In 2009, Peter Gabriel came up with a very intriguing concept where he would cover an artist’s song with the intention they would cover one of his. His premise for this exchange, as he told the Guardian, was based on the idea that “rather than having a passive project where you do your own thing with people’s songs, I wanted to see if I could interact with the people who wrote them, so they had to be living and amenable, or initially amenable.” Peter decided his versions would feature only his vocal and an orchestra. Working with arranger John Metcalfe, he created 2010’s Scratch My Back. Not everyone reciprocated, resulting in the companion album I’ll Scratch Yours not being completed, but rather than sitting on the songs, double A-side singles were released finding Peter paired with the likes of Paul Simon, Spoon, and David Byrne.
Peter took Scratch My Back on tour and created orchestral versions of his own songs to complete the setlist. Those songs led to the album New Blood and a tour, which was recorded on March 23 and 24, 2011 at the Hammersmith Apollo London for this release. He is backed by the 46-piece New Blood Orchestra and singers Ane Brun and his daughter Melanie. Hearing these songs, a combination of his own and others, with orchestral arrangements brings a sharper focus to the lyrics and can either enhance or alter the mood. To keep the focus where he wants it, his performance is restrained to just singing compared to the theatrics he is well known for from previous concerts.
The cellos on the opening “Intruder” increase the song’s menace. The cheery veneer of Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble” is stripped away, evoking a more accurate emotion of the story told. A recorded clicking of a metronome opens “Digging in the Dirt” and “Signal to Noise” has a great conclusion as the orchestra swells to great volume. The video highlights the lead players like the bassoonist during “Downside Up” and flautist on “Mercy Street.” The audience gets involved by taking over the closing chant on “Biko and “Solsbury Hill” gets them on their feet. Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan and conductor John Metcalfe take the stage for “In Your Eyes.” Brun takes over the Kate Bush part on “Don’t Give Up.” The evening concludes with just the orchestra playing “The Nest That Sailed Away.”
The visuals are an important aspect to the project. Given a 1080i/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the shots of the performance look sharp with crisp details, vibrant colors, and rich blacks. There are times, though, when the director’s artistic choices diminishes the clarity of the visuals, such as when he cuts between live performances and images playing on the video screens. Also, “Mercy Street” is in black and white and cameras hang from the ceiling and swing to and fro during “Solsbury Hill.” Beams of red light shower the stage during “Red Rain” but likely look more impressive in 3D.
Eagle presents its usual three audio options of LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with the latter being my favorite as usual. The orchestra’s great dynamics are evident and the track offers a good separation of the instruments. Peter’s vocals are always clear. The bass levels from the orchestra offer a good oomph and during ” Downside Up” it thunders even more so. The previously mentioned metronome audio alternates left and right channels as it clicks.
The lone bonus feature is “Blood Donors” (1080i, 18 min), which finds Peter and the crew talking about the production, from creating the new arrangements to the recording the concert.
New Blood Live in London is a great souvenir of Peter’s recent tour. For those that don’t know the orchestral re-interpretations of his music, the variations are worth seeing/hearing in the comfort of your home.
New Blood Live In London Setlist:
03. The Boy In The Bubble (Paul Simon cover)
04. Après Moi (Regina Spektor cover)
05. The Drop
06. Washing Of The Water
07. The Book Of Love (The Magnetic Fields cover)
09. The Power Of The Heart (Lou Reed cover)
11. San Jacinto
12. Digging In The Dirt
13. Signal To Noise
14. Downside Up
15. Mercy Street
16. The Rhythm Of The Heat
17. Blood Of Eden
18. Red Rain
19. Solsbury Hill
20. In Your Eyes
21. Don’t Give Up
22. The Nest That Sailed The Sky