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.”
Watch Genesis (from the Peter Gabriel-Era) Perform in a Glorious, 1973 Restored Concert Film
Peter Gabriel and Genesis Live on Belgian TV in 1972: The Full Show
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Thanks for these great links. Just wanted to note that Gabriel first recorded the solo piano version of “Here Comes the Flood” for Robert Fripp’s 1979 album Exposure. It’s truly excellent; I could never listen to the 1977 version again.
Oh, cool! Thanks for the correction. Yep, I definitely prefer that version to the original album recording. Beautiful song!
I was at this show. Television opened for Gabriel and the audience booed them off the stage. John Scher, the concert promoter, came onstage and lectured the audience.
What a bunch of clueless knobs. Television were brilliant, especially live.
Hi, thanks for this opportunity to listen to 1st PG concert. Just did it in 1980 in Lisbon. Just to add this: I remember very well to read in an interview of Peter at first times that the idea behind the names of the albums (just Peter Gabriel) was like a magazine. The name of the magazine in this case is Peter Gabriel. And then came out the number 1, then, 2, then 3 etc. But the record company (Geffen??) in USA was worried with lack of sales and “obliged” Peter to accept the 4 album would be named Security in USA. The car, scratch and melt are names that came much afterwards as an easy ( and I would say creative) way to call them. Anyway they are all great. As Peter. Thanks.
I would’ve loved to have seen the Peter Gabriel fronted Genesis. I did get to see one of Peter’s early solo concerts while I was still at school. I was off ‘ill’ at the time and out with my dad in the car when it was announced on local radio that he was playing a warm up gig for his first concerts as a solo artist. It was at a local charity place called the Ockendon Venture. My dad drove me there as I said I would love to go, it was sold out but I managed to get in as a fire warden inside the marquee, all I had to do was sit there holding a rope. He was excellent and gave me his tambourine after the show.
I saw this tour in Fort Worth ,TX, at the Cow Palace. I had been a huge Genesis fan, saw them in Austin 1973(?), with Gabriel. I wasn’t sure abt his solo work, and I’d never heard Television, just read a few things about them. The show was in a small basement theater since there was a big square dancing competition going on upstairs. Maybe 300 people (?), or less. Television was incredible, a10 minute version of Knocking on Heaven’s Door was an absolute shocker. Gabriel didn’t disappoint. Tony Levin on bass, I think Bill Bruford on drums (?), not sure..of course Fripp playing offstage behind a curtain. An unforgettable night.
Just chanced upon this while doing a search for The Collected Works of Thomas Mann! Strange.
Seems appropriate to post this shortly after we lost Tom Verlaine of Television. I played keyboards on this recording and the rest of Peter’s first tour. The report that the crowd booed Television made me sad. Most of this band didn’t know Television’s music, but we became fans and would gather off-curtain to listen to them, even though their work was stunningly different from what we did. I’ve become a fan of Verlaine’s solo work through my son, Danny James.
Thanks for posting this, Josh.
Very cool to hear our young selves at the onset.
A few years back, Steve Hunter gathered Tony Levin, Alvino Bennett, and me to record and film a live studio album of Steve’s work. We did a beautiful version of Solisbury Hill.