The Grammy Award-winning Secret World Live finds Peter Gabriel in Modena, Italy over the course of two November nights 1993, in spite of what the liner notes say, while touring in support of his album Us. Gabriel demonstrates great confidence in the material, which dealt with deteriorating relationships in his life, by playing seven of the album's ten tracks. Manu Katche (drums), Tony Levin (bass, vocals), and David Rhodes (guitar, vocals), all of who played on Us, join him on stage, as do Jean Claude Naimro (keyboards, vocals), Paula Cole (vocals), Shankar (violin, vocals), Levon Minassian (doudouk), and guests Papa Wemba and Molokai during the final number. The recently released Blu-ray, which has been re-mixed and re-mastered, reveals how impressive the concert's combination of music and visuals are.
"Come Talk to Me" opens the show and reveals the attention to detail Gabriel, along with Robert Lepage who staged the concept he and Gabriel created, put into the theatricality of the performance. He emerges in a red telephone booth, singing the lyrics into a phone. He eventually leaves the booth with the receiver. He stays on the line because the phone cord feeds out as he walks down the gangway that connected the stage to a smaller, circular stage jutting out into the audience.
"Steam" finds bassist Levin, who played a variety of bass instruments, with what appear to be some type of drumsticks on a couple of fingers and jets of smoke periodically blast up out from spots of the floor to the crowd's delight. Using a conveyor on the gangway, Gabriel seems to float downstream to the circular stage and the band follows for “Shaking the Tree,” which sees a tree rise up from under the stage.
The video of "Digging in the Dirt," my all-time favorite Gabriel track, is transmitted through a camera worn on Gabriel's head, which provides intense movements and distorted close-ups, reflecting the intensity of this intense breakup song. Footage from the two nights had to be edited together for what is the best visual performance on the disc.
The main set ended with "Secret World" as suitcases made their way down the conveyor. Gabriel grabs one and lays it flat. The band members enter it one at a time and disappear. Gabriel takes the case down to the circular stage. A large dome descends and raises revealing the band in position for "Don't Give Up," where Cole really gets to shine taking over Kate's Bush part. For the final song, "In Your Eyes," the audience was either given lighters to flick on and off in unison or there were an amazing amount of smokers in Modena 1993.
The band was outstanding; a well-oiled machine creating the world music-infused alternative rock that supported Gabriel. They effortlessly handle the differing tempos of somber, contemplative pieces like "Blood of Eden" to the uplifting, upbeat numbers like "Solsbury Hill." They not only nailed their performances, but also had to concentrate on choreography at times when they were required to step and jump in unison with others.
The source of the 1080i/MPEG-4 AVC encode is 16mm film negatives and according to the liner notes they "were repaired/cleaned and scanned (at super2K) to a file sequence for mastering and restoration. The 2K sequence is the resolution we view in cinemas, and as such, the concert is now available in high definition without compromise. Once scanned, the footage was digitally restored and graded (by award winning colourist Ray King) to allow fans to view the concert as never been seen before." The most noticeable aspect of the image as a result of the source is extreme softness throughout. None of the edges have any sharpness to them. The spotlight also contributes to a hazy look. The brightness of the colors is slightly muted by this and blacks are not inky and closer to gray.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is amazing, so good in fact it appears that the band is playing to tape rather than performing live. The vocals are always clear and never overpowered by the music. There's great separation of the instruments as they engulf the viewer; Lavin's bass benefits the most, particularly from the augmentation of the LFE. The cheers from the crowd are filtered to the rears. This should be played very loud!
Extras include a performance of "Red Rain (1080i, 6 min). Since there's certainly room, I am not sure why it doesn't appear where it belongs, between "Shaking the Tree" and "Blood of Eden" as it occurred during the concert. "Behind the Scenes" (SD, 15 min) finds Gabriel interviewed about staging the concert. "Time Lapse" (SD, 3 min) is an interesting bit that presents the set up, the concert, and the tear down in the allotted time. "'Quiet Steam' Gallery" (1080i, 6 min) is an alternate version of the song accompanied by tour photos. "New Blood Live in London 2011" presents a performance of 'The Rhythm of the Heat' (1080i, 6 min) is taken from a previous release.
Peter Gabriel is a phenomenal musician/performer and Secret World Live is a document that proves it. While the Blu-ray's video won’t wow anyone due to the source's limitations, the audio, combined with the concert staging, more than make up for it.