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Best Rock Concerts of 2016

Best Rock Concerts of 2016

In a year that saw the sad loss of so many musical artists, entertainers and sports heroes, there was concurrently much to celebrate, as go on we must. For this patron, there were more than two-dozen amazing classic, progressive, or goth/new wave rock concerts by legendary artists, along with some fantastic shows from more recent bands that carry the torch of rock in all of its forms.

More than half of these bands can be found in my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels which I am happy to say is now available on Amazon here.

For this patron, the best of the year:

ARW (Anderson Rabin Wakeman), Yes, Rick Wakeman

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These are a holy trinity of artists that together comprise most of the core members of Yes. First up, Mr. Wakeman absolutely nailed his one-time performance of the King Arthur album redux at the O2 earlier this year, with orchestra, choir and narration. Then, the Steve Howe / Geoff Downes led version of Yes arrived to faithfully play renditions of half the double album Tales From Topographic Oceans paired with Drama, which sounded fantastic live. But the capper was seeing ARW who played Howe and Rabin era Yes music with a fever that brings a new appreciation to the work. It was a heartwarming, wonderful experience to see Jon Anderson so happy, and sounding as good as any night I’ve witnessed in over 20 years. This topped the year off in style.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Relayer/Solos tour:

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Steve Hackett, Sting/Gabriel

In the Genesis camp, while we wait for Phil, Mike and Tony to put something together, we always have Steve Hackett and Peter Gabriel as working musicians – the former working often, the latter not so much! Hackett has been absolutely on fire, both during his Genesis Revisited performances, and with his solo work. The night we saw him here in San Francisco at the Warfield was by far, and I am not padding here, the best show I’ve seen from him since Wind & Wuthering. His renditions of classic songs from the Genesis catalog, along with his first four albums, and newer work from Wolflight, have never been bested. He is my true prog hero. Gabriel went out with Sting this year, in a fun and pleasant show – different for him – I think both better on their own, but it was nice to see the camaraderie. Chills when Sting teased us with the first few bars of “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” Chills.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour:

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The Cure

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The Cure on this year’s tour played crowd-pleasing set lists that changed each night, with a core of consistent selections from their most popular mid period work. The band played several tracks off Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Disintegration (1989), which included career highlights “Lullaby,” “Fascination Street” and “Pictures of You,” about which my daughter says “If you wanted to play one song to someone who did not know The Cure’s music, this would be it – so sad but beautiful.” Truer words. The other featured album was Wish (1992) from which the band pulled off a most unexpected pleasure, set closer “End.” Leader Robert Smith’s uncanny way of putting words to music, making the sum of the two something more than its parts, awakening dread, a cry for help, and ultimately survival, even transcendence is unparalleled. And, fortunately for us, he is a survivor and, as seen this year in concert, he continues to thrive, in apparently good health and surprisingly strong voice.

Watch for The Cure in my next book, should this sell out!

 

David Gilmour

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Witnessing Gilmour rock and roll at the Hollywood Bowl was absolutely perfectly awesome (in the 70s we would have said, “bitchin!”) The lighting and sound was fantastic, the film projections, which were programmed to the contours of the stage’s bowl shaped awning, were amazing. And we had close up seats and the pleasure of attending with great company, photojournalist Armando Gallo and his wife Cheryl, which will forever be a special memory. On this night, Gilmour seemed on fire, grinding out his brand of searing guitar solos gracefully, matching his alternately gravelly and silky smooth voice. He absolutely owned the stage, and the moment, blowing away this crowd of Angelinos, young and old alike.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during The Wall tour:

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Photo (c) Brian Weiner / The Illusion Factory

 

LCD Soundsystem

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This band performed at San Francisco’s Outside Lands, August 5th, 2016 to an anxiously awaiting crowd, once again taking their place a the top of the electro-funk pantheon, delivering an explosive concert consisting of 14 tracks that were also played at their “farewell” concert five years ago at Madison Square Gardens, chronicled in the exceptional film Shut Up and Play the Hits (2011) and the live album Live at Madison Square Gardens. The music as presented was incredibly tight, each musician playing his or her part with aplomb. Their songs progress, contrapuntal lines are drawn, the beat is intensified, bass, guitar or treated electronics are added, until the drone or melody comes clear and captivating, and Murphy adds vocals, working his rich baritone, ultimately building into ecstatic abandon. This is the main recipe for the band, and it’s done wonders for space rock, afro funk, new wave and alt/indie bands past and present. See this band in 2017 if you possibly can.

