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Mario Giammetti
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The Last Domino? Tour

Though the Secret World tour ended quite some time ago with the ’94 Woodstock festival in the U.S. it is still remembered very well by those who attended one or several shows. The reason for this is the fantastic live show, a spectacular presentation that set new standards. The Secret World Live video and DVD can give you an impression of what happened on stage or rather, on both stages. It gives you an inkling of which visual effects and theatrical efforts affected audiences at the shows.

Let us start at the beginning, though. The album came out on 28/09/1992, and it was clear that there would be a world tour to promote the record. Plans for the stage show began to be drawn up in November 1992. Says Peter: “I wanted to offer many things for the eyes. My original idea was working with different video screens. Each wall was to have it’s a life of its own; they would show landscapes, faces and so on. Then I saw the U2 show that was based around the very same idea, and it was so good that I had to come up with something new. I met Robert Lepage, one of the most exciting theatre directors to work out a show. One of my next suggestions had to do with trains and stations. We would have laid a track to connect the songs visually, and I would have driven the engine. Unfortunately we would have trouble with the fire and safety regulations in the venues.” *)

Peter turned to the Atelier Markgraph in Frankfurt, Germany, because they had previously worked with Brian Eno. After several talks the whole stage production was put in their hands. The following spring Peter Gabriel, Rolf Engel of Atelier Markgraph, his assistant Claudia von der Bey, Robert Lepage, his assistant Philippe Soldevilla, Michael Coulson, Nicola Bruce (graphic artist) and the tour director Dave Taraskevics met for the first time. In several meetings they all brought their ideas to the table and turned them into concepts. They came up with elements that were to support and enhance the experience of the songs that were on the provisional set list for the show. These elements mainly consisted of light and shadow effects, various props, a screen and technical elements. It was to take place not on a single stage, but on two stages linked by a bridge. When all the theoretical work had been done it was time to find out which ideas could be put into practice. As far as the stage was concerned they used the US logo from the album cover: A square stage and a round stage were linked by a catwalk with a conveyor belt. The Canadian theatre director and avant-garde screenplay writer Robert Lepage has worked very closely with Peter from the first beginnings onwards. For Peter the two stages stood for the two sexes. Said he: "We have looked very carefully at the songs I wanted to play on the tour, and we realized that most of them are about relationships between people. That is where we got the idea to use two stages for, a traditional rock ‘n roll stage with the phone booth in the centre. It stood for the male, urbane and the water. The second stage is round, in the middle of the audience with a movable tree as the centre; it stands for the female, organic and for fire. In order to create a link between the stages and also between the sexes we built the conveyor belt between them.” After some more weeks of careful planning the team knew which ideas for the songs would work and which would not. Sketches had been drawn up for all the props and submitted to Peter Gabriel. After that they decided how the tour would run. An English company called Brilliant Stages built the only set of stages that was to be used for the upcoming tour. In the end all the elements, the stage, the props, the light and sound system and the special effects were brought together to become a unity, to become the show. The Secret World tour was ready to go!

Before we go into more detail, it must be said that not all the gigs were played with the elaborate show and the complex stage. Especially the festival gigs towards the end of the tour were played on normal stages. If you disregard the warmup shows the tour looked like this:

Mid-April 1993 to early August 1993 – first leg of the Secret World tour in Europe, Canada and the U.S.;

late August 1993 to early October 1993 – WOMAD festivals in Europe, the U.S., Canada, Central and South America;

November 1993 – second leg of the Secret World tour in Europe;

February and March 1994 – third leg of the Secret World tour in India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China

May 1994 to mid-August 1994 – various festivals and WOMAD festivals in Europe, North Africa, Asia and the U.S.

It is fairly impossible to say clearly which gig was played with a full stage and show. It is likely that only the first and second legs of the Secret World tour were performed with everything (two stages &c.). Another special things is that an area that went all along the stage area was cordoned off at the shows. This area was not just for the photographers who were permitted to take pictures during the first coupld of songs. People with special authorization gave out wristbands or special passes for the fans in the first rows with which they were permitted to enter this special area. Thus not only people from the media, but frequently also some 30 Gabriel fans were permitted to watch the show from up very close – and unlike the press they got to stay there for the whole show. This special  thing presumably happened only  on shows with the two stages.

