“It’s a rare moment when an artist takes his established, even iconic work and makes it still stronger,” wrote Rolling Stone‘s Susan Richardson in 1994, “but Peter Gabriel’s Secret World Live is just such a moment. Recorded in Modena, Italy, during a January 1994 performance on his Secret World tour, the album and the concurrent video release bring songs threaded together by the images of earth and water into a cycle that explores relationships between men and women. The result is tantamount to a religious rite, merging grandeur with the intimacy of feeling, the public with the secret.” Bold words, but then music critics have always enjoyed using them, and Gabriel himself has spent a career growing known for using bold sounds. If you recognize him only as the man who sung the song wafting from John Cusack’s held-aloft boom box, watch his entire Secret World Live Modena concert and get a sense of his true creative range.
A hybrid of pop star and musical magpie, Gabriel has gone from Genesis frontman to eighties hitmaker to world music impresario. Today he brings all the influences collected along the way to a period of aggressively enthusiastic collaboration with a host of players from the legendary to the obscure. This 1994 performance finds him in mid-career, or at least what now looks like the middle-ish portion of a very long and very productive run indeed. The set, as Richardson went on to assess it, “maintains a powerful continuity that loses neither pace nor momentum; more than the studio originals, these versions elaborate on the dramatic potential inherent in them — the heat and magnitude of rhythm, the human/animal ambiguity of an otherworldly cry. Secret World enters an inner realm that is knowable only through the range of emotion it gives rise to, joining ecstasy and agony into music that avoids being larger than life and instead is as large as life itself.” Does the show still merit that lofty description today? Watch and perform some music criticism of your own.