Eagle Rock Home Entertainment will be releasing 'Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live' on July 2, 2012. This documentary of Gabriel's 1993 concerts in Modena, Italy won a Grammy. It's basically everything Gabriel fans were hoping for.
Peter Gabriel stands on stage, bathed in red light. Behind him sits a tree around which the band has gathered. "In the blood of Eden," Gabriel intones, "lie the woman and the man." Paula Cole stands behind Gabriel, raised up, nestled against the tree. She sings, doubling the lyric, providing harmony, "With the man in the woman, and the woman in the man." Later, Gabriel roams the stage, a camera situated on his head projecting an extreme fish-eye close up of his face onto a screen behind him. "I'm digging in the dirt," he cries, "Stay with me, I need support. I'm digging in the dirt, to find the places we got hurt." Behind him, the close up fades, replaced with the face of a baby, which morphs into a boy, and man. It's Gabriel again. The face continues changing until it's finally a skull. The final dig in the dirt.
Peter Gabriel has always strived to incorporate theatricality into rock. As the lead singer of Genesis (back when it was a progressive rock outfit, far removed from what it would become with Phil Collins at the mic), Gabriel would appear on stage in elaborate costumes and tell winding, humorous stories between songs. In the tour for his 1984 album 'Security', Gabriel and his band would open the show with the dark "Intruder" by entering through the rear doors and stalking through the audience. On his 2003 'Growing Up' tour, he appeared in a giant inflatable ball.
For his 'Secret World Live' tour to promote his 1992 album 'Us', Gabriel contacted acclaimed French-Canadian theatrical and film director Robert Lepage to create the staging. The show revolves around three main elements: a phone booth (symbolizing masculinity), a tree (femininity), and a large screen overhead to project videos made for the show. Gabriel begins the concert by rising from beneath the floor inside of the aforementioned red telephone booth. Each subsequent song has its own choreography, if not its own symbol.
Some are obvious. "Shaking The Tree" gets…a tree. "Steam" features steam blasting out from under the stage. Others are less obvious. The head-mounted camera for "Digging In The Dirt" doesn't seem to have anything explicitly to do with the lyrics, but it feels right. Perhaps the most striking is "San Jacinto" from the 'Security' album. Using nothing but white light and a blank screen, Gabriel manages to evoke an otherworldly feeling that perfectly complements the song, one of the best he's ever recorded.
Of course, 'Secret World Live' isn't some experimental theater piece. It’s a concert, and Gabriel and his band never lose sight of that fact. It helps that Gabriel has always attracted first rate musicians to play with him. Here he's joined by longtime collaborator David Rhodes on guitar, and Paula Cole of 'Dawson's Creek'-theme fame providing backing vocals. Gabriel also has the benefit of master bass player Tony Levin, one of the most accomplished musicians on the planet. Together, these players and the rest of the band offer inspired and impassioned versions of many of Gabriel's songs.
As this tour was in support of 'Us', most of the songs performed come from that album. It's not one of Gabriel's better known albums, and so the songs might not be familiar. Of course, there are old standbys like "Solsbury Hill," "Sledgehammer," and of course "In Your Eyes" for the finale. But just because the other songs aren't as popular doesn't mean they aren't as good. Tracks like "Come Talk To Me," "Blood of Eden," "Kiss That Frog," "Secret World" and others are just as strong as the big hits. The only issue is the lack of older tracks. Other than "Solsbury Hill" and "San Jacinto," there are no songs from the earlier years of Gabriel's career. However, the songs we do get, and the vibrancy of the band is such that it's not much of a problem at all.
'Secret World Live' is one of Peter Gabriel's best live sets. Watching it in 2012 might make it seem a little quaint, as the staging certainly seems small compared to the intricate and expensive rock shows regularly put on today. But if you look at it as more than just a concert, as a work of theatrical art, then suddenly the quaintness gives way to something with more symbolic meaning. Gabriel's music may not be to everyone's tastes, but for those who do put in the effort to seek it out will find one of the richest and most rewarding catalogues in all of rock music.
Eagle Vision presents 'Secret World Live' in an AVC-encoded, 1080i, 1.78:1 presentation. The image was remastered from the 16mm source and given a 2K transfer. The good news is that anyone who has owned this concert on VHS or DVD will see a huge improvement here. This is certainly the best 'Secret World Live' has ever looked on home video. However, even with all of that, the quality is quite poor. 16mm film will not offer a presentation with as much resolution as 35mm, of course, but a properly handled 16mm source can yield a perfectly good HD image, and that is sadly not the case here.
At first glance, 'Secret World Live' doesn't seem so bad. There is a nice layer of grain that gives the image a cinematic look. Close-ups have a reasonable amount of detail, although certainly not to the level you'd expect of a brand new concert. Mid and long-range shots, on the other hand, are incredibly indistinct, with no fine detail whatsoever. Color reproduction is muted, blacks are murky, and contrast levels vary in quality.
Concerts are not ideal presentations, designed to look best on stage, not on video. The lighting for 'Secret World Live' involves broad swaths of deep, colored lighting. Often this leads to oversaturation, and even worse, banding appears frequently when bright white light appears onscreen. Additionally, a few select shots seem to have been sourced from video instead of film, as unexpectedly the quality drops to less than SD quality, with red, green, and blue pixel bases visibly separating. These shots are very infrequent and brief when they do appear, but they're jarring nonetheless.
Eagle Vision offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix and an LPCM stereo mix. Unlike the image quality, the sound is excellent. Like Lepage's staging, for these mixes less is more. Instead of battering you senseless with sound, these mixes create a palpable sense of space, with excellent separation between each instrument. The result is that you can hear each musician individually, if you choose to focus on them. If you sit back and take it all in, the distinct elements come together to create a cohesive whole. Directionality and imaging are strong, with the main band instruments focused on the front, and secondary instruments such as additional percussion filling the rears.
Dynamic range and fidelity is good, with everything from Gabriel's gruff voice to Paula Cole's shining pipes coming through cleanly and clearly. The LFE track is noticeable but not overwhelming. You can enjoy Tony Levin's world-class bass playing without being pounded into submission by it. The balance is finely tuned, with no one element dominating the mix.
'Secret World Live' comes with a booklet that features the concert and disc credits, along with performance and behind the scenes photos.
Peter Gabriel is one of the great artists in all of rock history. His music is challenging, emotional, and rewarding. His live performances are legendary for their theatricality. 'Secret World Live,' documenting his 1993 tour, is full of great performances and imaginative staging. Sadly, the image quality, restored from a 16mm source, just isn't top notch high definition. The sound, on the other hand, is full and vibrant, offering an immersive presentation of a great concert. Extras are, on the whole, rather meager. Still, for Peter Gabriel fans, this release is a no-brainer. Just lower your expectations for the image quality before taking the plunge.