What good are the best stage and the most exciting show if you do not have any good musicians? Peter had some surprises up his sleeve in this department, too. Familiar faces first, though. Drums and percussion were played by Manu Katche, who already accompanied Peter on the This Way Up and the Human Rights Now! Tour. The rhythm section was complemented by Gabriel’s long-time companion, the bass legend Tony Levin. The guitars were played for the fourth time on a Gabriel tour by David Rhodes. Joy Askew was the first woman in Gabriel’s live band. She would play the keyboards and sing. Another surprise was the presence of the violinist Shankar. Gabriel had worked with him in the early 80s. About half-way through the tour there was a change in personnel that many fans did not consider a shock but a definite gain. Joy Askew left the band, and Jean Claude Naimro (who also played in Kassav) took over the keyboards. There were a couple of shows with both Joy and Jean Claude between mid-July and early August 1993, probably to teach Naimro the ropes. The last show with Joy Askew took place in Bath, UK, on 08/08/93. The band was also joined by the American Paula Cole who soon charmed the audience with her great voice. Paula has enjoyed some solo success in recent years.

We should also mention some minor changes: In May 1994 legendary drummer Bill Cobham replaced Manu Katche on short notice for a couple of memorable shows when Katche fell ill. Another guest was Levon Minassian who would take the stage after the intro song, Zaar, and play The Feeling Begins (from Passion) unaccompanied on doudouk at several shows (Nimes 13/05/93, Los Angeles 20/07/93, Modena 16/11/93 and Paris 24+25/11/93). In Nimes Levon also played Here Comes The Flood in the encores. This tour featured more guests. Sinéad O’Connor took over Paula Cole’s role in St. Austell / Carlyon Bay on 30/08/93. Sinéad also sang in Dublin (28/05/93) and at both gigs at Earls Court, London (31/05 and 01/06/93). In New York (06/07/94) the band were joined by guitarist Lenny Kravitz.

Before the Secret World tour really began the band played a couple of warm-up gigs. The earliest two took place in February 1993 in Adelaide, Australia. Further warm-up shows were played in March and April in Montreal, Los Angeles and New York. The stage that had been designed and built for the tour was not in use then, and therefore the first real show of the Secret World tour took place on 13/04/1993 at The Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.

Now for the music! While other bands have been doing  their schpiel for years Mr Gabriel had a couple of surprises. A typical gig at the Secret World tour 1993/4 looked like this: Zaar (played from tape as the opening song before the show proper), Come Talk To Me, Quiet Steam (short version) / Steam, Games Without Frontiers, Across The River; Slow Marimbas (only when there were two stages), Shaking The Tree, Blood Of Eden, San Jacinto, Lovetown, Kiss That Frog, Washing Of The Water; Solsbury Hill, Digging In The Dirt, Sledgehammer, Secret World. Encores: In Your Eyes, Biko.

Let us take a closer look at changes in the set list.

At the Stockholm premiere Only Us and Love To Be Loved were added to the above set. Only Us was occasionally played at later gigs. Love To Be Loved has, to the best of our knowledge, never been played again. A couple of days later Shock The Monkey was added to the set. This classic premiered on the tour on 20/05/93 in Munich. Occasionally a third encore was played: Here Comes The Flood (or Jetzt Kommt Die Flut at some shows) was a great bonus. Peter would accompany himself on the keyboards for this slow and intense version.

After the South American leg of the tour the band took a couple of weeks off to relax before they came to Europe again for more concerts in November 1993 where they added yet another classic, Family Snapshot (or Schnappschuss at some shows) to the set. It replaced Lovetown, though Lovetown returned to the set towards the end of the tour (e.g. Budokan Hall, Tokyo, 08/03/94). On the 100th concert of the Secret World tour (in Hamburg, Germany, on 08/11/93) Red Rain was played for the first but not the last time. Don’t Give Up was another encore that could be heard occasionally from November 1993 onwards (first performance in Germany: Berlin, 06/11/93). Another highlight was Schock Den Affen, the German version of Shock The Monkey, that could be heard in Hannover, GER, on 19/05/94 at the WOMAD show in Messehalle 2, and at the Rock In Riem event on 21/05/94 in Munich.

Several other songs were played rarely or only once. The Chile gig on 30/09/93 saw Peter and the band perform Wallflower with the famous Chilean band Inti Ilimani. Shortly before the end of the tour Peter brought Mercy Street into the set. Fans could hear the new arrangement of this song first in Allentown, USA, on 10/08/94. As far as we know Mercy Street was only played twice after that, in New York City (11/08/94) and Philadelphia (12/8/94). When they played festivals the set list was slightly shorter. San Jacinto, Games Without Frontiers, Washing Of The Water, Don’t Give Up and Here Comes The Flood were sometimes played, sometimes left out. This is not the place to describe all the variations in the set lists of the 150-odd shows, but what we have outlined so far shows that Peter (and the band) wanted to keep the tour exciting for themselves and the audience. Even if you had already seen nine shows of the tour you could still be in for a surprise at the tenth gig you saw on this exceptional tour.  This is what makes Peter Gabriel’s gigs special. He has to take some criticism from us, too. Apart from the hits and the classic Here Comes The Flood he has completely disregarded his early career. Why could he not replace Sledgehammer with Humdrum or D.I.Y. or White Shadow or Intruder? Does Solsbury Hill have to be in every set? Will it be the end of the world when people do not get to hear these hits at a Gabriel show? Whatever the reason, these songs were fun, and he is probably only catering for the demand in his fans, right?

