PETER GABRIEL: SECRET WORLD LIVE
Reviewed April 4th, 2003 by Brian White
Peter Gabriel Secret World Live is the best concert video ever made. If you do not agree, you are just wrong. The one thing missing from most concert videos is the energy from actually being at the show. No other concert film has come as close to capturing that energy as Secret World Live. It is not like being there, but damn if it doesn't come close. Unfortunately, the Secret World DVD is not the best concert video DVD ever released, and that is a crime.
Any fan of Gabriel's will be in love with this concert film the minute they see it. More importantly, your author has witnessed something truly remarkable with this film: people who have never heard of Peter Gabriel beyond Sledgehammer have become major Peter Gabriel fans just from watching this show. This phenomenon is made more interesting by the fact that the concert devotes so much time to Us, Gabriel’s CD from 1993. While some hits are played, nearly all of Us is featured. You won't hear Shock the Monkey or Biko, but you will not care.
The Secret World tour is all about Us. Us is about relationships. Two songs featured Sinead O'Connor. For the live show, O'Connor would sing on her songs from the record, serve as a backing vocalist on certain songs, and sing other songs as duets with Gabriel. O'Connor and Gabriel had a falling out during the tour, and Paula Cole was brought in as a replacement. Cole is amazing, and had not yet released her first album, featuring “Where have all the Cowboys Gone?” She sings like an angel, and is quite easy on the eyes. The current Growing Up tour is excellent for its own set of reasons, but something seems missing without Paula Cole.
Why is the concert film so great? There are three contributing factors. The first factor is the fantastic performance by Peter Gabriel and his band. Peter Gabriel is such a great live performer. He is theatrical, which might make more jaded viewers smirk. However, he puts his all into connecting with the audience (maybe a bit too much with the pelvic thrusting during Sledgehammer). For some reason, this works remarkably well on camera, certainly in the way that director François Girard captured the show. The musicianship is superb. Manu Katche on drums, the great Tony Levin on bass, David Rhodes on guitar, Shankar on the crazy fiddle, and Jean Claude Naimro on keyboards. The second factor is the interesting show design from Robert LePage. LePage designed a set that allowed the concert to literally reach out to the crowd. Mirroring themes from Us, there are two stages: a square stage, in the traditional place at the end of the arena, represents the male (among other things); in the middle of the arena is a circular stage, representing the female (among other things). The two stages are joined by a conveyor belt. There is a rotating screen above the square stage, and trap doors and elevators below each stage. In other words, there is a lot for the performers to interact with, and a lot for the viewer to watch. The third factor to the success of this film is the direction by Girard. There is a lot for him to work with here, and he captures it all very well.
How does the DVD look? Here is the only thing keeping the disc from greatness. The concert footage is very grainy, and the authoring is flawed, as pixilation and other artifacts are obvious in a few places. The graininess of the image is the result of the filming media, because footage from Gabriel's crazy helmet camera, and the PSA for Secret World, are much clearer. This being said, the pixilation is unacceptable. However, the most controversial aspect of the DVD transfer is the fact that they took a 4:3 image, cut off the top and the bottom to make a widescreen image. The aspect ratio is only 1.85:1, but people without widescreen televisions have reason to complain. What does that mean for the rest of us? Well, they made an anamorphic transfer of the concert, so that you get more detail. Unfortunately, that detail is grainy. Perhaps it is impossible to present an anamorphic 4:3 image. I have to give some points for the effort to present an anamorphic widescreen image, but not many because it sucks so much. I can forgive graininess, because some videos use that as an effect (Depeche Mode's Exciter), but the pixel breakup is too much for me to take.
How is the audio? Here we have the true star of this DVD. A 5.1 mix was created for this release, and it is presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS. Having heard this material several times, it is so interesting to hear a new mix. Placement of sounds is perfect. They use all of your channels, but it doesn't come off as gimmicky. The mix is so different from that on the previous releases that I had to compare the laser disc and the DVD because I could swear at times that this was a different audio performance (the video is taken from two concerts and additional production at Gabriel's studio), but it is the same audio track from the original release. Great, great mix.
Unlike the VHS tape, the edits used to keep the Laser Disc on one disc are here as well. In Your Eyes is missing the second “Accepting all I've done and said…” bit, and the introduction for Pappa Wimba.
For extras, you get a time-lapsed setup of the stage, a slideshow, and a featurette about the current tour, Growing Up.
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