Peter Gabriel Plays Live

Peter Gabriel - Lay Your Hands On Me 1983 (Tony Levin)

Peter Gabriel – Lay Your Hands On Me 1983


Following 4 solo albums Peter Gabriel released a live album in 1983, Plays Live, a great compilation that also provided a perfect cross section of his previous work. And, it is one the very best live albums I know.

Peter Gabriel

In August 1975 Peter Gabriel, singer for Genesis, left the band. On September 6, 1975, Melody Maker published a personal letter by Gabriel. Gabriel addressed his departure, his disillusion with the business side of music and his wish to spend more time with his family. Read all about his leaving and the last album he made with Genesis in the article In 1974 Genesis releases the masterful The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel 1, 2, 3 & 4 (

Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel 1, 2, 3 & 4

Following his departure from Genesis, Gabriel took some personal time off. He took piano and music lessons. Nevertheless, by the end of 1975 he had already recorded some 20 demos. In 1976 recording sessions for his first solo album, which would be released in February 1977, were underway. The album title was Peter Gabriel. The single Solsbury Hill, stemming from that album , has turned into an all-time classic, which Gabriel still plays live to this day.

Late 1977 recordings for the second album start in The Netherlands. In June 1978 Gabriel’s second solo album is released. The album title was Peter Gabriel. In May 1978 Gabriel said: “The idea is to do it like a magazine, which will only come out once a year. So it’s the same title, the same lettering in the same place; only the photo is different”. In May 1980 the third Gabriel solo album was released, once again called Peter Gabriel. The album contains Intruder, which introduced the typical “gated effect” drum sound. It would dominate many of the 1980s productions. The album also contained the singles Games Without Frontiers and Biko. In September 1982 Gabriel released his fourth solo album: Peter Gabriel, whose single Shock The Monkey provided Gabriel with his first American hit. The tour for the album lasted for almost a year and was the first to make him some serious money.

By now, Gabriel had released four solo albums, all sharing the same title. On streaming services the albums are numbered (1 to 4) of named after the image on the album cover, Car, Scratch, Melt and Security respectively. The development Gabriel went through is rather spectacular. He pioneered with world music, Fairlight samplers, synthesizers and rhythms. The music became ever more adventurous. Live Gabriel was a true sensation, his musicians performed at extreme high levels and the music gained in dynamics on stage.

The albums Melt and Security were also released in German versions.

Peter Gabriel - Plays Live (

Peter Gabriel – Plays Live

Plays Live

On June 8, 1983, Peter Gabriel released his first live album. It was the first album to receive an official title (all consequent albums would get a regular title) and it was his first double album. Plays Live is a compilation of recordings made of four concerts on the American leg of the 1982/1983 tour:

  • Braden Auditorium, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, December 3, 1982
  • Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Kansas, December 4, 1982
  • Chick Evans Field House, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, December 6, 1982
  • SIU Arena, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, December 7, 1982

It’s not entirely clear which concert the performances stem from, with the exception of the last 4 songs. They all stem from the December 4, 1982, show.

The album is live, but Gabriel felt he should mention that (some of) the original recordings were worked on.

Some additional recording took place not a thousand miles away from the home of the artist. The generic term of this process is ‘cheating’. Care has been taken to keep the essence of the gigs intact, including ‘human imperfection’.

Recording the concerts in the recording truck (

Recording the concerts in the recording truck

On the website Peter Walsh (mixer/co-producer) says:

Peter had a studio in a stone barn in the grounds of Ashcombe House. We came up with the credit “FIX ‘N’ MIX”. By today’s standards we didn’t actually fix that much, but we wanted to be honest about what we had done.

Peter’s lead vocal needed a few touch-ups. Not because of the performance, more for technical reasons. It’s hard to get the best sound quality out of a vocal when you’re falling backwards into an audience (Lay Your Hands on Me) or hanging upside down from a piece of scaffolding (Shock the Monkey)!

Another reason was to add a little more consistency to the overall sound of the album. The recordings we selected came from different shows, different venues, so we had to replace a few elements here and there to make it sound more like it was all coming from the same performance. We also changed the running order of the show for the album, so I needed to re-record some of Peter’s spoken introductions. It was quite tricky to make them sound authentic and brings back memories of the two of us in the studio, late at night, trying to get the perfect take without bursting into fits of laughter.

