The Lamb lies (way) down on Broadway at the Pabst Theater
When I first sat down to choose shows to review in the current season at the Pabst/Riverside/Turner Hall venues, one struck me as a potentially interesting curiosity. I saw the words “Peter Gabriel”, “rare performance”, “theatrics” and a bizarre photo. Without knowing more about the music or content—and avoiding any research or YouTube videos—I chose it and made my way to the Pabst Theater on Saturday night. “This could be fun,” I thought.
I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was a double-LP concept album by British rock band Genesis released in 1974, and the last gasp of Peter Gabriel (who wrote it first as a short story) before he quit the band. It was released to mixed reviews before slowly going gold and the tour lasted less than a year due to poor ticket sales. Gabriel, who created the theatrics with masks and costumes to hide his shyness, decided during the tour he was done when it was over.
You want the story behind this first attempt at a rock opera? A young Puerto Rican hustler named Rael looks for his brother in New York City, gets swept underground into a kind of Dante’s Inferno, becomes a ghost, and is reborn as a version of Sweetums from the Muppets with a kind of bulbous, balding leprosy. Those were the parts I understood, anyway.
The whole program lasts around 90 minutes and is performed by The Musical Box, (from the title of one of Gabriel’s songs), who acquired the rights to the adversity-plagued concept with the idea of a world tour that precisely duplicates all of the photographic slides on three background screens, surreal lighting and staging, and songs almost exactly as first performed. This was not a revival or creative re-imagining.
The lead singer—whose name I cannot tell you because there is no documentation on the band members—is hard to understand, with an English accent rougher than Phil Collins’. There are parts between sets when the lead singer relates plot points, in the same way someone at the bar tells a story for the tenth time and is skipping the expository parts. The band plays powerfully, almost completely drowning out this singer in the smaller venue of the Pabst. They never really look at each other.
The audience was a big factor in the energy. Imagine if you will, your Dad. Have him bring your Mom along for company. We easily forget that 1974 was 37 years ago, so anyone who was in his 20s back then and loved the prog rock of Yes, Rush and ELP was right in the strike zone for this show. There were numerous cries of “Yee-Oowhh” from raspy, gray-haired men. They were eating up the performance, bobbing along like it was the best show live they’ve ever seen. I decided to give it a second chance.
As I stood outside in the cold on the alley fire escape, I wondered if it wasn’t a blessing.
But the music did sound better out there and I confess that during various instrumental parts I was somewhat transported. Like a true journalist, I decided to make the long, spiraling downward journey back inside. After grabbing a Mezzanine seat I could plainly see band members, the blacklight-illuminated giant lampshade twirling, the shadow pantomime devil, the white body suit worn by the singer as he wandered Limbo, and SweetUms as a naked chupacabra (the character is actually known as Slipperman) singing “It”. It wasn’t the absolute worst 90 minutes of my life.
Here is a video, which makes the show look pretty cool. I must have missed this part while trapped outside.