Dare I say it?
David Bowie's A Reality Tour may be the greatest live album of the 21st century to date. Now that it's been said, I will admit that there haven't been any other truly definitive concert recordings that I've heard in many, many years.
In the days of YouTube clips and DVD, live audio albums are a tricky thing. I mean, what's the point? Even if you will invest the dollars into the package, why should you choose to play the CD, when you can pop in the DVD and watch it with surround sound and see the action?
I don't know, but I do know that I've seen A Reality Tour on DVD and heard it on CD and I have to say, removing the images and simply hearing the music makes it clear that David Bowie is what the hype says. It's audible at every moment of this set. He is every bit as innovative, musical, poetic, artistic, frustrating and satisfying as he's ever been. There's no law of diminishing returns here.
The only tiny complaint is that, if it's possible, there may be too much of a good thing. In this collection are 33 songs spanning 34 years! A few of the more droning, desolate songs should have arguably been kept only on the DVD (“Sunday”, “The Loneliest Guy", “The Motel”), but even those haunting numbers are superior to their studio counterpoints. In addition to many of the hits, (although not necessarily the ones you'd expect), there is such an embarrassment of riches that this collection is a must have for any fan of popular music of the late 20th century.
Bowie reclaims “All The Young Dudes” and “Sister Midnight” (which were originally written for Mott The Hoople and Iggy Pop respectively). “Sister Midnight” was obviously the middle point between “Fame” and Lodger's “Red Money” and for the diehards, it's great to have Bowie's own staggered, ominous take. Heck, there's even a cover of The Pixies' “Cactus” for good measure that starts off almost like The Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands To Yourself".
Considering how jarring some of Bowie's transformations have been (from glam to hard rock to disco to alternative to techno to cabaret to pop), it's amazing how cohesively the tunes all fit together. Somehow, 1997's “I'm Afraid Of Americans” fits neatly between 1972's “Changes” and 1977's “Heroes”. This has to be chalked up to one of the best bands ever put together for live rock and roll. Band leader / guitarist Gerry Leonard reinvents “Loving The Alien”, while bassist / vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey lays down the bottom while reprising Freddie Mercury's vocal parts from “Under Pressure”. Drummer Sterling Campbell manages to lock it all together on even the loop based ‘90s songs, making them come alive. Of course, veterans Earl Slick on lead guitar and uber-pianist Mike Garson speak a language with Bowie that only exists between them.
Bowie's voice has never been stronger than it is here. One listen to “Life On Mars?” proves that. It's therefore admirable that with such a stellar artist, ultimately, it's the collection of songs that are the star here. “Ashes To Ashes”, “Rebel Rebel”, “Fame” and “China Girl” all feel familiar with just enough twists and turns to keep the listener guessing. The greatest blessing, however, is not making this strictly a nostalgic run through songs from a generation ago. Those classics are always fun, but they're made greater here by being in context with the newer material that has often been ignored by the general public. Bowie may not be at the top of the pop charts, but he's still at the front edge of the version of rock that he helped to create. He's made a career out of the extreme edges of the mainstream and one can never know when he's going to cross a line. That's what makes the flat out rock of “Reality”, the frenzied “Battle For Britain” and the dark turns in “Heathen (The Rays)” every bit as satisfying as the show ending trio of songs from Ziggy Stardust .
Not only would A Reality Tour be a great introduction to Bowie to someone who's never really listened, but it's a great way for the old fan who's been out of touch with the man to catch up with what he's been doing. And for those of us who have never left, it's just another amazing thread in a tapestry that never ceases to please, amaze and inspire.
Chris McKay / concertshots.com
CONGRATULATIONS TO JONATHAN THOMPSON OF ATHENS, GEORGIA FOR WINNING THIS DOUBLE-CD SET BY TAKING THE DAVID BOWIE CHALLENGE!
The trivia challenge is now just for fun. If you want to give it a shot, just click this link below to play. You'll need to be logged in to Facebook for it to function properly. Enjoy!
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