In 1987, Peter Gabriel was at the height of his powers both artistically and commercially. His most recent studio album, So, had turned him into a mega star with its critically acclaimed songs and groundbreaking music videos. The last night of the tour, a 1987 stop in Athens, Greece, was filmed and released in edited form on VHS as POV. Fast forward 25 years to the present to find that So was yet another classic album to get the super deluxe treatment, this time including a DVD of the entire Athens show as a bonus. Now the entire show -- including the opening set from Youssou N'Dour -- is available on Blu-ray as Peter Gabriel -- Live in Athens 1987.
The aforementioned N'Dour's set is a revelation. After an introduction by Gabriel himself, he opens with "Immigres," a horn-driven, happy-sounding song with a bouncy rhythm. Rock guitars mix with African beats along with N'Dour's unique voice, making for a stirring first number. By his second song, N'Dour had won over the audience, as their strong participation on the mid-tempo "Kocc Barma" proves.
Gabriel had a tough act to follow and proved up to the challenge with his excellent set. Keytars-a-plenty are about in the funky set opener "This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)." Gabriel wastes no time introducing his crack band -- one he would also tour with for So's 25th anniversary and one which included David Rhodes on guitar, Tony Levin on bass, David Sancious on keyboards and Manu Katché on drums -- at the beginning of the track.
A master of the theatrical from his early days in Genesis, Gabriel appears dimly lit during "San Jacinto's" eerie intro. Gabriel's voice drives this excellent track, which builds in intensity throughout. "Shock The Monkey" proves to be more rocking than its studio counterpart, while the band offers a joyous "Solsbury Hill."
Gabriel artsy side comes through in tracks such as the edgy "Intruder," with Katché playing a heavily gated drum, mimicking that of Phil Collins' performance on the studio version. Less successful is the band's rendition of "Games Without Frontiers." Where the original studio version has a weird vibe to it, here it comes off almost as a dance track, losing much of its uniqueness in the process.
Of course, some of So's biggest songs are here as well, including a strong version of "Sledgehammer" that has an extended guitar intro tease from Rhodes. Levin's bass propels the ballad, "Don't Give Up," with Gabriel singing both his and Kate Bush's vocal parts while N'Dour along with some of his band mates, join Gabriel for a triumphant "In Your Eyes."
Live In Athens 1987 is presented in 1080p High Definition Widescreen 16:9 and looks fantastic. Audio options include LPCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio with the sound matching the picture quality. Bonus features include a 1986 interview with Paul Gambaccini and the "Sledgehammer" video in 5.1 audio, but the real bonus features lie in disc two of the set.
Disc two is a reissue of the seemingly out of print DVD, Play The Videos. The DVD includes 23 of Gabriel's classic videos (as well as some bonus videos), including the award-winning "Sledgehammer," along with gems such as "Shock The Monkey" and "Digging In The Dirt." Gabriel is one of the few artists where the visual aspects of his work are as important as the audio parts, making this DVD essential for any fan of his music. An opportunity was missed, however, by Gabriel's people by not releasing these great videos in HD but, instead, in the original Standard Definition. While the Athens show may seem like a double dip to those who bought the deluxe So, Gabriel at least sweetened the deal by including many extras with this release.
Gabriel's solo efforts have become increasingly few and far between since the time of So. Live in Athens 1987 shows a great performer and a great band reaching superstar status and delivering a performance worthy of all the accolades. The fact that this Blu-ray is bundled with Play The Videos makes it essential for Gabriel fans.