Peter Gabriel: Back to Front 4K UHD Review: Old Dog, New Tricks

Artists touring old albums has been, since about the mid ’00s, seemingly how they make their money. It’s hard to argue against. I saw The Pixies play Doolittle in 2009 and it was awesome. Most artists have a time and place where their work is most relevant. It would be hard to argue that Peter Gabriel’s big time was not between the mid ’80s to the early ’90s. He’d released work before and since, but the So album was his major commercial breakthrough. With hits like “Sledgehammer” and “In Your Eyes”, the album became ubiquitous.

Buy Peter Gabriel: Back to Front

Which was not usual for the escapee from prog rock, who always kept one foot in the art world, and another in pop. Peter Gabriel was the original singer for Genesis, who in the early ’70s was the quintessential British prog rock band. He started a solo career in 1975, which left Phil Collins to take over vocal duty, sounding remarkably like a Peter Gabriel clone. The ironies of these prog giants becoming ’80s pop stars is probably the subject for a different article: this is about the Back to Front concert.

Which was apparently the first time the band played the So album in its entirety. But that would be a bit too commercial for the art-minded Peter Gabriel, so he had to make this a conceptual concert. And he decided it would be like a meal: the appetizer, the savory meal, and the dessert. So was the dessert, the reward for the audience indulging his artistic set list to get to the fun stuff.

Peter Gabriel’s band live band is the core of players from the So album. Guitar is David Rhodes, who played with Peter Gabriel for most of his solo career. Bass is Tony Levin, whom I’ve seen live with King Crimson and gets my vote for the best rock bass player alive. Manu Katche played drums on the album, as well. It’s as close to a So reunion as can be expected, which had a long, drawn-out recording history.

But how’s this show? It starts with Peter and Tony playing solo on an unfinished song, which eventually became “Playing for Time” on last year’s i/o release. Then there’s several more acoustic reimaginings of some of his darker songs from his early solo records.

Then comes the second part, the “meat”, which includes a mix of dark and light. Most of these are close to the album arrangements. “No Self Control” is a little different and showcases the most dynamic uses of the on-stage lights.

The visual concept of the concert is framed by enormous video screens behind the players, and gigantic light rigs that move around the set. In “No Self Control” the big lights dive down towards Peter, looking ready to crush him. I don’t know how it looked live, but it’s effective on screen.

Peter Gabriel was 63 when this concert was shot, back in 2013. He was an old man then, and he looked it. The show has choreography, but not as elaborate as some of his earlier concert videos, particularly Secret World Live (my personal favorite.) He’s an aging man, and he looks it and feels it. It works for most of his music, which has the sense of a man straining for maturity.

Calmer, more staid than Secret World Live, this is still a visually beautiful concert. And, like most things from Peter Gabriel’s world, the sound is meticulously recorded. But there’s an obvious question for fans: is this 4K worth an upgrade?

Because as far as I can tell, the soundtracks on this 4K (LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio) are the same as the Blu-ray release. There is no Atmos remix. So, this is strictly a video upgrade for earlier owners of this disc. Further, the packaging is a very slim cardboard sleeve, which is great for reducing waste. It’s not so great for getting the disc out without potentially scratching it on a harsh paper surface.

It looks beautiful, but so did the Blu-ray that came before it. If you haven’t experienced this concert before, this is a great way to get it. But the audio is the same as the earlier release, so I do not believe this is a good upgrade purchase.

But it’s a great concert. The So songs have a great balance of commitment to the original arrangement and novelty. The other tracks are varied enough to make them interesting for the committed fan. Back to Front is not my favorite recorded PG concert: that goes to Secret World Live, which to my taste has some of the definitive performances of Gabriel’s songs. But it’s meticulously recorded, and a great document of the event. If you have it on Blu-ray, you’re fine. But if you haven’t committed yet, the 4K is a brilliant concert, visually and audibly.

Peter Gabriel: Back to Front has been released on 4K UHD by Mercury Studios. Extras on the disc include a brief featurette “Peter Gabriel & Rob Sinclair: Back to Front – The Visual Approach” (7 min) on the visual design of the concert.

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Kent Conrad

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