Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live

cover artPeter Gabriel’s so much an intrinsic aspect of the Green Man motif and of the interstitial arts movement in general that Terri Windling in The Essential Bordertown anthology uses his WOMAD festival as ‘Womad on the Border’. (Don’t ask me to define what is and is not meant by this term as I can’t define what it is for anyone but myself. Nor would I if I could as you should decide what it is. You’ll know when you encounter it. If you must know more, go visit the Interstitial Arts page.) What I do know is that Peter is a man comfortable on the boundaries between folk and rock, between nature and technology, between theater and music — he thrives on the edges where most artists truly dare not go. Not surprising for a man who was once the lover of Laurie Anderson, one of the truly cool performance artists of our time!

All of this is quite evident on Secret World Live, a DVD of ’93 concert where Peter engaged in a level of technology that indeed made it a ‘fantasy for technophiles’. And no one uses technology like Peter Gabriel. What’s really interesting is that somehow I envision Peter fitting very nicely into Underbridge, the club that Sparrow helped out in — see Emma Bull’s Bone Dance for the full details of this scene — with its offbeat music, strange videos, lots of technology all fusing together into an experience that has I suspect only the musicians and tech crew really grasped fully.

Gabriel was educated at Charterhouse School, Surrey, England. Before he left them in the mid ’70s, he was the lead vocalist of art rock band Genesis, from its inception until he left for what has been a very successful solo career as a solo artist. He’s well known as an anti-Apartheid activist, not to mention his efforts to bring different styles of international music to the attention of the Western media and concert goers, and his support for Amnesty International. Some sources say that his music has influenced artists such as Marillion, Simple Minds and It Bites. I don’t particularly take to that variant of ‘six degrees of separation’ so all I’ll say is that Peter has in both his rock music work and as promoter of worldbeat music strongly influenced many, many artists. He richly deserves credit for creating WOMAD which led to many other promoters booking all genres of world music from Afropop bands beyond count to now defunct Aussie protest rockers Midnight Oil.

This is a concert video, so most of it is music with the usual extra goodies that all DVDs must have in order to be complete. The tracklist is ‘Come Talk To Me’, ‘Steam’, ‘Across The River’, ‘Slow Marimbas’, ‘Shaking The Tree’, ‘Blood Of Eden’, ‘San Jacinto’, ‘Kiss That Frog’, ‘Washing In The Water’, ‘Solsbury Hill’, ‘Digging In The Dirt’, ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘Secret World’, ‘Don’t Give Up’, and ‘In Your Eyes’. The opening number is ‘Come Talk To Me’ which features Peter in a English red telephone booth trying to reach out to (possibly) his lover (vocalist Paula Cole who is both lovely in her black dress and quite fine in duets here with Peter). I saw Peter’s ex, Laurie Anderson on her ‘the speed of darkness’ tour around this time and it’s easy to see how both of them are fascinated with technology. Now I admit that Laurie had but a keyboard and her blue electric fiddle, and Peter has so much technology that the DVD has an unintentionally hilarious time lapse film of the stage being set up in Berlin where you can see that Sparrow would have a serious jones for their setup! The performance by Gabriel and his international band (with violinist Shankar, drummer Manu Katche, and bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson fame, among many others) is strong, with the band obviously in the groove on this night.

The technology gets in the way a few times. Giant rotating video screens are interesting, but rather unneeded — the swimming frogs on ‘Kiss That Frog’ were weird, very weird. And the band getting wet was silly, but fun to watch. Like Laurie, Peter tends to overuse technology. My wife, Donna, notes that the technology images used in the ‘San Jacinto’ sequence contradict the message of the song! On the other hand, ‘Steam’ is quite effective in its use of technology. Peter on the ‘Behind the Scenes’ piece said the show conceptualization was intended not to be like the Zoo-TV tour that U2 did (in the dominant use of video imagery.) Well, he’s not quite correct — if the Secret World tour is accurately portrayed here, video imagery dominates — water, frogs, and so forth. Oh, there’s another imagery here too, but it has a video age feel to it. What’s really effectively used here are the wireless mikes and small headcams that allow a freedom of movement and videofilming that was virtually unknown up ’til that time. It creates a very organic feel to music that is lacking in earlier concert vids I’ve seen.

Do watch the entire ‘Behind the Scenes’ piece as Peter does a nice job of explaining what he was up to — there’s a narrative here that I missed completely — and his verbal notes on the band members are worth knowing. Hell, I found a new drone instrument — a doudouk, a French musical invention! Likewise the moodier, more edgy version of ‘Steam’ on the ‘Quiet Steam’ piece is actually quite well done. Bravo, Peter! There’s a teaser for the presumably completed 2002/2003 Growing Up tour that suggests Peter might have encountered Cirque de Soleil before he conceptualized this outing.

The bottom line is that if you are a fan of Peter, you’ll want this DVD. If you are not a fan, it’s still worth picking up as it is a very good look at one of the major musicians of our time.

(RealWorld, 2003)

Cat Eldridge

I'm the publisher of Green Man Review. My current audiobooks are Arkady Martine's A Desolation Called Peace, Nicole Galland’s Master of The Revels, and Walter Jon William’s Deep State. I’m reading Neal Asher’s latest Polity novel, Jack Four. My music listening as always leans heavily towards trad Celtic and Nordic music.

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