 

ELO

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Seeing ELO last September 10, 2016, on the second of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl was like stepping back in time, as Lynne, band, and orchestra faithfully replicated every note of the original ELO compositions, along with a few newer tracks from Lynne’s most recent album. At around 80 minutes, incredibly, nearly every track on the set list was originally a hit or at least massively popular FM radio staple for ELO, including “Evil Woman,” “All Over the World,” “Livin’ Thing,” “Telephone Line,” “Turn to Stone” and on through seventeen songs, ending inevitably with “Roll Over Beethoven,” which as one would expect, highlighted the immense contribution of the Hollywood Bowl orchestra let by conductor Thomas Wilkins while fireworks lit the night sky.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Out of the Blue tour:

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Coldplay

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Coldplay brought their A Head Full Of Dreams Tour to our 49ers (Levi’s) stadium in Santa Clara, south of San Francisco this year, and they will be back in 2017. It was an amazing night of lights, confetti, stagecraft, and music, courtesy of Chris Martin and band. Followers of Coldplay take no issue with their often-sentimental lyrics and gut-wrenching delivery by heartthrob Martin. I’ve read some number of critics who are dismissive of this band and their music exclaiming, “There’s no crying in a rock concert!”. Fair enough, Coldplay’s songs veer towards “adult contemporary,” with few gritty guitar licks, in favor of acoustic guitar and piano. This is, after all the man who very publicly decided to undergo a “conscience uncoupling” with ex-wife Gwyneth Paltrow, then penned a song called “Fun” featuring the lyrical refrain “Didn’t we have fun” to honor what they had together. Very adult…and, excellent!

 

Adele

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We saw Adele this year, yes we did! It was truly amazing – what a talent. Her voice was in perfect shape. The songs she close spanned her catalog sounding as good as or better than the original studio versions. Adele generally stood in place, whether main or b stage, swaying or turning a bit while her image was projected on front and rear stage screens to get everyone in the audience a great view. What was unexpected for this uninitiated punter is just how personable and funny Adele is. She greeted fans warmly, even pulling one couple on stage for selfies. She told stories from different points in her career, often in a self-deprecating way that was very endearing. There was a lot of this between song chatter, but it never wore thin, particularly since so many of her tracks are melancholic, a fact Adele herself pointed out, admitting that a lot of her songs are depressing. Yet there were enough upbeat songs in the playlist, and between those and the banter, there was a celebratory air in the room.

 

The Who

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We caught the most recent, maybe last tour, of the Who, one which comes at the heels of the seminal band’s 50th anniversary, and wherein they ”play the hits.” The Who, after a delay a several months, made it to the Oakland Arena here in the San Francisco Bay Area last week on May 19, 2016. The delay was due to health issues with singer Roger Daltrey, which involve his voice, limiting his ability to sing on consecutive nights, causing quite a logistical challenge during the tour. The show was fabulous. Daltry is still in fantastic shape, a real inspiration for clean living and fitness! Townsend still hits his vocal marks and his guitar technique is immaculate. Though he understandably does not leap into the air as in times past, he still executes his windmill-arm attack on the frets mightily. And he has attitude to spare. We were lucky recipients!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Tommy tour:

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Photo (c) Neal Preston

 

