DVD Review: Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live

DVD Review: Peter Gabriel – Secret World Live
Eagle Vision/Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: B+
Peter Gabriel - Secret World Live 2012
Shaken to the very core of his being by a gut-wrenching divorce, Peter Gabriel tried to figure out what it all meant on 1992’s somewhat glum and dispirited Us, the deeply introspective and long-awaited follow-up to Gabriel’s vibrant, sexually expressive solo breakthrough album So. Six years in the making, Us meticulously explored the emotional jungles of human relationships with naked honesty and a confused, exposed vulnerability, and Gabriel, searching for answers that were probably never there to begin with, came out the other end none the wiser.
Frustrated perhaps by his inability to find resolution, Gabriel seems to retreat into the secret sound world and experimental bubble of Us, living amongst its layers and layers of exotic textural sediment and its rich, immersive tonal environments as a reclusive artist who has broken off communication with outsiders. At the same time, Gabriel is an open book on Us, unabashedly baring his soul in descriptive lyrics so uncomfortably personal that they read like the notes of therapy sessions, Gabriel having apparently waived any invocation of doctor-patient privilege. Given all this, it’s understandable then that Us – despite the propulsive funk of “Steam” and the organic throbbing of “Digging in the Dirt” – couldn’t possibly rise to the mega-smash hit status of So. Us required too much of its audience – too much of an investment of time and patience, and even too much of their own damaged hearts
Out of this miasma of pain, guilt and intense self-reflection emerged Gabriel, somewhat healed and ready to face the world again with his ambitious “Secret World Live” tour. A spectacular staging of Gabriel’s hard-won perspective on gender relations – with two stages symbolizing male and female sensibilities and a visual bombardment of multi-media adventures – “Secret World Live” set up shop in Modena, Italy for two nights in November 1993, and the arty, uplifting performances were captured for a much-beloved 1996 Grammy Award-winning film. All gussied up for the new millennium, “Secret World Live” is being re-released this summer on Eagle Vision, and it looks as if it hasn’t aged a day, which is both a blessing and a curse.
Visually, this new and improved version is magnificent, revitalizing the multi-camera shoot and enhancing the already vivid imagery of the original film with gorgeous color and a well-rounded sonic remastering that adds power and energy to the sound. Bulging with extras, the newly-packaged “Secret World Live” includes a time-lapse movie of the elaborate stage set-up process, a revealing making-of featurette with exclusive period interviews – Gabriel doing most of the talking – and interesting behind-the-scenes footage, a beautiful still photo gallery from the tour set to an unsettlingly quiet version of “Steam” and a captivating 2011 performance of “The Rhythm of the Heat” featuring Gabriel and the New Blood Orchestra at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
Truly a transcendent concert experience, the mostly joyful and celebratory “Secret World Live” finds Gabriel’s theatricality taking on more meaning and metaphorical significance. As the sensual, slow-moving melodic currents of “Across the River” and “Slow Marimbas” gently drift, Gabriel paddles an imaginary skiff up river on the conveyer belt that connects the two stages, with his band in tow, all gazing upward in wonderment. A makeshift oasis – complete with a tree of life – provides the setting for a wounded, yearning version of “Blood of Eden,” a song of disconnection, suspicion, self-loathing and rebirth beautifully rendered by Gabriel and singer Paula Cole. Needing no stage props, Gabriel and his team of handpicked musicians dance with a relaxed, whimsical choreography as they strut their way through the sweaty push of “Steam” and the chunky, dynamic grooves of “Sledgehammer,” before skipping and hopping around the life-affirming, uplifting cheeriness of “Solsbury Hill,” “Shaking the Tree” and “In Your Eyes” like carefree children in a playground.
That bounce in Gabriel’s step is nowhere to be found on the “Come Talk to Me,” where Gabriel, stuck in one of those typically British red phone booths, pleads with Cole to reopen negotiations to salvage whatever the song’s characters once had together. Heavy-handed and interminably drawn out, this particular scene, which opens the movie, is a wet blanket and lacks the subtle, if obscure, drama Gabriel once employed to jarring effect, like when he famously donned the old fox head and dress in concert for Genesis. Worse yet are the distracting and off-putting close-ups from the small camera mounted on Gabriel’s head for “Digging in the Dirt.” The self-indulgent stagecraft used in both instances seems uninspired and hopelessly dated as if Gabriel didn’t care that the expiration date on such hackneyed devices had long since passed.
All is forgiven, however, when “Secret World” arrives, with upside-down camera shots and flashing lights heightening the tension and excitement of its more aggressive parts and Gabriel handling the tender, more meditative spots with warm humanity. As a bonus, the new edition of “Secret World Live” features the cascading “Red Rain,” not included on the original version. And, of course, this dark waterfall of emotions and melody is as affecting as ever, its mood penitent and heartfelt.
An orgy for the senses, if a tad melodramatic in spots, “Secret World Live” – accompanied by a booklet packed with gorgeous photography – is a spiritual awakening of sorts, with Gabriel’s charisma and refreshing openness bonding audience and cast in ways that language cannot explain. Helping Gabriel make this stirring journey is a backing band that is without peer, as Tony Levin’s agile, sinewy bass movements, David Rhodes’ unassuming guitar figures, and Manu Katche’s splashy drumming – not to mention the flood of keyboards, Shankar’s violins and other strange instrumentation that washes over it all – craft a sublime vehicle for Gabriel’s meditations. Even though his musings have an insular quality on Us, there is a universality to Gabriel’s lyrics that connects with people of all creeds and colors. Never has that been more apparent than on “Secret World Live.”

-            Peter Lindblad

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