Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Bowie at Madison Square Garden - 15 DEC 03

I am a Bowie fan! I am a big Bowie fan. Even when I am critical of his music or performance or business decisions, I still adore him.

Last night, I met a gang of people at a tarted-up pub near Madison Square Garden to collect friends and my ticket for the David Bowie "A Reality Tour" with Special Guest Macy Gray. Sadly, our timing meant we missed Macy Gray.

Our seats were on the floor, near the stage, but my companions decided against those and made their way to the very front, up against the stage. This was wonderful, because I got four seats to myself and I had plenty of room for dancing!

Bowie had cancelled five shows in the previous ten days because of illness, so this was the first United States show of this world tour, his first in over a decade.

He was in top form and played twenty-five selections as old as the classic "Man Who Sold The World" and as recent as the rather dull "Reality." His conversations with the audience were animated and humorous. He was frisky, and sexy, and flirtatious. He was butch and femme, cowboy and drag queen, a little bit street and a little bit regal. He's a man's man and a big queen!

The show opened with the screeching chords of Earl Slick playing the riff of 1974's "Rebel Rebel," one of the many Bowie songs that has reached anthem status. As the singer appeared, the band dropped the tempo to the new, slower rendition of the song that was re-worked in 2002. It's great that Bowie has done new versions of some of his best-known hits, and the new "Rebel Rebel" is surprisingly infectious.

I am not enamored of the new "Reality" album. The two strongest cuts on the album are cover versions, and neither was performed at this show. After performing "New Killer Star" and "Reality," it was back to hits with "Fashion" followed by "Hang On To Yourself" and "Fame." The crowd was pumped-up, and though he almost lost the attention with his cover of The Pixies' "Cactus," he did a great job getting them back by requesting, because of his recent throat troubles, that the crowd please sing the next song.

The stage went black, the band broke into "All The Young Dudes" and the audience went ballistic. It was a quintessential rock show moment, lacking only cigarette lighters held aloft, as all of Madison Square Garden swayed back and forth, arms in the air, straining through the chorus. It was rather wonderful and the singer seemed very pleased when he thanked the crowd afterwards. It is amazing to me that Bowie also counts the glam-anthem (is that a glanthem?) "All The Young Dudes" in his vast array of anthem-status songs.

Most were thrilled with his saccharine-sweet version of Iggy Pop's "China Girl." I have always appreciated that Bowie's recording made Iggy rich for life, but this version has never held a candle to Iggy's. Hard to argue with success, of course, while watching most of the arena dancing and singing along. This was the perfect time to take a break and get a bottle of water. The rather-lovely, but not very dynamic or interesting "The Loneliest Guy" started as I returned to my seat and I used this time to visit the toilet! All concerts need these little breaks in the action.

After polite applause, Bowie explained that the next song was the first David Bowie song he ever heard on the radio in America. More than one person around me referred to "The Man Who Sold The World" as a Nirvana song, and I realized that the tickets for the good seats still get into the wrong hands most of the time. The guy next to me actually said, "Wow! I didn't know he covered Nirvana!" I will never tire of hearing TMWSTW.

I am criticized by many Bowie fans for disliking the "1.Outside" album. It was Bowie's renaissance release and the ensuing tour with the always-tedious Nine Inch Nails garnered him a new generation of fans. I think the idea for the record is a great idea, I just find it completely unlistenable, and it is the only David Bowie album I do not have in my collection (I have never opened my "Tonight" CD, but I do own it.) "Hallo Spaceboy" has been a staple at Bowie shows since 1995. I am done with it. If I never hear it again, it will be too soon.

The grinding of Spaceboy was relieved with the lovely "Sunday" from last year's "Heathen" record (Bowie's best release since "Scary Monsters").

When I saw Bowie at Avalon Ballroom in the mid-nineties, he and Gail Ann Dorsey sang "Under Pressure" as a duet. This is one of the most wonderful rock duets ever, and they should release it as a recording for some Freddie Mercury foundation benefit, or the such. They are great together and it's a joy to watch Bowie fawn over her and beam like a proud parent when she sings so brilliantly. She has a magical voice, and the appreciative applause was extended.

Bowie took the spotlight again as Mike Garson played piano and he sang "Life On Mars," which is not an easy vocal and he performed impressively given his recent flu.

Bowie's fascination with cowboys (and their late-century counterparts, astronauts) is well-known. Bowie says his favorite cowboy song is "Ashes To Ashes" and I might agree.

The only low-point in the evening came next when he offered the lovely "Afraid" (from 'Heathen) followed by "The Motel" (from "1.Outside"). The singer got it right when he laughed that about 240 people in the audience had heard of it. The man has a remarkable catalogue and I will never understand why he would choose anything from "1.Outside" for an interlude obscure. The song is boring, it is from a boring album and he almost completely lost the audience (including the hardcore fans) with such a dreary selection. If he wants to do a little-known slow number that his best fans would love, why not do "Win" from Young Americans, or "Lady Grinning Soul" from Aladdin Sane, or "Never Let Me Down" from the album of the same name? "The Motel" is a horrible choice, and I don't think there were 240 people who appreciated it.

The audience reaction was so poor that he interrupted the show and announced, willy-nilly, to everyone (much to the band's surprise) that they would do "Changes" next.

He recaptured the crowd and never looked back as he crooned through a soulful "Five Years," the rockin' "I'm Afraid Of Americans," and a finale of a toned-down and dramatic "Heroes."

The bad left the stage at exactly 11:00 (which I think is union rules), and returned to do an encore of classic Bowie. How can you go wrong with a three-song encore of "The Jean Genie" (with Bowie blowing the love-me-do-harmonica), "Suffragette City," and his signature "Ziggy Stardust"?

The show was wonderful. I quickly exited as the band took their bows and curtsies, got Liz a program, and was on my home to collect Mrs. Mac for the after-party, before the band left the glow of the lights.

I will write about the after-party at "Siberia" tonight or tomorrow.

Until that time, here is the set list:

01. Rebel Rebel
02. New Killer Star
03. Reality
04. Fashion
05. Hang On To Yourself
06. Fame
07. Cactus
08. All The Young Dudes
09. China Girl
10. The Loneliest Guy
11. The Man Who Sold The World
12. Hallo Spaceboy
13. Sunday
14. Under Pressure
15. Life On Mars?
16. Ashes to Ashes
17. Afraid
18. The Motel
19. Changes
20. Five Years
21. I'm Afraid Of Americans
22. Heroes

23. The Jean Genie
24. Suffragette City
25. Ziggy Stardust