8 de febrero de 2011

Much Closer Now… (Peter Gabriel in Latin America)

Latin America is far away from England. And in September 1972 it was farther. Not so much developed communications. To catch a plane and fly to another continent was nothing common in those days.  There was no Internet yet, among many other things we are now familiar to. Back in the early 70s “the world was still in black and white” as someone said once.

When Genesis got the front page of the Melody Maker after Peter Gabriel sang The Musical Box wearing his wife’s red dress and a fox’s head in that show in Dublin, it could be said that nobody heard about it in Latin America.

Time passed, the band did his work in creating good music and expanding its fan base over Europe and United States. In the meantime, in early 1974, the album Selling England by The Pound was released in several countries of South America.

It was a real shock in the region (and especially in my country, Argentina, where classic rock always had a massive following thanks to a big middle class with access to a fairly fluent English speaking, which helped to get the elaborated lyrics) which caused the beginning of a true story of love between the band (and particularly his front man Peter Gabriel) and this part of the so-called new world.

The story says that Gabriel left Genesis after the Lamb Tour in 1975, and that the band visited Latam for the first time in May 1977, when it played eight shows in Brasil (in Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo, of which a marvelous soundboard recording of the Auditorio Ibirapuera performance on May 21 is available as a bootleg CD) presenting Wind and Wuthering. Many fans from Argentina, Uruguay, Perú, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela caught buses (most of the people) and planes (the few wealthy ones) to see the band in those Brazilian triumphant concerts. As a trivia fact, before Genesis, only Santana had been a major act playing South America.

Two months before Genesis arrived in Brasil, Peter Gabriel had started his solo live career in New Jersey, United States. Eleven years after that, in 1988, he landed in Latin America for the first time, and he finally got to know face-to-face about the musical relationship that (without knowing) he had begun to build in the summer of 1974.  

1988 - Human Rights Now! Tour

In the 40th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Amnesty International decided to commemorate the occasion with Human Rights Now!, a 20-date world tour made by a team of world-famous musicians, gathered with the purpose of making the world more aware about the issue. On early September, Peter Gabriel (a logical choice, considering his longtime interest in social causes), Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Tracy Chapman and Youssu N’Dour embarked in a trip that would mark the debut of Gabriel in Latin America. In September 13, the tour arrived in San José (in the Central-American Costa Rica, a small country rarely visited by popular music numbers) and by mid-October they hit South America by playing major football stadiums in Sao Paulo (Brasil), Mendoza (Argentina, in the border with Chile) and Buenos Aires (Argentina, the last concert of the tour, that was shown worldwide by HBO, and broadcast in United States by Westwood One radio network).

The shows in Mendoza and Buenos Aires were the most touching moments of the tour, mainly due to the fact that Chile and Argentina are countries which suffered some of the most violent military regimes in history. While Chile was still under the dictatorship of the infamous Augusto Pinochet (that would leave office in 1990), Argentina had turned into democracy in 1983, after the defeat in the Malvinas war.

Around 10,000 Chileans crossed the border to see the Human Rights Now! show in Mendoza. The peak of that night was Bruce Springsteen singing a song of Víctor Jara (the protest singer assassinated by the carabineros, the Chilean police in 1973), Sting marching with Peter Gabriel and David Rhodes in a (that night, full of meaning) version of Games Without Frontiers, and the whole set of Gabriel, who basically stole the show with a stunning performance.

The final night in Buenos Aires was an ideal closing for the tour. The biggest football stadium in Argentina (with an 80,000-spectator capacity) was packed and ready to see a long (in fact, very long) sequence of shows. As in all the previous concerts around the world, local acts warmed up the audience and, after some stage working, the main performers hit the scene to sing together Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up (I remember focusing my attention on Gabriel, and shouting to a friend standing next to me “Peter exists!”…).

That Peter Gabriel show in Buenos Aires did not seem to be merely a rock concert. The feeling around the stadium was more that of a sacred ceremony. When he came into the stage, it took him a moment to regain focus, within one of the loudest crowd roars I can remember after years of attending shows in Argentina and abroad. The set consisted in only eight songs but they were enough to make the audience fall in love with a real performer. The peaks of the night were Games Without Frontiers (according to Gabriel, “a song against the nationalism that, as the racism, destroys other people’s rights”), No Self Control (with Gabriel completely laid on stage, rolling around, in order to defend himself from the attacking lights), Don’t Give Up (with Tracy Chapman filling the shoes of Kate Bush), In Your Eyes (with the famous tribal dancing with Youssu N’Dour) and the last song Biko (at the end of which I could see Gabriel shedding some light tears, from my position in the first row).