Peter Gabriel - Play Live full photo (

Peter Gabriel – Play Live full photo


The album cover photo was shot by Armando Gallo in December 1982 at the Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles.

During the performance of Lay Your Hands On Me, Peter would look into the crowd in a very intense way before throwing himself onto the raised hands of the audience. That was also a rare moment to get the blue of his eyes on camera. And I got it! I was knocked out when I saw the final result on Plays Live.


I don’t exactly remember what came first, Plays Live or the Werchter recordings of July 3, 1983. In 1983 Peter Gabriel played the Torhout/Werchter festival in Belgium. Not long after, the recordings of that show were broadcast on the radio. I recorded it onto cassette and was heavily impressed. Especially the way in which Gabriel got the entire audience to sing We Do What We’re Told, obviously oblivious to the irony at work. Anyway, my interest in Gabriel’s work was aroused. I bought the Plays Live album and was sold.

At the time I knew Gabriel from his Genesis years, which were well represented in my father’s record collection. With my purchase of Plays Live I could finally repay something: introduce him to music he wasn’t aware of. For me Plays Live was the introduction to Peter Gabriel the solo artist. Of course, I knew the song Solsbury Hill, but the rest had passed me by.

But starting with the percussion of the opener The Rhythm Of The Heat, the album is a beautiful, oftentimes moving journey through different musical styles, perfect musicianship and Gabriel’s stunning voice. Later on I heard the studio versions of the songs, and found them a bit pale in comparison to the live recordings. The focus lies with the later albums, Security in particular, but it’s still a perfect cross section of all 4 of Gabriel’s solo albums. The performances are fiery, convincing and inspired. The album sounds intimate and sincere.

And it manages to truly move and at times it’s really exciting. The opener has already been named. I Have The Touch is an up-tempo song with a funky rhythm. After the anti-racism song Not One Of Us the highlight of side A of the original vinyl release follows, Family Snapshot, showing Gabriel’s voice at its most fragile and emotional. The song’s finale is tear inducing:

Come back Mum and Dad
You’re growing apart
You know that I’m growing up sad
I need some attention
I shoot into the light

Peter Gabriel - Plays Live - Inner sleeves (

Peter Gabriel – Plays Live – Inner sleeves

Side 2 opens rather heavy with D.I.Y., a nicely rocking song. The Family And The Fishing Net is an ingenious song, with some great bass playing and percussion. Intruder is a creepy song, that mimics the “gated effect” drum sound very well. The previously unreleased I Go Swimming is yet another highlight. An exciting song that almost steals the thunder of the other songs.

But there’s side 3. San Jacinto is simply amazing. It’s got everything that makes Peter Gabriel so special: intimacy, emotion, that beautiful half-husky voice of Gabriel and minor chords, immediately followed by Solsbury Hill, which, even though I must have heard it a thousand times, is still a great song. No Self Control is just as good, after which I Don’t Remember closes side 3.

Shock The Monkey is the perfect opener for the last side of the album. A complex song, with great rhythm and percussion, which burst through the speakers. Humdrum is yet another highlight, particularly the moving melody in the second part of the song. After a fierce On The Air the highlight of the album is about to start: Biko. This performance has it all. The tribal drums sound absolutely stunning and deep. The guitar chords just after the beat cuts right to the bone. Those first lines hit me every time:

September ’77
Port Elizabeth weather fine
It was business as usual
In police room 619

The realization that anti-apartheid fighter Steven Biko actually lost his life on September 12, 1977, due to disgusting police brutality, stuns time and time again. The song’s intensity, the performance, brings the message home relentlessly, straight into the soul of the listener. The drums doubling down in intensity by the end of the song make the song (and the album for that matter) climax in an unforgettable way.

I guess I don’t have to spell it out that I absolutely adore this album. It is part of my previously published list of best live albums of all time. This album isn’t just highly recommended, it is essential for every music loving human being.

