Gabriel, Peter: Back to Front – Live in London (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: May 01, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Gabriel, Peter: Back to Front – Live in London (4K UHD Review)


Hamish Hamilton, created by Peter Gabriel, Rob Sinclair, and Blue Leach

Release Date(s)

2014 (May 10, 2024)


Real World/Eagle Rock Entertainment (Mercury Studios)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: C

Peter Gabriel: Back to Front – Live in London (4K UHD)




The musician Peter Gabriel first came to prominence in the early-1970s as the original lead singer and a founding member of the English progressive rock band Genesis. It was there that he developed a knack for conceptual songwriting, the use of often outrageous costumes, and highly theatrical and thematic staging during live performances. But Gabriel’s ambitions in these avenues soon began to outstrip those of his fellow band members, who felt that such antics were drawing too much attention away from the actual music. So in 1975—at the end of their tour supporting The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway studio album—Gabriel left Genesis to strike out on his own, just as the band began to achieve commercial success.

But it wasn’t commercial success that Gabriel was after—at least not yet. Instead, he wanted to follow his own evolving musical interests, to explore new ideas lyrically, and to experiment with unique sounds and rhythms drawn from non-Western sources. He was also a new father, which no doubt contributed to a desire to stay close to home. Gabriel’s creative explorations soon led him to work with a number of musicians some of whom have remained life-long collaborators, including King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Tony Levin, guitarist David Rhodes, and singer Kate Bush. He would also re-team with Phil Collins—his replacement as the lead singer for Genesis—to innovate the gated drum sound (with the help of producers Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham) that became the drummer’s signature in the 1980s. Gabriel even took piano lessons during this period to hone his skill.

His first solo album (untitled but sometimes referred to as Peter Gabriel 1 or Car) was released in 1977, and it contained a single hit, Solsbury Hill. He followed this with three more self-titled albums from 1978 to 1982 (aka Peter Gabriel 2, 3, and 4… otherwise known as Scratch, Melt, and Security based on their Hipgnosis-designed cover imagery) that added a growing body of singles to his catalog, including Games Without Frontiers and Shock the Monkey, both of which went into heavy rotation in the US upon the debut of the “Music Television” cable channel in August of 1981. But it was with his fifth album So in 1986 that Gabriel finally exploded into the art rock and pop music mainstream.

Supported by a string of artfully-designed music videos on MTV, not to mention the debut of the CD disc format, So delivered hit after hit on the Billboard charts, including Red Rain, Sledgehammer, Don’t Give Up, Big Time, and In Your Eyes. The album swept the MTV Music Awards in 1987 and was nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy Award. But while it lost to Paul Simon’s Graceland, it still went multi-platinum in both the US (5x) and UK (3X). It was also, thanks to the involvement of producer Daniel Lanois, one of the best sounding albums of the 1980s.

Written at Gabriel’s own home studio, So has a timeless sound that few other albums achieved in the decade, blending art rock, funk, and pop with worldbeat, then adding mesmerizing lyrics, catchy melodic hooks, Fairlight synth textures, and unique rhythmic percussion. Yet there’s almost no cymbals, a staple of rock music at the time, save for a contribution by Stewart Copeland of The Police, who added an iconic bit of hi-hat to the album’s opener. This allowed each song to breathe, with room for the vocals and other sounds to add emotional weight and resonance. So quickly achieved widespread critical acclaim, and is today considered one of the best albums of the 1980s. It is, in short, a masterpiece.

Gabriel originally took the So album on the road with his This Way Up tour in 1986–87. But to celebrate the album’s 25th anniversary, he hit the road again in 2012-13 with many of the same performers, including guitarist David Rhodes, bassist Tony Levin, and drummer Manu Katché, with David Sancious on keyboards, acoustic guitar, and accordion, vocalists Jennie Abrahamson (acoustic guitar) and Linnea Olsson (cello), and guest vocalist Daby Touré. Entitled Back to Front, the tour program featured three components: a brief acoustic set performed with the house lights on, a longer and more traditional electronic set performed in darkness to black and white lighting with LED video backgrounds (as well as looming mechanical light rigs reused from the This Way Up tour), and finally the complete So album from start to finish, during which the lighting and backgrounds go full color. The resulting show doesn’t have quite the same level of energy or staging complexity as Secret World Live or Growing Up Live, but Gabriel is in full vocal form and his band delivers a captivating performance.

Directed by Hamish Hamilton (U2: Elevation 2001, Peter Gabriel: Growing Up Live), the Back to Front: Live in London concert film was captured in 4K video on October 21 and 22, 2013 at the O2 Arena. It was originally released on Blu-ray and DVD back in June of 2014. Now, Mercury Records has re-issued the concert in full 4K Ultra HD. Presented in 1.78:1 and 10-bit SDR, the 4K video is impressive overall, though it does betray some of the issues of SDR and early pro cameras at that resolution, including mild ringing, occasionally crushed blacks and highlights that look a bit too hot. Still, shadows are pleasingly dark and the 10-bit palette is accurate and well-saturated. The concert has also been encoded on a UHD-100 disc as well, so video data rates are nicely high, averaging around 70 Mbps. This certainly isn’t a reference-quality 4K image, especially by today’s standards, but it is pleasing nonetheless.

Audio is presented in both lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 LPCM Stereo. Both are excellent, though the 5.1 mix is definitely preferred given the live concert environment. The soundstage is medium-wide up front, with the surround channels employed for ambience, crowd noise, and subtle immersion. The mix features full sounding mid tones and pleasing bass. Clarity is excellent at all times. Optional subtitles are available in English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese.

Mercury Studios’ 4K release is a single disc that comes in thin cardboard packaging with an 8-page booklet of liner notes written by music journalist Mark Beaumont (Classic Rock, NME), as well as technical details, and credits. The disc’s tracklist is as follows:

  1. Daddy Long Legs
  2. Come Talk to Me
  3. Shock the Monkey
  4. Family Snapshot
  5. Digging in the Dirt
  6. Secret World
  7. The Family and the Fishing Net
  8. No Self Control
  9. Solsbury Hill
  10. Show Yourself
  11. Red Rain
  12. Sledgehammer
  13. Don’t Give Up
  14. That Voice Again
  15. Mercy Street
  16. Big Time
  17. We Do What We’re Told (Miligram’s 37)
  18. This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
  19. In Your Eyes
  20. The Tower That Ate the People
  21. Biko

The disc also includes a short behind-the-scenes featurette:

  • The Visual Approach (HD – 6:12)

For those of you who don’t recognize it, Daddy Long Legs is actually an early piano version of the track Playing for Time from Gabriel’s recent I/O album. The other rare track here, What Lies Ahead?, has yet to appear on any of his studio albums. And The Visual Approach is a brief interview/chat between Gabriel and lighting designer Rob Sinclair, who developed the look of both the tour and the concert film.

Gabriel’s Secret World Live concert film (released on DVD in 2003 and Blu-ray in 2012) was actually shot on 16 mm film back in 1993, so conceivably it could also be released in 4K UHD at some point. It seems likely that Growing Up Live may also have been captured in 4K in 2016. But until either of those—or Gabriel’s recent I/O: The Tour—arrives on UHD, Peter Gabriel: Back to Front – Live in London is a welcome addition to the format and an all-too-rare concert film released on disc in 4K. Pick it up along with A24’s forthcoming Stop Making Sense UHD and make a live music double feature of it! Recommended for music fans and Gabriel’s Full Moon followers everywhere.

– Bill Hunt

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