Sting followed Peter, and the end of the night was responsibility of Springsteen. They were good sets… but most of us in the audience used that time to rest (after more than 12 hours of jumping and shouting), feeling that the whole event was owned by Peter Gabriel.

1993 - Secret World Tour

Five years later Peter Gabriel returned to Latin America, within the Secret World Tour that promoted the remarkable US. Ten dates led Peter to Mexico (three nights at the 20,000-seat Palacio de los Deportes), to Chile, where he had not been authorized to play with the Human Rights Now! tour in 1988 (at the Estadio Nacional, ironically the same place where the Chilean military regime used to keep the political prisoners before it was decided if they were going to be killed or not…), to Argentina (three shows in football stadiums in Buenos Aires and the two largest cities in the interior of the country, Córdoba and Rosario), to Brasil (in the Ibirapuera and Imperator halls in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively) and to Venezuela (in the Estacionamiento del Poliedro, an open air venue in the capital Caracas).

The concert in Buenos Aires was made in the 25,000-seat Velez Sarsfield stadium. Before the show, there were two topics of conversation within the audience: 1) Having seen some images from the European and American shows in video and TV, it was clear that, apart from the phone booth and some other elements, the stage production was much more simpler than that of the previous concerts (costs are key, and Latin America is far away, after all…), and 2) the supposed break up of the relationship of Peter with Sinead O’Connor, which meant that somebody else should sing the female part in Don’t Give Up. Despite these previous concerns, everyone in the public was pleased to have Gabriel again in Buenos Aires and, in the end, the show was remarkably good despite some (serious) sound problems. High points of the show were Come Talk to Me, Shaking the Tree, Solsbury Hill (played for the first time in Argentina, it made some elder fans cry), Digging in The Dirt (with the surprising camera effect of digger Peter), the usual encores In Your Eyes and Biko and an awesome version of Here Comes the Flood (the peak of the night).

2009 - Small Place Tour

Latin America was chosen by Gabriel as the only place to tour in 2009 in the strangely-called Small Place Tour. Seven cities, three of them visited for the first time. Two weeks that started in Venezuela (again in Caracas, but this time in an open air stadium) and ended in Mexico (with three dates in arenas of Mexico DF, Guadalajara and Monterrey). It was the debut for Peter in Perú (with a sold-out show in the main football stadium, the Estadio Nacional, located in the capital Lima) and a comeback for him to Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires. All these shows were recorded to be released in CD through the Encore Series, something that Gabriel has been doing since 2003… and that had never been done by any artist in Latin America before.  

The Argentine show was again made in a packed Velez Sarsfield stadium. Great expectations for the concert, the main local TV channel recording (for a later broadcast which resulted in a 7-song bootleg DVD). Hot summer night in Buenos Aires. Many families in the audience, many fathers and sons.

The lights turned off and the first big screaming from the public arose when Gabriel’s face appeared in the screens to introduce the supporting act (the British trio Black Swan Effect) which, after two initial interesting songs, due to the monotony of its music, failed to warm up the crowd (Sorry, Pete, but I have to say this…). Some stage work was done and lights were off again to let the instrumental Zaar (at really high volume) create the vibe needed to begin the show. The Rhythm of The Heat was the first song and, when it ended, Peter had his first talking in Spanish (of the many he would have over the course of the evening). “This is how I destroy your language” he joked. An unexpected (strong) version of On The Air followed and, then, a potent performance of Intruder proved that Gabriel had the intention of covering the different phases of his career. It was twenty songs in total that pleased the broad range of tastes present in the audience. Among the following best moments there were amazing renditions of Blood of Eden, Mother of Violence (beautifully sung by Peter’s daughter, Melanie), San Jacinto, Big Time and Solsbury Hill. This time the production was simple but superb: the state-of-the-art digital screen at the back of the stage gave the concert an adequate visual support. There were two encores: a first one with In Your Eyes and a solid Red Rain, and a second one with an indeed moving version of Father, Son and finally… Biko, the last song jointly sung by Peter and the whole crowd. It was a 16-year wait to see Gabriel again in Argentina but (unsurprisingly) it was very well worth.  

Today, in 2009, Latin America still is far away from England.

But I feel (and a lot of people living in this part of the world agree with me) that, thanks to artists like Peter Gabriel, we are much closer now.

Publicado en la revista "Dusk" (Italia)
Noviembre 2009

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