Peter Gabriel - Plays Live - The singles (

Peter Gabriel – Plays Live – The singles


The album spawned 3 singles:

  • I Don’t Remember
    (released in June 1983)
  • I Go Swimming
    (released in 1983)
  • Solsbury Hill
    (released in August 1983)

The I Don’t Remember single version differs from the one on the Plays Live album.

Peter Gabriel - Crowd surfing 1982 (

Peter Gabriel – Crowd surfing 1982


All songs written by Peter Gabriel.

  • The Rhythm Of The Heat
  • I Have The Touch
  • Not One Of Us
  • Family Snapshot
  • D.I.Y.
  • The Family And The Fishing Net
  • Intruder
  • I Go Swimming
  • San Jacinto
  • Solsbury Hill
  • No Self Control
  • I Don’t Remember
  • Shock The Monkey
  • Humdrum
  • On The Air
  • Biko

In 1985 the album was released on cd, entitled Plays Live: Highlights. The Rhythm Of The Heat, Not One Of Us, Intruder and On The Air didn’t fit on a single disc and were consequently discarded. In 1987 the entire album was released on (a double) cd.

Peter Gabriel - Plays Live - Musicians (

Peter Gabriel – Plays Live – Musicians


  • Peter Gabriel – vocals, piano, synthesizers
  • Jerry Marotta – drums, percussion, background vocals
  • Tony Levin – bass, chapman stick, background vocals
  • David Rhodes – guitar, background vocals
  • Larry Fast – synthesizers, piano, keyboards


In 1980 Gabriel was one of the founders of the World of Music, Arts and Dance, an international art festival, that celebrates world’s different forms of music, art and dance. In 1982 the festival was organized for the first time. That first edition cost Gabriel so much money that he was almost declared bankrupt. His old band members of Genesis offered their help. A one-time only reunion was organized. The proceeds of the show were given to Gabriel and WOMAD. The show made enough money for Gabriel and WOMAD to continue. Ever since, the festival is an annual event. The list of artists that have participated is enormous, bringing together of cultures is still the main reason behind the event.

Peter Gabriel - Plays Live - Ad (

Peter Gabriel – Plays Live – Ad

After Plays Live

In 1984 Gabriel released the (instrumental) soundtrack for the movie Birdy. In 1985 recordings started for the fifth studio album, which was released in May 1986. So turned Gabriel into a world superstar, which was certainly helped by the singles Sledgehammer (and its accompanying video), Big Time and the Kate Bush duet Don’t Give Up. In 1988 Gabriel worked on film music for Martin Scorsese’s movie The Last Temptation Of Christ, which was released as Passion in June 1989. A year later followed by the compilation Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats.

In September 1992 the sixth studio album, Us, was released, in 1994 followed by Gabriel’s second live album Secret World Live. In 1999 Gabriel recorded a new version of The Carpet Crawlers (stemming from Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) with Genesis, as part of their compilation Turn It On Again: The Hits.

In 1997 Gabriel was asked to contribute to the soundtrack for The Millennium Dome Show, which was to be performed in 2000 in London. The result was released in 2000 under the moniker OVO. In 2002 the soundtrack to the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence was released. Also in 2002, the seventh Gabriel solo album was released, Up, followed by two live DVD’s, Growing Up Live (2003) and Still Growing Up: Live & Unwrapped (2005).

In 2008 Gabriel contributed to the soundtrack of animation movie WALL-E. In 2010 Gabriel released Scratch My Back, an album of covers, in 2011 followed by New Blood, a collection of newly recorded Gabriel songs, which was followed by I’ll Scratch Yours in 2013.

In 2016 Gabriel released the single I’m Amazing. In 2019 Rated PG, a collection of his soundtrack music, was released, that very same year followed by Flotsam And Jetsam, a collection of B-sides, remixes and outtakes.

Ever since 2002 Gabriel has been working od his next project i/o, his tenth solo album. In November 2022 Gabriel announced i/o The Tour, which would start in the spring of 2023. In the meantime several songs off the i/o project have been released.

Peter Gabriel - Werchter 07/03/1983 (

Peter Gabriel – Werchter 07/03/1983

In closing

What’s your opinion on Peter Gabriel’s solo work and Plays Live in particular? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Peter Gabriel Plays Live. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!