Alice Cooper

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Of the many rock groups in the 70s that strove to stage a theatrical performance, Alice Cooper stands among those that invested significant time and energy in the pursuit. “We were trying to create something that hadn’t been done. And what hadn’t been done is nobody took the lyrics and brought them to life…. you use the stage as a canvas. It’s all vaudeville and burlesque” according to Cooper. The man brought his crack band, stage props, dancers and costumes to San Francisco this year. While much of the stagecraft has been presented consistently throughout the years, the show is amazingly well rehearsed yet still fresh — a sonic and visual success. Musically, this was a straight-on hard-rocking show, highlighting the chops of the band’s three guitarists, most notably L.A. resident Nita Strauss, whose searing solos and flowing blonde hair punctuated many of the most metal-laden tracks. Cooper sustained his own still-intact gravelly vocals from start to finish, enthralling the crowd as the well-fashioned master of macabre ceremonies. The set list was peppered with some deep cuts and many hits like “I’m Eighteen,” “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” along with encore “Elected” during which Cooper made a fairly good case for his election to U.S. President, as a third-party candidate fronting the “Wild Party.” If only he had actually run and won!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Welcome to my Nightmare tour:

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Bad Company

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Bad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. This show, which included opener Joe Walsh, was absolutely amazing. Importantly Paul Rodgers has kept himself and his voice in perfect shape, and the band is as tight as ever, pinned down by Simon Kirke’s “rock steady” percussion. Catch this band while you can!

 

Roger Hodgson

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Roger Hodgson performed again this year in the states to audiences of adoring fans. Our show down at Coachella was a heart rending, spiritual journey through a bit of Hodgson’s fine solo work, topping a generous helping of the songs he wrote for the band Supertramp. Hodgson was in fine voice, still able to hit all those soaring high notes, and also waxing philosophical between the hits and deep cuts, which included four from my favorite, Crisis? What Crisis? He spoke plainly and warmly about the meaning of these songs, to him and to others, sometimes reading notes he’s received from fans or sharing his thoughts about how music can bring back memories, and heal troubled spirits. Truer words.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Breakfast in America tour

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Styx

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Styx is a Chicago based rock band that released nearly a dozen records from the start of their most enduring lineup in 1972, through 1983’s Kilroy Was Here. Three multi-talented singer-songwriters Dennis DeYoung (vocals, keyboards, accordion), Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), and James Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards), backed by brothers John Panozzo (drums) and Chuck Panozzo (basses) penned a dramatic blend of rock and pop that placed them in league with stateside brethren Kansas and Journey. This author caught the group on tour supporting the Pieces of Eight album on January 27 1978 at the Long Beach arena. It was an exciting, powerful presentation, featuring a tight performance that showcased the soaring vocal prowess and instrumental credentials of each principal musician. As of the time of this writing Shaw and Young represent Styx on annual tours while DeYoung tends to his solo career. We saw the Shaw/Young band this year and several times this decade and every time they were absolutely fantastic!

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Pieces of Eight tour:

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Ambrosia

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The band Ambrosia was founded in southern California in the early 1970s. Today they would be best known for their most popular albums Life Beyond L.A., and One Eighty each including a mega-hit single, respectively “How Much I Feel” and “You’re The Only Woman (You & I).” These hits highlighted the group’s more melodic tendencies. However, their first two albums, and much of their unjustly overlooked fifth and final release Road Island would be best filed under the progressive rock heading. Ambrosia was back on tour this year, and we caught their exceptional show in Pleasanton, California on Saturday January 23rd. Last year we caught cofounder David Pack who also continues to perform solo shows amongst many other pursuits in the music business. These musicians remain at the top of their game, and it’s been amazing to see them perform again.

Rockin’ the City of Angels during the Somewhere I’ve Never Traveled tour:

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Special mention goes to Ian Anderson’s multi-media concert about the original Jethro Tull – very innovative use of filmed sequences which help with the vocals and storyline – and, I finally got to meet Ian, one of my musical heroes! Jethro Tull of course features in my book as well, focusing on their 1973 epic, A Passion Play!

