tour

Irish pop-rock quartet The Script have announced their return with the release of their seventh studio LP album...
Madness (Press)

Madness Announce Hour of Need Award To Celebrate Unsung Heroes

One of the UK’s most beloved British bands Madness have today announced a very special Hour of Need Award, allowing...
Glasto 2024 - The Park

Glastonbury Festival 2024 Announce Full Park Area Line-up Including New Areas

Just six weeks to the day until gates open at Worthy Farm for this year's Glastonbury Festival, the full line-up for...
Skindred @ The O2 (Kalpesh Patel)

Skindred Announce Smile Headline Tour

Welsh ragga metal legends Skindred have announced a UK headline tour for autumn 2024. Regarding the tour frontman...
Giacomo Turra (Press)

Italian Guitar Sensation Giacomo Turra Drops New Single The Way She Wants

Italian guitar sensation Giacomo Turra has just dropped his brand new single The Way She Wants via ADA/Warner...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share Thing