The music is important, but the visual and theatrical components of this tour were decisive, too. It is hardly possible to list every variety of every show. The whole Secret World project evolved in that everything grew during the tour and became more professional. The band worked increasingly better, and the technology rapidly approached perfectionism. It was great to see how the musicians on stage took the change in personnel in their stride and still felt like experimenting.

The first song that was played on the tour, Come Talk To Me, gave the audience an inkling what they were about to experience in the coming hours: After the first bars the curtains that had covered the stage were lowered. The other musicians were lifted onto the stage and took their positions. Peter sang the first verses in an old red English phone booth. As the song went on he left it and moved towards the round stage on the catwalk. After the new line-up Paula Cole would stand there and sing with him. He would wrap himself in the phone cable. Then he would return to the phone booth by and by and hang up with in time for the last note. Quiet Steam (short version) / Steam were quite unspectacular after this opening song. The screen that hovered above the square stage and could be rotated around one axis showed films of steam trains and other steaming objects. The fountains of steam that rose from the square stage at regular intervals were no dry ice effects, but simple fire extinguishers that were triggered simultaneously by members of the crew. Games Without Frontiers was performed in the beefed up version Peter has taken to present since the This Way Up tour. Marching in goose-step Gabriel sang this song that has not lost any of its appeal in all these years.

Then came Shankar’s big moment. He could not be seen before. Incidentally, Shankar performed one of his own songs as the warm-up act (e.g. in Mannheim on 04/11/1993). But back to the show: Shankar stood on the round stage at the end of the catwalk and played (after an introduction by Peter) a breathtaking mixture of vocals and double-neck violin that sent lots of shivers down one’s spine. Peter as well as Tony and David complemented Shankar’s performance. It all had a great transition to the faster part of the song that was rarely in Gabriel’s live repertoire: Across The River was written by Peter Gabriel, David Rhodes, Shankar and Stewart Copeland. During the tour Peter encouraged the audience to sing before Shankar began. Gabriel would play a note on the keyboard, sing it and had the audience sing it after him. The notes sung by the audience were samples and used as a bourdon notes (they add up to a chord) for the rest of Across The River. And then they crossed the river, at least symbolically. All the musicians who stood on the square stage were guided by Peter as the ferryman with a rainstick crossed the river, or they were carried to the round stage by the conveyor belt. During the transit Slow Marimbas could be heard from the Birdy soundtrack. In the meantime all the instruments had been set up on the second stage. Having two full stages complete with instruments always ready is a remarkable feat of technicians and engineers. The speakers for the output were hung up high at the roof of the venue so that there were no stacks of speakers to disturb the view of the stage.

The first song on the round stage was Shaking The Tree. The original was a duet Peter sang with Youssou N’Dour. Though Youssou was not here, the musicians still enjoyed the song tremendously. Peter gave in to an old passion, sat down at the drums, played and sang. As the song progressed he nevertheless cleared the seat at the drums for Manu. Blood Of Eden was a great version. Paula was a great duet partner for this song (Sinéad O’Connor had been Peter’s partner on US). A true classic ended this first block of songs from the round stage, San Jacinto. Peter’s stage performance of this is hard to describe. Besides the vocals it was mainly an intriguing play with lights. During the song he would kneel down on a wooden raft that carried him back to the other stage towards the moon, an image of which was projected on the screen. San Jacinto came to an impressive end on the square stage where Peter performed a shadow play for which he moved behind the screen. His silhouette would appear on the white screen. His shadow distorted in the rhythm of the breath, grew larger and smaller. During the last words the shadow appeared to climb up to the audience.