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Other shows this year that were similarly fantastic included Bryan Ferry, Radiohead, The Specials, X, Ra Ra Riot, American Football, Beach House, St. Germain, Album Leaf and Steven Wilson, who made a final victory lap in support of Hand.Cannot.Erase. All in all a big year for live music!

 

Lucky 13 – Best Concerts of 2013

IMG_07382013 has been quite a year for live music.  We made it to over thirty shows including a few festivals – Coachella in Palm Desert, Outside Lands, and Not So Silent Night in San Francisco.  I had the chance to travel to Britain twice – once for the Stone Roses followed by two Rick Wakeman shows, and later this fall for a long weekend of gigs including Steve Hackett, Brian Ferry, Peter Gabriel and Camel – what a amazing time that was!  The day after Steve’s show we met Peter briefly at the train station in Manchester before the last night of his “Back to Front” tour.  I told him we had been to see an old friend of his and that tears were shed during “Dancing a With The Moonlit Knight.”  He seemed pleased 🙂

There were a couple of bands we missed – I know if we had been able to see Steve Wilson, Ozric Tentacles or Atoms For Peace they would have made the list – having said that here are the top 13 shows we did attend, in order of rating:

1. Camel, the Barbican Theater, London – speaking of tears being shed, they flowed for Andrew and company at this amazing display of talent so long absent from the stage.  “The Snow Goose” was wonderfully recreated along with a second set of classic Camel tunes.  To be in London in an auditorium of adoring fans, cheering long for this oft forgotten band was an amazing experience.

2. Steve Hackett‘s Genesis revisited tour, Royal Albert Hall, London – Just attending a show at the RAH was one thing, but to have it be Steve playing all early Genesis tracks, and including “Return of the Giant Hogweed” and the aforementioned Dancing was heaven.  Ray Wilson joining to sing two of the tracks was priceless.  The show was really a dream came true for this one, being raised on Genesis and loving it all.  Looking forward to seeing them again on Cruise to the Edge in 2014.

3. Rick Wakeman, family show, Gloucester – I flew over from California with my son to this show and the next night’s stop in Cheltenham.  Have to put this one at the top of the list, as Rick played alongside three of his children, now all grown, as they each performed a couple of tracks, told stories, and even explained Jemma’s bedtime routine to the song of the same name from Family Album.  An afternoon I hope never to forget!

4. Goblin, The Warfield Theater, San Francisco – their first time in the states will hopefully not be their last – a tight set of horror movie soundtrack gems, with backing film clips and a dancer, especially appropriate during “Suspiria.”  This along with a handful of their progressive rock compositions made for a great night with the Italian prog pioneers.

5. Peter Gabriel, Back to Front Tour, Manchester – a great set that began with highlights from Peter’s catalog, followed by the entire So album in proper sequence, with two encores.  It was hard not to miss the darker period just before So, particularly after rousing versions of “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” from his prior two releases.  But all in all, amazing musicianship and exciting delivery recalling the original tour and mid point of Peter’s remarkable career.

6. The Stone Roses, Coachella, Palm Desert – somehow I missed this band on their first time out in 1989.  This year I found their guitarist John Squire, vocalist Ian Brown and the rest of the guys to be a very pleasant surprise – their psychedelic sound revival finding its way back to the stage at what seems like just the right time.  Had the chance to see them again in London a few weeks later with all of us – seemingly everyone in the crowd – singing at the top of our lungs.  Music as the catalyst for love and devotion!

7. Black Sabbath, Shoreline, California – if you suggested in 2012 that these founders of heavy metal would make my top list this year I would have scoffed and made some crack about Satan and bats – but after releasing a stellar album 13 and clearly back in form, we found ourselves head banging joyfully to the actually somewhat proggy sound of these survivors.  Am so glad to have seen and heard Tony live showing his riffs along with most of this band still intact.

