Peter Gabriel Plays Full Concert in Modena, Italy (1994)

“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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Peter Gabriel and His Big Orches­tra Play Live at the Ed Sul­li­van The­ater

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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