Peter Gabriel at Hyde Park, Immaculate Machine at The Windmill, Brixton
Well, Crowded House certainly brought one kind of weather with them for Hyde Park Calling, but the Biblical downpour that accompanied their set was hardly what any of us were hoping for. After an outrageously busy day (and a supporting line up so awful I couldn’t bring myself to arrive any earlier), I had hoped to make it to Hyde Park in time to catch the complete Crowded House set (as I still view them as something of a guilty pleasure). Unfortunately, an utterly abysmal Piccadilly Line service prevented that but allowed me to catch not only their last two songs but also the aforementioned freak storm. Frankly, I might as well have gone to Glastonbury after all.
Luckily the weather just about held out for the duration of Peter Gabriel’s rather marvellous set. Less stage managed than his recent tours, there were few gimmicks to this show, and a greater focus on playing a range of material covering his entire career. As the last two tours had focussed on material from ‘Up’, Gabriel and his band ignored that album entirely for this show, instead compiling a set from fan votes on the website for songs rarely performed these days. Admittedly, this made me even more gutted for missing out on the Growing Up tour, as the two performances would have complemented each other neatly.
The irritating thing about festivals is that they rarely ever run to schedule and the headline act is always restricted to a 90 minute set at max. As a result, we lost ‘Digging In The Dirt’, ‘Big Time’ and the extraordinary ‘Moribund The Burgermeister’ from the set list Gabriel had performed at the other European shows so far. This was somewhat annoying, but hardly disastrous given the supreme quality of the show.
The band were on top form. Tony Levin epitomised virtuosity (playing a variety of adapted bass guitars, sometimes with his trademark ‘funk fingers’, essentially a pair of broken drumsticks). David Rhodes played some coruscating flashes of inspired guitar and Ged Lynch was solid and extremely loud at the kit. Gabriel himself was in fine voice (although why he needed to sing into two microphones, one headset and one on a stand, is somewhat beyond me). He was clearly relishing the opportunity to update his back catalogue, much of which still sounds remarkably fresh.
The set list had a thoughtful arc to it, beginning with the exotic ‘Rhythm of the Heat’, reaching an intense peak in the middle with a powerful rendition of ‘Family Snapshot’ and ending with the more familiar (‘Solsbury Hill’, ‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘In Your Eyes’). Highlights included a mesmerising and hypnotic ‘No Self Control’, a faithful take on ‘Intruder’ which emphasised the song’s claustrophobic weirdness and some unexpected songs from the unfairly maligned second album – the band coped ably with the time singnature switches of ‘DIY’ and the peculiarly stuttering ‘On The Air’.
Gabriel, Levin and Rhodes entertained the crowd with some shamelessly hilarious formation dancing during Solsbury Hill and Sledgehammer, marching out on the ramp into the crowd during both. From the emotional vulnerability of ‘Mother of Violence’ (delivered by Gabriel’s daughter Melanie) to the poptastic exuberance of ‘Steam’, this was a shrewdly balanced and highly enjoyable show.
On Sunday, Immaculate Machine more than compensated for yet more dreary weather by putting in a fiery and slightly inebriated performance for the Brixton Windmill’s summer Sunday BBQ. After competent and engaging sets from Stagecoach and The Outside Royalty, IM proved they have that little something extra in the form of peerless energy, and some immediate and infectious melodies. It is somewhat criminal that this outstanding band has been almost entirely neglected in the British music press’ rather late-flowering obsession with the Canadian music scene. In London for five days, including some dates with The New Pornographers (for whom singer and keyboardist Kathryn Calder also plays), it’s rather depressing that they still seem to be playing to half-empty venues. At least the cognoscenti at the Windmill gave them a well-deserved ovation, forcing an encore. It was an impressive, punchy set, with a clutch of excellent new songs from new album ‘Immaculate Machine’s Fables’, due out in the UK in July, as well as judicious selections from their back catalogue (including ‘Broken Ship’ and ‘Phone No.’, two of their finest songs). Luke Kozlowski’s drummed with vigour and audacity and Brooke Gallupe and Kathryn Calder hamonised beautifully. The performance had something of a ramshackle spirit, which only served to make the band more endearing.
‘Immaculate Machine’s Fables’ may well be their most accomplished album to date. At ten tracks and only 36 minutes, it’s a mercilessly concise collection, but it’s also more ambitious than their previous work. Two tracks feature string parts from former Hidden Cameras arrangers Owen Pallett and Mike Olsen and this time round there’s as much lush balladry as punchy power pop. Calder’s voice is particularly spellbinding on ‘Roman Statues’ and ‘C’Mon Sealegs’ has some of the melodic charm of The Shins. Even the presence of Alex Kapranos and the utterly ghastly Cribs can’t ruin the energetic, brilliantly catchy ‘Jarhand’, an opener which, along with ‘Nothing Ever Happens’, refers back to their earlier work. Overall, it feels more arranged and orchestrated than either of the previous albums, with some fascinating attention to detail and more intricate guitar playing from Brooke Gallupe. Splendid.