When Earthling came out the critical consensus was that Bowie, once the most audacious of pioneers, had been reduced to a follower of musical fashion. And this narrative is not necessarily wrong: Earthling is clearly an echo, a couple years after the fact, of the great drum’n’bass/jungle/trip-hop boom of the mid-90s.1Bowie, for whatever reason, seemed to prefer the skittery restlessness of the former to the spacious soundscapes of the latter, which seems more like his natural home.
At the same time, it reflects the Catholic tastes and ingrained idiosyncrasies of its maker, a man from another time and another planet. Earthling is an album that only David Bowie could have made, and he gives it his best effort. But try as he might — and his enthusiasm for the material is palpable — he can’t quite keep the ship afloat.
I was nervous in the lead-up to the Bauhaus show last Thursday, sure that something had to go wrong. And sure enough we almost got Munsoned out there by a huge accident on I-5. Only quick thinking by my brilliant wife saved us from a multihour delay that might not have kept us from the show, but surely would have occasioned much stress and angst.
After that it was all pretty easy. The opening act was a guy called Soriah who combined Tuvan throat-singing with tribal percussion to intriguing, if sometimes soporific, effect. During the set break I sort of spaced out, and next thing I knew someone was playing the opening drumbeats to “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores.” Then Peter Murphy appeared, now completely bald but with magnificent Shakespearean whiskers, shaking his feathered shoulders as he spat, “Virgin Mary was tired.”
And there was Daniel Ash, glamorous as always in glittery coat and remarkably intact wall of hair. Stage right was David J., eternally cool and understated in black suit. Little brother Kevin was a whirlwind of activity behind his kit, and if the drum parts he wrote as a young man are difficult for a sixtysomething to keep up with, he didn’t show it.
There were no real surprises. They stuck mostly to the oldest stuff, doing five songs from In the Flat Field and three from Mask. In the gradual winnowing of their set list over the years, only “Silent Hedges” and “She’s in Parties” have survived from the last two albums.