I’ve already noted Peter Gabriel’s tendency toward the dramatic and propensity for wearing costumes during Genesis performances. There’s the bat hat he wore for “Watcher of the Skies,” and the flower head and Magog, both for “Supper’s Ready.” There was also a character named Britannia he created for “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” and of course the famous fox head that started it all. But for the live performances of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” arguably Genesis’ most theatrical work, Peter only donned two costumes for the entire 90+ minutes, and one of them was fairly nondescript.
The Rael costume involved little more than black jeans, a plain white t-shirt, and a black leather jacket. Peter used some make-up , mostly some black around the eyes to make him look more gaunt, but nothing else. As Rael, though, Peter didn’t look like Peter, which is of course the point of wearing a costume.
Even though The Lamb involved only two costumes, Peter’s showmanship wasn’t waning. While Rael wasn’t all that difficult, the other Lamb costume was his flashiest, his trickiest, and arguably his most famous. It was also something the entire band hated from the first time Peter wore it, especially Peter himself. The Slipperman was a bunch of green foams balls piled on top of each other, with holes for the arms and tights for the legs. It looked like a wretched, cancerous mass, barely distinguishable as a person. It worked very well in a story sense, since it matched the lyrics of “The Colony of Slippermen.”
His skin’s all covered in slimy lumps / With lips that slide across each chin / His twisted limbs like rubber stumps / Are waved in welcome, say “Please join in”
However, it was a nightmare in the practical sense. Peter needed a significant pause during the performance to get the costume on, which was the reason for “Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats,” a 3 minute instrumental that didn’t involve Peter. This was 1974, before the days of wireless mics or headsets. The only way for Peter’s voice to be amplified was for him to hold a mic like normal. The problem was the Slipperman costume didn’t really have a head. Not only was Peter blind, but he had to guess on where he was holding the mic. It’s amazing he could actually sing with that monstrosity on. Then after the song, the costume was a pain to get off and he needed the instrumental “Ravine” to go backstage and remove it. It was a lot of work for 8 minutes, but he did it every night.
Back to the story. After waking to find himself among people crawling on their hands and knees (who might be drug addicts) in “The Carpet Crawlers,” Rael finds himself in a room with 32 doors (“The Chamber of 32 Doors”). He gets out with the help of an old blind woman (“Lilywhite Lilith”) who was just leading him into the hands of Death himself (Anyway” and “Here Comes the Supernatural Anesthetist”). He survives his encounter with Death, and then comes across “three vermillion snakes of female face” (“The Lamia”). In a grand/weird/disturbing metaphor for sex, Rael gets into the lamias’ pool, shedding his shredded clothes, and the three lamia sensuously glide along his body. They then start to devour him, literally, taste-testing with their tongues and then nibbling his flesh. Rael is in ecstasy with this devouring, but the lamia convulse in pain and die. Then, in a final act of barbarism, Rael decides to eat the flesh of the dead lamia.
Clearly, this is the most disturbing thing on the record so far. Up until now it went from straightforward to surreal and slightly bizarre. With “The Lamia,” it takes a turn for the grotesque, and you don’t really see it coming. It reminds me of the first time I read Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. The first few chapters are about a dude on a train and a street vendor selling a potato peeler gadget, and then suddenly Enoch is showing Hazel this mummified dwarf on display in a museum. My initial reaction was, “did that just happen??!?”
Next: jeez, what kind of sex are you having, Peter Gabriel? Never mind, don’t answer that…