Peter Gabriel's 1994 "Secret World" tour was a wondrous and joyful exploration of his passions, both political and artistic.
The former Genesis frontman has long been involved in anti-nuclear, human rights and environmental issues and his music is infused with those concerns. But he also is an ambitious musical and theatrical explorer, pushing world music into the genres of rock and pop to great effect.
It all comes together in the spectacular new Secret World Live DVD, which captures a two-hour show in Modena, Italy, 18 years ago. Gabriel and his crack band burn throughout, able to shift from loose-limbed dance excursions on pop masterpieces "Solsbury Hill" or "Sledgehammer" to somber, dramatic readings on slower songs such as "Come Talk to Me," "Don't Give Up," and "Blood of Eden."
A deceptively elaborate stage set up -- no one has ever found better uses for a phone booth and a fake tree -- gives the show a powerful theatrical presentation. Two stages connected by a walkway symbolize the male and female sides of our personality (we know this because of the "Behind the Scenes" extra included on the disc), and trap doors in both allow the musicians to come and go with a minimum of fuss.
American singer Paula Cole is a stunning, graceful foil for Gabriel with a powerful, supple voice that complements his gravelly purr. Bass player extraordinare Tony Levin, who also is in King Crimson, and guitarist David Rhodes combine with drummer Manu Katche, violin player Shankar, and keyboardist Jean Claude Naimro to round out the band.
Gabriel is a premier showman and he's all over the stage here, dancing with the other band members, acting out the songs, and generally providing a magnetic presence.
Best of all, these are artists who are having fun. "In Your Eyes" is a tour de force as members of Papa Wemba and Molokai join Gabriel and his band for an epic, joyful version of his ode to spiritual fulfillment. "Steam" features a British art school take on Motown, with the musicians executing choreographed dance steps and a fun girl singer/guy singer schtick, and "Shaking the Tree" is a powerful, uplifting ode to women's empowerment.
It all comes together in a show that is essentially a DVD happy pill. Spend enough time with these folks in this setting and you walk away feeling good about yourself and the world we live in, which is a testament to the power of Gabriel's message.