Peter Gabriel has committed himself so completely to Third World music since his exodus from Genesis that it's sometimes possible to forget there's a personal style shaping all that authenticity into a cogent whole. Taken out of a studio context, as in the case of his recent release, "Peter Gabriel Plays Live," Gabriel reminds us how much of a role his technical skill plays in his work, a skill never so much in evidence as when it's absent.
It's not so much that the songs don't work live, stripped to their essential layers -- many of them do, particularly the umpteenth version of "Biko," which by now Gabriel can toss off in his sleep. But unlike Talking Heads or the Police, who borrow only as much as they feel comfortable with and pass the rest through a Western pop filter, Gabriel seems restless and a little lost performing some of these pieces, as though anxious to get back to the studio where he can shape and reshape these ideas into perfection.
Still, if Gabriel strives almost to a fault to make global pop accessible, at least we can be grateful for his efforts to keep it relatively pure. We can thank him, too, for fleshing out this live album with such thoughtful supporting musicians as guitarist David Rhodes, synth-player Larry Fast and stick-player Tony Levin, whose sensitivity and imagination equal Gabriel's own. PETER GABRIEL -- "Peter Gabriel Plays Live" (Geffen 2 GHS 4012). Appearing Saturday at 7:30 at Merriweather Post Pavilion.