8. Depeche Mode, Shoreline, California – These purveyors of doom and redemption sound as great as ever live and master writer Martin Gore may be in his finest voice – I find the drama in their sound goes straight to the soul.  The Beatles of the ’80’s to these ears, with another couple decades of great work after that founding era.

9. The National, Outside Lands, San Francisco – this band delivered an awesome set of their moody fitful music, reminding me at times of Morrissey/Marr with less humor.  When joined for a few tracks by guests The Kronos Quartet, the combination of this tight outfit with metered drums, horns, and strings brought some of their woeful best to transcendent conclusions.

10. Simple Minds, Orpheum Theater, Los Angeles – on their Greatest Hits+ live tour, Simple Minds finally returned to the states after a 10 year hiatus.  Not as rewarding as the 5×5 show we went to see at London’s Roundhouse, but then we did not expect to be as excited about a hits retro above a show dedicated to their first 5 records, which had been spectacular.  This band continues to sound excellent – we are big fans of lead singer Jim Kerr’s vocals and writhe delivery.

11. Heart with Jason Bonham, America’s Cup Pavilion, San Francisco – Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart still rock n’ roll, proving it this year in a double bill with Jason Bonham’s band opening, followed by his return for encore with Heart performing a handful of Zeppelin classics, including a smoking rendition of “Kashmir”, and a beautiful “Rain Song”.  Heart’s best move – pulling off the classic “Mistrel Wind” from Dog & The Butterfly and building to it’s own Zep-like coda – show stopping excellence.

12. Alison Moyet, The Fillmore, San Francisco – Alison is back to electronica, with a great new album, looking fit and sounding as amazing as ever delivering her warm smoky vocals atop those cold synths.  One of only three nights in the states, we felt lucky to be there for the show.

13. Muse, Oracle Arena, Oakland – as they’ve grown during the last dozen years, Muse has become for me increasingly more interesting, particularly live.  An incredible amount of energy flows from the stage as they expertly build anthemic rock tomes to shattering crescendos of sound.  Maybe a notch below the last time around, but a great concert to start off the year.

Honorable mention goes to: The Specials, The Warfield Theater, San Francisco – just had to mention – it’s been a dream of mine to see Terry Hall live, scowling through anything he’s been part of whether it’s The Specials, Fun Boy Three, Colour Field or solo.  To me one of the greatest and most underrated British vocalists alive today.

That’s a wrap.  Thanks also go out to Yes, Ian Anderson, Eels, Bryan Ferry, Fiona Apple, Sea Wolf, Pink, Bad Company, Fleetwood Mac, The Postal Service, Hall and Oates, Pearl Jam, Van Morrison, Capital Cities, and Paul McCartney for making it a great year in music.  Looking at the list, I vow to make it to more new bands this year!

Ferry Jazzy

LOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAast night we caught the Bryan Ferry tour at Lowry Center in Manchester, UK. Much of the show centered on his jazz orchestra who played both standards from the 1920’s along with instrumental versions of some of his hits, and those of Roxy Music. He was out in part to promote a new record, “The Jazz Age.”  Not being a real fan of the period, it was not particularly the show we were hoping for, but Bryan’s voice was in fine form and his presence undiminished. Was a treat to hear “N.Y.C.” from our favorite of his records, 1994’s “Mamouna” along with a few of his most popular solo pieces, and a dose of core Roxy Music tracks, including “Love is the Drug”, “Let’s Stick Together”, “Take a Chance With Me” and the standard “Jealous Guy” aided nicely by the additional jazz ensemble. A fine night for Ferry’s brand of rock and soul.