Lovetown was a fixture on the first leg of the tour. The tour video Secret World Live does not contain this song which can be found on the Philadelphia soundtrack and was also released as a single. We will therefore describe it in more detail. The song began with a brief jam in which Manu and Tony were joined by the others. The square stage gave the impression of a North American motel room where the screen showed the view out of the window. There were also a lamp and a chair. A tv set and a bed (with Peter lying on it) were pushed up from below the stage. He sang the first verses of the songs before he got up and began to put on socks, shoes and a jacket, thus changing from his previously white clothes into black. Usually this song would be followed by Shock The Monkey, but occasionally also Red Rain or Family Snapshot. Apparently there was no distinct pattern for the changes. The song after that was Kiss That Frog. It, too, was occasionally dropped. Kiss That Frog had Peter play the mouth organ. Another great idea was this: A camera filmed upwards from the bottom of a water basin, and Tony, David and Paula looked down into it from above. These images were shown on the screen. Then they played the wonderful Washing Of The Water. Peter sang it very movingly while he was illuminated by spots in various colours. Then the famous Solsbury Hill received frenetic applause and cheers from the audience. Equipped with a small video camera Peter produced unusual images of his face for Digging In The Dirt that were shown on the screen. Peter also uncovered a large white model of his own face that lay on the stage covered with pieces of cloth. In the early shows of the tour Peter would actually crawl back to the square stage. He abandoned this later and only went back in a hunched fashion to sing the final chords at the keyboard. The song grew progressively more aggressive during the tour and became a big highlight of the show. Sledgehammer had already been a highlight in the charts in 1986 and 87. This mega-hit had to be played. The end of the regular set was Secret World. It was a superb performance by all musicians, and we would like to point out Tony Levin’s fantastic bass work. The lights went out, and soon on again because the encores began. With the exception of Here Comes The Flood they were all played on the round stage.

The first encore usually was In Your Eyes, but later it could also be Don’t Give Up. The latter song was a great performance, and Paula Cole was a terrific duet partner. Joy Askew also did a great job with the vocals in the first months of the Secret World tour. In Your Eyes became a forum for a common session in which the opening acts would also participate. Every now and then other celebrities would join them (e.g. Geoffrey Oryema in Paris on 24/4/94, Peter’s daughters Melanie and Anna on 08/08/93 in Bath or Robert Lepage on 28/06/93 in Quebec). The opening acts would change during the tour. First Ayub Ogada opened, then Papa Wemba with Molokai and Lucky Dube at the festivals. The encore set on the round stage was topped by Biko, which was incomprehensibly not included in the official video.  Peter would stand on a platform in the middle of the stage. The anthem for human rights ended after Peter asked the audience to sing on; all the musicians would sit down on the platform with Peter (Manu Katche last of them), then the platform would be lowered, the cupola would come down and hide everything on the round stage. The final encore was Here Comes The Flood or Jetzt Kommt Die Flut. Peter played it sitting at the keyboard on the square stage. Can there be a better ending for a Gabriel concert?

This description of the show is necessarily superficial and incomplete. But a thousand words say less than an image. We would like to return to our favourite topic in a tour report – the anecdotes. Here is a selection of what happened on the tour: On the Rome show at the Palaghiaccio Marino in Rome (08/05/93) Peter brought his parents (Ralph and Irene) to the stage after the encores and introduced them to the audience – amidst roaring applause.

The show in Mannheim (04/11/93) had no round cupola because the local promoter was worried that the freshly painted steel joists from which the construction would hang might suffer. On July 22, 1993 at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles a bed was put up on the round stage so that Peter could dance and jump on it for Shock The Monkey.

When Peter decided he wanted to sing Jetzt Kommt Die Flut for his German fans he had to get hold of the lyrics, so they asked Horst Königstein (who had translated Here Comes The Flood) to get a copy of the text. When they had that Peter withdrew to his hotel room and eagerly learned the lyrics verse by verse. The gig at the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 19/09/93 was attended by 100.000 or 250.000 people (depending on which source you choose to believe) which made it the largest audience on the Secret world tour in 1993. The (supposedly) last gig of the tour took place in Paris on 25/11/93 before it was decided to continue the tour in February 1994. The musicians played for almost three hours. The show featured lots of practical jokes the roadies played on Peter, a terrific set including The Feeling Begins (played by Levon Minassian), Only Us and Here Comes The Flood). Paula Cole had a blackout during Don’t Give Up. After the song Peter explained that this was the first time Paula had forgotten the words while it happened to him all the time. He then added: “…but she is learning from the master.” After the performances in South America Peter sported a moustache and chin beard which he took off only in May 1994.

There is so much more to say about this real world tour – absolutely. The fantastic moments from these shows will certainly remain in people’s memories for a long time to come. Gabriel has set new standards as far as innovations and new concert concepts are concerned. When Peter Gabriel goes on tour again (and we do not doubt that, do we?) expectations will be sky-high. And even if he deciced to go back to the roots and play smaller gigs with a small stage show no fan would complain – his performances are far too fascinating for that and they will hopefully remain so for a long time to come.

by Bernd Zindler

translated by Martin Klinkhardt - *) Peter's comments were re-translated and are not to be understood as his very own words.

first published in it magazine #27 (autumn 1999)

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