Darker Side of David Bowie Illuminated by Streaming Collection of 1997 Tour

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David Bowie | LIVEANDWELL.COM | (streaming/Parlophone/Rhino)

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

How many diehard David Bowie fans are there– ones that need to own the most obscure tracks off some of his least popular albums from 1995-’97? 

Not enough, someone in Rhino’s marketing department apparently figured. 

Which explains this dozen track live compilation collected from Bowie’s 1997 world tour as a streaming only (ie:non-physical format) release. Although ten of these tunes were previously available in 2000 to those ultra- dedicated fans who subscribed to BowieNet (two more were added for this expanded public offering), the bulk of this music has been hard to find. 

It’s a rousing, often intense, professionally recorded 72 minute assemblage, cherry picked from Bowie’s 1997 tour dates, focusing on seldom heard songs, most from the albums Outside (1995) and Earthling (1997) he chose for that outing. In this context, the opening “I’m Afraid of Americans” qualifies as its most recognizable moment. 

From there it’s a journey into Bowie’s generally murkier, most inaccessible material of the era. That includes such seldom heard selections as “The Deranged,” “The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty),” “Hallo Spaceboy,” and “Little Wonder,” this set’s first single.

Bowie’s stripped down support at the time was, as usual, impressive. It includes guitarist Reeves Gabrels (a holdover from the Tin Machine days) who co-produced this set, along with longtime pianist Mike Garson, both who anchor the group. But the use of skittering bass and drum samples Bowie resorted to with questionable effect on Earthling brings a brittle, often chilling vibe that sounds dated and gets old fast. 

Thankfully, the producers mix more organic, less rhythmically programmed pieces in. That helps modulate and balance the overall sound. When the two mix as on “Battle for Britain (The Letter),” where both Garson and Gabrels trade near avant-garde solos, the effect is driving and powerful. We also learn that a song called “The Motel” is one of Bowie’s favorites from this period since he introduces it as such describing it as “A love song to desperation.” The track also features pianist Garson on the noir, downbeat ballad.  

Bowie blows some rare sax on “Seven Years in Tibet,” another moment that downplays the stiff backing for a darker, tougher rock approach. Two additional older tracks– “Pallas Athena” from Black Tie White Noise and “V-2 Schneider” originally on “Heroes”— from this trek are tacked on in heavily remixed, beat heavy live versions created for dance tents at festivals and nearly unrecognizable from their initial incarnations.

Bowie played plenty of “hit” catalog items on this tour too. Perhaps they will see the light of day on two future sets—also streaming only—promised within the year. 

Clearly this isn’t meant for the casual Bowie listener and even the more devoted may find it tough going in parts. But illuminating these deep cuts by grouping them together should be manna for those accepting of Bowie’s more oblique experimental creativity. They, along with the artist’s obsessives, will find plenty to revel in here.

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