Genesis and Revelation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASteve Hackett was the guitar player for Genesis during their early years – with Peter Gabriel on vocals until 1975, and then for two tours when Phil Collins first took on vocals.  The first time I saw Genesis it was for the “Wind and Wuthering” tour in 1977.  It was the last time Steve toured with the band, who continued on their path with Phil Collins in front, becoming less about mysterious “progressive rock” and more about pop, to the acclaim of millions.  Now thirty-six years later, we traveled to London to see Steve perform a concert entitled “Genesis Revisited” at London’s wonderful Royal Albert Hall, October 24, 2013. As hoped, the show was spectacular, focusing entirely on early Genesis work – three tracks off each record from 1971’s “Nursery Crime” through 1976’s masterpiece “Wind and Wuthering.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were quickly reminded that to really appreciate Genesis music, it’s important to experience it played live.  The skilled band included Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on Drums, Lee Pomeroy on bass & rhythm guitar, Rob Townsend on winds, and Nad Sylvan on vocals.  They all reproduced the sound faithfully, with thrilling dynamics, arranging the songs with Steve’s parts nicely highlighted.   While Nad did a laudable job of covering both Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins vocals, special guest vocalists helped, including John Wetton (Roxy Music, King Crimson, UK, Asia -plus) singing “Firth of Fifth” from 1973’s “Selling England by the Pound” – a highlight of the set.  Also in attendance was Ray Wilson who sang on the 1997 Genesis release “Calling All Stations.”  Ray came out to perform “I Know What I Like” also from “Selling England” and “Carpet Crawlers” from “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” both songs being the closest thing you could call “hits” from that era.  Amanda Lehmann came out to do an acoustic version of “Ripples” from “Trick of the Tail” – an emotional song done beautifully as a duo.  For the hardcore fan, Steve included the full version of “Supper’s Ready” the sprawling 23 minute track from “Foxtrot.”

What I always loved about old Genesis was on full display.  It’s strange and thrilling music –Steve describes one track, “Fly on a Windshield” as “doom ridden music at its most unashamedly epic.” In fact the tunes from that era are often gloomy with heavy use of minor tonalities, though offset in almost every case by the resolve to major keys, greater volume, and stories of transcending the dark into light.  For me the best example of this, and highlight of the night was “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” – which kicks off with an a cappella line “Can you tell me where my country lies?” evoking a nostalgia for a Britain of old, before Wimpy burgers and mass commerce.  It was really exciting and heartwarming to see and hear Steve and band play these songs so faithfully, so many of which most of us of a certain age missed, having not seen the original Gabriel era tours. It was a brilliant performance and a special evening I will never forget.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe day after this show, we headed up to Manchester where we will see Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music and solo effort fame October 26th.  As we disembarked from the train I was surprised to see Tony Levin and Peter Gabriel just beside us.  I said to Peter “We just saw an old friend of yours play last night” and had a short chat about the Hackett show, and my emotional reaction to some of the material.  He wished us luck on our own “concert tour” after I let him know we were also seeing Bryan, and Camel while in London.  We realized he was playing tonight, and picked up a couple of tickets to the last night of his global “So” revisited tour, even though we had seen this earlier in the year in San Jose.  For these shows, Peter plays his 1986 album “So” – arguably his first attempt to make music that would appeal to a larger audience.  After leaving Genesis, Peter released four very dark and different self-titled albums each presented back in the day with powerful performances.  Though the Genesis-era costumes were no more, the third and forth tours included a bit of make up, and a dose of stage theatrics.  Musically, “So” was a departure from all that, including more of a rock & soul vibe, and less oblique lyrics.  For the tour then and now, while Peter included some of those darker pieces such as “The Family and the Fishing Net” and “No Self Control” the overall mood is more jubilant and there is even… dancing!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQuite a one-two punch from one night to the next, leaving us ruminating on the various stages our musical heroes had been through, each returning to their older work, each taking a different path.  Steve has always kept a torch alive for his Genesis-era work, and for him, the crowd last night was probably larger than any of his frequent solo tours, confirming the fact that there is still an audience for that work, and for progressive rock in general.  In Peter’s case, he filled a giant arena revisiting his most popular album from 1986 – it’s different than his early work, but with as many dynamic, touching moments.  While one punter shouted “Supper’s Ready” during a quiet moment, I don’t think Peter will ever perform his Genesis-era work again, though it’s all been left in able hands.