Peter Gabriel, with his ever-weary old voice now emitting from an older, unweary body, is at the keyboard and the house lights are up and the SB Bowl might be a 4,000 seat piano bar, it's got that acoustic-intimate feel, with Tony Levin all cool-cat on his bass, Manu Katché doing something luscious with brushes on the too loudly named percussion. The song is "Family Snapshot," about a political assassin ("if you don't get given/you learn to take/and I will take you") who by song's end turns out to be a dreamy boy, his toy gun on the floor. What this song means to me is much more, beyond its 4:28 length, and more like the 32 years I've lived with it since I discovered PG3 and Gabriel and music so "weird" to my more normal high school friends that I had to turn a cassette I made of it off on a summer drive to the Jersey shore. This song had me good, its pulses and silences, Levin's slippery bass work, and then when it and I locked into similar tapes--"Come back mom and dad/you're growing apart, you know that I'm growing up sad"--and there I could say it or sing it as I couldn't do on my own despite my parents divorcing and all the early lessons of distance getting taught in a way only absence confirms. All that. One damn song. This current performance drags my memory's lake and fishes up 17-year-old me, mawkish and needy and not as dead as I might want to think and connected to at least this, my hurt made real in another's words. This is too a kindness. At least 49-year-old me gets to hold that young me for the bars of a tune.
Not that Gabriel leaves it to that, and, of course, he has no idea what personal odysseys his songs evoke in what might be the millions--we'll get to "In Your Eyes," closing clench to a thousand proms, I promise. But he does know how to perform, that a concert is a show, and that any damnfool can listen at home to better quality and not have to suffer loud show-talkers, iPhone filmers who assume it's more important that they get to watch the show twice than you--with an arm and a phone in your sightline--need to see it once, and/or a nearby seat-mate who has to singalong sourly, earnestly, and always knows all of the words. Gabriel had warned us of the show's contours: acoustic, then electric, then all of So. He didn't say, however, how that would happen, and he took advantage, quick-cutting the house lights and using the projection screens as ways to blast even more light, visually making the stage electric right at the moment "Family Snapshot" kicks into the louder gear when killing gets near and he's sung "I'm alive" in a way he certainly means it. It's nearly hokum, but it certainly put the adrenalin pedal to the metal. Music is meant to sucker us, after all, to sneak past the frontal lobes and light up our antediluvian reptile brains like Christmas morn jackpot Saturday night. And it did that. Only to ratchet back down again to its quiet end, its confession, its moment I had multiple me's to deal with.
I don't really mean any of this as a review of Gabriel, anyhow, who always wows in his ability to put his music into action, to use big screens but then mess with the projection, making you think about seeing, make you rethink abut hearing. This is about how songs lodge in us, sweet viruses. How we get old and they stay timeless, accruing us. Sure, let's talk "In Your Eyes," which is so co-opted now by Say Anything... that both Cameron Crowe and John Cusack walked onto the stage before the band played the song, with that iconic boombox held high. This is song enough to woo and win Ione Skye as the epitome late '80s babe (and, all you thinking guys, playing a valedictorian to boot), and note poor Skye has not aged as well as the song. None of us do, so we must keep singing. And the eyes in which we feel complete pile up, a lifetime of loves, of lives, and each time I meant it when I felt it and said it despite it, this very time, meaning very much just you. Perhaps more than music, more than others, we love our own ability to love. And I don't mean that solipsistically, actually the very opposite. In a world where we don't like to see so much pain, and we do, it's always sweet surprise when care surfaces, that we can feel so much again for another besides ourselves, besides all we've done and undone. This isn't nostalgia, not at all. It's re-living. All our instincts, they return, dancing to soundtracks, the light cues so precise our lives are illuminated in a flash we feel more than see.