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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Peter Gabriel: What a Difference Two Decades Make

By Published: August 18, 2012
Gabriel's girth has, indeed, expanded, and the svelte, short-haired (and largely disguised onset of hair loss) and goateed good looks have been replaced by a forced acceptance of male pattern baldness, graying hair (for what's left) and, yes, still a goatee (albeit a gray one). But if some of the antics in the arena-bound Growing Up tour were a tad cringe-worthy, ten years later the British songwriter has clearly accepted the inevitability of aging far more gracefully. And if New Blood: Live in London does, indeed, represent the end of his orchestral musings—as Gabriel indicates in the 18-minute interview, included as a bonus feature—then his approach to this 2011 concert tour his bodes well for his return to the rock world, whenever that will be.

Peter Gabriel—Secret World LivePeter Gabriel
Secret World Live
Real World/Eagle Entertainment

After the breakthrough success of So (Geffen, 1986), there was surely no shortage of pressure on Gabriel to record a follow-up that matched, if not bettered, the string of radio and video-friendly hits (this was, after all, the age of MTV) that he'd managed with his fifth solo recording since 1977. But Gabriel has always been a patient and thoughtful artist, and so, concurrent with nearly two years of touring in support of So—documented on POV (Geffen, 1991)—another VHS concert video crying out for issue on DVD/Blu-Ray—Gabriel was already diving into a completely different project: the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. It was only after the release of the soundtrack album, Passion (Real World, 1989) and aptly titled Passion Sources (Real World, 1989), that Gabriel turned to recording a follow-up to So, though work on it had, of course, already begun.

If Us (Real World, 1992) possessed plenty of commercial potential in songs like "Steam," the angry "Digging in the Dirt" and funky "Kiss That Frog," the darker nature of the album—more overtly autobiographical than what had come before and addressing the breakup of his first marriage, and his failed relationships with actress Rosanne Arquette, and his first daughter, Anna—didn't stop it from being, if not quite as successful in the international charts as So, then pretty darn close, also winning three Grammy Awards (all in the Music Video category).

Live, however, Us' denser, brooding qualities were replaced by his most ambitious and impressive stage performance yet. Gabriel has always possessed a theatrical bent—right back to the Genesis days and his notorious costume changes—but here, with two stages joined together by a lengthy runway, Gabriel made the leap into the upper echelons of arena rock. With staging so large that he was simply unable to perform in some of his past venues (like Ottawa, Canada's Civic Centre), Secret World Live captures Gabriel's collaboration with Canadian Robert Lepage, using a wide-scoped multi-camera shoot that puts armchair fans in the midst of the action—on the stage, in the front rows, and in the nosebleed section; and with digital restoration of the video and new Dolby 5.1 Surround and DTS Digital Surround mixes, it's never looked—or sounded—better.

With a core band featuring longtime bassist/stick wiz Tony Levin
Tony Levin
Tony Levin
bass, electric
, drummer Manu Katche
Manu Katche
Manu Katche
and guitarist David Rhodes, Gabriel's set list weighs heavily on music from Us, though his choices from past albums more than achieved a balanced program, with a particularly fine look at the minimalist-informed "San Jacinto," from Security (Geffen, 1982); a buoyant version of "Shaking the Tree," originally written with and for African singer Youssou N'Dour and appearing on a Gabriel recording here for the first time; as well as four tracks from So—the megahit "Sledgehammer," the more balladic "Don't Give Up," the anthemic "Red Rain" (included here as a bonus track, since it was initially left off the concert video and included on the album, with "San Jacinto" treated in reverse) and the Afro-centric best-selling "In Your Eyes," with guests Papa Wemba and Molokai substituting, here, for original collaborator N'Dour.

With a bigger budget, Gabriel was also able to recruit a bigger band and, for the first time, a permanent backup singer in Paula Cole, who does a fine job throughout the 102-minute performance. Indian violinist Shankar and duduk player Levon Minassian push Gabriel even further into the world music arena that, from a pop perspective, he'd helped created through his significant work in the 1980s—from his protest anthem to Stephen Biko ("Biko"), his creation of the Real World label to provide a home for musicians from around the world, and, most significantly, his important contributions to the genesis of the World of Music, Arts and Dance festival (WOMAD) in 1980, and which has grown into a force for exposure, education and positive change.

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