Tuesday, June 11, 2024

David Bowie 44: Brilliant Live Adventures

Perhaps killing more time while fans waited for the next box set in the chronology, the Bowie estate spent part of 2000 tidying up the aisle in the vaults dedicated to the ‘90s. First came two odd mini-albums. Is It Any Wonder? consisted of three Earthling outtakes—remakes of the Tin Machine tracks “Baby Universal” and “I Can’t Read”, and the quasi-instrumental “Nuts”—plus a new arrangement of “Stay”, the rarity “Fun” (both from the tour rehearsals), and an Eno remix of a re-recording of “The Man Who Sold The World” from the Outside sessions that had snuck out as a B-side. The more straightforward Changesnowbowie offered predominantly acoustic-based arrangements of mostly early ’70s songs—the outliers being “Shopping For Girls” and “Repetition”—recorded specifically for the BBC to celebrate his 50th birthday.

These were mere precursors to a curious program entailing the release of six live albums that would be made available individually, on CD and vinyl, for the purpose of being collected in a slipcase labeled Brilliant Live Adventures (1995-1999). These releases basically offered two glimpses each from three tours, supporting the Outside, Earthling, and ‘hours…’ albums in turn. “Glimpses” is the key word here, as one is a compilation from various shows, and two of the concerts are abridged, perhaps to fit on one disc. It was an ambitious program, to be sure, considering that the release schedule was sporadic and the quantities were limited, plus the general chaos resulting from the worldwide COVID pandemic threw even more wrenches into the works. But each title was uniquely packaged and designed, and looked as good as they sounded.

Along with such stellar players as Reeves Gabrels, Carlos Alomar, a fully reinstated Mike Garson, Zach Alford on drums, and the, frankly, brilliant addition of Gail Ann Dorsey on bass and vocals, the Outside tour was supported by Nine Inch Nails, their set melding into Bowie’s. However, none of their onstage collaborations appear on either Ouvrez Le Chien or No Trendy Réchauffé. Yet along with new arrangements of deep cuts, the songs from the album he was supporting translated much better to the stage. (The latter disc, recorded two months after the former—which adds two songs from the latter as bonus tracks for some reason—was a shorter set from a festival environment, with some different songs as well, including a strong “Jump They Say” and two performances of “Hallo Spaceboy”.)

The Earthling tour was stripped back to just Gabrels, Garson, Alford, and Dorsey, yet the keyboards and sequencers made everything sound big and full, if processed and programmed, and a little too close—rather, identical to the album. LiveAndWell.com was originally given away to website subscribers in 1999 and compiled from a handful of shows, concentrating on material from Outside and Earthling. Some editions included a bonus disc of remixes; this incarnation got new artwork and added the radical reinterpretations of “Pallas Athena” and “V-2 Schneider”, credited to “Tao Jones Index” when first released. By contrast, Look At The Moon! presented a full show on two discs (or three LPs). As with its brother, some of the rearrangements are repeated from the previous tour, but there are some new surprises, such as “Fame”, “Fashion”, and even a cover of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” sung by Gail Ann. Also, “The Jean Genie” starts acoustically, and is prefaced with a snippet of “Driftin’ Blues” for some reason.

1999’s much shorter tour—exactly nine shows, if you count the VH1 Storytellers appearance—was notable for Helmet’s Page Hamilton on lead guitar, following the abrupt departure of Reeves Gabrels. Sterling Campbell was also swapped in on drums, Mark Plati played guitars, and two women added breathy backing vocals. As befit the album he was promoting, the approach to the set was less frenetic and mostly softer, yet still energetic. The shows here are similar but not exactly identical; selections from Something In The Air had already been B-sides, while At The Kit Kat Klub was a small exclusive show recorded a month later and simultaneously webcast, which was spanking new and generally bug-prone technology at the time.

Taken all together, it’s six hours of music with a lot of repeats. Even with that, he was both busy and unpredictable throughout the latter half of the ‘90s. Collectors have to have them all, but luckily it’s possible to pick and choose. (Look At The Moon! gets a slight edge for length and variety.)

David Bowie Is It Any Wonder? (2020)—
David Bowie
Changesnowbowie (2020)—3
David Bowie
Ouvrez Le Chien (Live Dallas 95) (2020)—3
David Bowie
No Trendy Réchauffé (Live Birmingham 95) (2020)—3
David Bowie
LiveAndWell.com (2021)—3
David Bowie
Look At The Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97) (2021)—3
David Bowie
Something In The Air (Live Paris 99) (2021)—3
David Bowie
David Bowie At The Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99) (2021)—3

1 comment: