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Music DVD Review: Peter Gabriel – Secret World Live

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Now, this is more like it.

Peter Gabriel’s performance on Eagle Rock’s newly restored and remastered Secret World Live concert DVD is as energetic, animated, and dare, we say “fun,” as last year’s New Blood – Live In London was stiff, pretentious and boring.

Of course, this is 1993 we are talking about here. Peter Gabriel was twenty years younger back when this concert film – made over the course of a two-night stand before an adoring crowd in Modena, Italy – was last seen.

But there has always been an element of progressive-rock artiness in Gabriel’s music, dating all the way back to his days as the guy who wore all those silly masks with Genesis. The difference here is that Gabriel – and the rest of the amazing group of musicians assembled for this concert – seem to be having such a great time.

There is a sense of immediacy that borders on giddiness felt in the performances on this DVD. Secret World Live was originally conceived as a concert film, made just as Gabriel and his cross-gendered, multi-racial band of art-rock weirdos were first making the transition from small theaters to the big-time world of arena rock.

Peter Gabriel himself almost certainly took himself just as seriously then, as he does now too.

The African rhythms and world music influences which have marked his music ever since are just as prevalent on this performance from 1993, as they are now. But what has been so sorely missed lately – and particularly on the stern-faced, dead seriousness of the recent orchestral New Blood concert DVD – is the element of wide-eyed joy seen and heard here.

Don’t tell anyone, but Peter Gabriel actually smiles on this DVD. A lot. And so does the rest of the band.

This point is only further underscored in the DVD extras here, which include a previously unreleased performance of the song “Red Rain” from this show, and oddly, the much stiffer version of “Rhythm Of The Heat” from last year’s New Blood. While comparing the two may not be entirely fair, the inclusion of both on the same DVD invites this, and as one might expect, the contrasts between them are both vast and palpable.

The real joy though, comes in seeing Peter Gabriel really start to feel his oats as a live performer for the first time in a big arena-rock setting. The stage props here are a far cry from the small budget theatrics of his Genesis days too. The multi-level staging includes everything from elevators, moving floors and trap doors, to the huge UFO which lowers from the ceiling to close the show.

Gabriel makes the most of it too. From the Jagger-like, choreographed dance moves of “Sledgehammer,” to his grand entrance from a telephone booth on “Come Talk To Me” (where he also channels a bit of his inner-David Bowie), Gabriel – as well as the rest of the band – works every inch of the stage like a pro.

Speaking of the band, not enough can be said about these guys.

But a few of these great musicians need to be singled out in particular. Paula Cole is probably the biggest surprise here, particularly when she nails the Kate Bush parts on “Don’t Give Up.” Drummer Manu Katche is also rock-solid, providing just the right compliment of snap and crackle to the funky bass pop of the great Tony Levin.

But outside of Peter Gabriel himself, Levin is the true star of this DVD.

Back in the day, Tony Levin was known mainly for his distinctive bald head, and to music nerds, for his use of the then futuristic looking, fretless bass instrument known as the “Stick.” Here, he uses so many different exotic looking basses that it makes the “Stick” appear almost primitive. The common thread throughout – in his use of these many strange-looking instruments – is the deep-throbbing bass that provides much of the foundation for the music heard here.

Levin also occasionally gets a few choice dance moves of his own in there, and check out the crazy long finger attachments he uses on “Steam.”

This a great performance. But more than that, it is a reminder of a long since forgotten time, just before Peter Gabriel fell victim to the David Byrne sickness of taking his art just a bit too seriously.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.