Tryin’ to Battle Superman

On the Bowie front, there are a few items to cover before we move on to …hours. For one, I either didn’t know or had forgotten that for a while in the late Nineties his live sets included a version of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” Gail Ann Dorsey did the lead vocals and DB contributed harmonies and saxophone.

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On a musical level this is a mixed bag; the drum’n’bass framework is a bold choice, but not what I’d call a good one. Still, the song as a whole works better than it seems like it should, and I remain awed by the chutzpah it took to trot out a nine-minute version of a weird (if popular) art number from the early Eighties for what looks like a festival crowd.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 6

Next up on this thread is “Moonage Daydream,” which also happens to be the name of Brett Morgen’s recent Bowie feature-film extravaganza. I finally saw it this weekend; of course I loved it, and of course there are a million things I could nitpick about if I were so inclined. But I’m not, as I realize that Bowie is simply too big a subject to be contained in one movie, even one as long and ambitious as this one. Choices had to be made, and Morgen made them, which is every artist’s prerogative.

He used more footage from the 50th birthday concert than I would have expected, though his sequence for the title song is (quite properly) focused on a Ziggy-era performance featuring Mick Ronson. Back in the day “Moonage Daydream” was a showcase for Ronson as much as Bowie, or maybe even more, with epic guitar solos that gave the singer a chance to catch his breath.

The 1997 version is economical in comparison, with Reeves Gabrels acquitting himself satisfactorily in the limited space he’s given. Dave is in fine voice and looks pretty happy, possibly thinking of the first time he conquered the Earth, all those years ago.

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“Daydream” is followed by band intros, a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Gail Ann Dorsey, and a cake presentation. Bowie thanks the audience and tells them, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you.” Which was mostly true.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 5

After “Heroes” David took a break and had “some throat coat and a cigarette,” he says. He seems very British in that moment, though in fact he had already been a New Yorker for several years.

I wrote several versions of the segue from that to Lou Reed’s appearance onstage, but they were all hacky. Suffice it so say, if you were going to pick one person to embody New York City and all it entails, you could do worse than Lou. Even though he was actually from the suburbs, he became one with NYC in a way that Bowie, as an Englishman, never could.

Their first song together is David’s tribute to the Velvet Underground:

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For the first half Lou just stands there looking bemused, possibly trying to remember if he wrote this song. Then suddenly the band drops out and Lou is singing over some kind of jungle breakdown. Why? Well why not? It was David’s birthday and he wanted it that way. There’s a great moment where Lou glances down and to his right to check the lyrics, then looks back to his left at David and grins, as if to say “I got it now.”

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 4

“Looking for Satellites” is one of the better songs on Earthling — in my opinion at least, and for better or worse, that’s the one that matters here. Even so, it goes on a bit too long, and though Reeves Gabrels is relatively restrained for most of it, he can’t resist a bit of wankery in the latter stages. But the visual presentation is striking, and Mike Garson’s coda — not present in the album version, which fades out — is a nice touch.

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And that’s the end of the “You will now listen to my new material” part of the show; from here on in it’s all classics. If you were one of the people in the audience who twiddled their thumbs through the Earthling and Outside stuff, I bet you were pretty happy to hear the familiar bassline that kicks off the next song:

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It takes guts to step into the Freddie Mercury role here, but Gail Ann Dorsey handles it with aplomb. And with all due respect, she has great legs as well.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 3

When Robert Smith comes on stage with David Bowie, it’s a Moment. One could argue, and I will, that they are the living embodiments of two different decades.

I mean, you could get into endless arguments about who is the iconic face of the Seventies — in some parts of the world they’d say it’s Bob Marley, and who am I to say they’re wrong? — but for me it’s Bowie, period, end of sentence. And is there anyone whose entire being is more redolent of the Eighties than Mr. Smith?

The choice of “The Last Thing You Should Do” — an Earthling track destined to soon be forgotten by all but the most die-hard Bowieists — for their first song together seems perverse, but weirdly, it works. Smith’s distinctive wobbly vocals and guitar thrashing add human elements to a cold, antiseptic piece of work.

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It’s worth noting that this was the first time Robert Smith met Reeves Gabrels, who would become a frequent collaborator and eventually a full-time member of The Cure. Reeves must be one charming MF in person; I can think of no other way to explain how he lasted a decade as Bowie’s right-hand man, and has spent even longer in Smith’s orbit, despite his compulsion to always play five notes where one would do.

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Bowie’s 50th Birthday Bash, Part 2

“Fashion” is followed by “Telling Lies,” another frenetic drum’n’bass number from Earthling that was much loved by its creator, if not by anyone else. This is a good performance, though, and visually notable as the first appearance of the weird screen heads that would return many years later in the “Where Are We Now?” video. And the big bouncing eyeballs are cool.

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For “Hallo Spaceboy” David is joined by the Foo Fighters, at the time a pretty new band. By now they’ve been fighting Foo for more than 25 years, and do you know, I still couldn’t name a single one of their songs. Dave Grohl seems like a nice guy but is one of the most boring frontmen in the history of rock’n’roll. At least here he’s behind the drum hit where he belongs:

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The three-drummer lineup is excessive but it’s the right kind of excess for this song. The result is not unlike drinking a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, which in turn is like “having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.” (We miss you, Douglas.)

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