After retiring for personal reasons from prog-rock giants Genesis, Peter Gabriel went on to record a total of four solo records entitled Peter Gabriel, distinguished from each other by references to their cover art (“Car,” “Scratch,” “Melt”) and an alternate title insisted upon by his label (“Security”). This intensive focus on the eponymous perhaps bespeaks of ego, perhaps humility. It also maybe signifies the deceptively straightforward presentation Gabriel would offer the world—shorn of the makeup and costumes of his Genesis days, he might appear to have become another earnest, balladeering singer/songwriter. (See our post on classic Gabriel-era Genesis from yesterday.) Yet that first, 1977, solo outing was as imaginative, baroque, and gleefully experimental as his previous work. His expansive musical vocabulary gave the first Peter Gabriel what Stereogum calls “a purposefully eclectic, anything-flies approach to songcraft” that sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t.
Some of the unevenness of the first solo album is due to what Gabriel himself felt was overproduction on the part of Bob Ezrin, particularly on the song “Here Comes the Flood.” He would thereafter perform this song solo on piano—re-recording it thus in 1990. At the top of the post, you can hear him play it as the opener for his first ever solo show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. The March 5, 1977 concert kicked off the tour for the first Peter Gabriel, for which he assembled an all-star band, some of whom had featured on the album, including King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp (appearing under the name “Dusty Rhodes” and apparently playing offstage behind the curtain). After “Here Comes the Flood” is “On the Air,” and just above, hear the weird, wobbly “Moribund the Burgermeister” from that night. Below, in four parts, hear the remaining songs in the set (see the full setlist here). Over the audio in each Youtube clip, see montages of still images—some presumably from the tour, some of album and promo artwork.
While Gabriel may have ditched the flamboyant onstage personae, he never abandoned his visual flair, as we know from those groundbreaking music videos. Witness the artistic pedigree on display in the cover art of Peter Gabriel (Car)—a photograph by Throbbing Gristle member and artist Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson of Gabriel slumped in a car owned by famed album cover designer Storm Thorgerson.
But the new Peter Gabriel, the solo artist, had—as he put it in the first album’s big single “Solsbury Hill”—“walked right out of the machinery” of Genesis’ excessive presentation. That song, still one of his most memorable, has been covered by everyone from Lou Reed to Erasure. Speaking to his strength as a songwriter, the tune with perhaps the broadest appeal is also one of his most personal—purportedly about his decision to leave Genesis. Hear it live in Part 5 below.
Though he may have left behind the band that made him famous, he still pays tribute to them in his first solo concert’s finale. At the close of the set, below, he ends with a Genesis song, “Back in N.Y.C.,” from the last, double concept album he recorded with them. It doesn’t feel out of place at all, proving perhaps that, even without the makeup—as Allmusic writes—Peter Gabriel was “undeniably the work of the same man behind The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.”