Peter Gabriel/Youssou N'Dour
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., June 24, 2011
Peter GabrielCynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Houston, June 16
Youssou N'DourACL Live at the Moody Theater, June 18
Peter Gabriel's mainstream coronation, 1986's many-times-platinum So, guested Senegalese griot Youssou N'Dour on only one track ("Mercy Street"), but the two singers' high-wire vocal act on "In Your Eyes" during the ensuing tour remains a global kiss-the-sky crossover. Gabriel performed both vintage So-journs in Houston two nights prior to N'Dour's lithe African troupe entrancing Austin's Moody Theater on Saturday, employing Norwegian folkie Ane Brun as his foil on "In Your Eyes" along with his daughter Melanie. If Billboard's modern rock chart-topper missed N'Dour, the Genesis cofounder's full-blown classicism now sweeps it up in evolutionary progression. Gabriel's 46-piece New Blood Orchestra serves a sole instrument, the 61-year-old Englishman's delicately splayed tenor, laying bare mystic lyrics while rendering their origin arrangements ghosts in the orchestral machinations. Irrigated via a stage thermos and suckling on a plastic honey bear, Gabriel began by stripping back David Bowie's "Heroes" to a nearly unrecognizable opener, then delved ever starker on succeeding covers of Regina Spektor ("Après Moi"), Paul Simon ("The Boy in the Bubble"), and Arcade Fire ("My Body Is a Cage"), all debuted on 2010's interpretive Scratch My Back. "Biko" closed the first set almost unplugged save for the swell of a dozen violins, prepping a second half that completed a career catalog cull touching on all his nonsoundtrack studio albums except for his second eponymous disc. Security mirage "San Jacinto" and tribalist littermate "The Rhythm of the Heat" joined a deadly, creeping "Intruder," but "Red Rain," catcalled for all night, began the end-run of hits, peaking with Gabriel literally skipping across the stage during modern faith healer "Solsbury Hill." Two male dancers, one favoring Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" moves and the other leaping bandmates in a single bound, channeled Youssou N'Dour's equally stately and sometimes giddy élan, also delivered in hourlong halves divided by an intermission. African superstardom translated mostly into its motherland's local émigrés Downtown at the W Hotel, but N'Dour's 11-member group laid in a groove epidural, hypnotizing time itself between lights-out and no encore. "7 Seconds," his 1994 duet with Neneh Cherry, transcended the overall language barrier early, bridged by the first set's concentration on Dakar-Kingston, N'Dour's hopscotch from West African percussive praise singing to Jamaican undulation. Cresting to a fever pitch near the evening's conclusion on the rocking expansion of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," the riot goin' on gushed four percussionists, crucible bass lines, and skittering guitars. "AIDS, poverty, war – the Africa we know," proclaimed N'Dour, 51, offering his antidote. Africa: cradle of music.