Live Reviews

David Bowie @ NEC, Birmingham

19 November 2003


Despite the power of that nebulous entity we all lazily refer to as “The Media”, there just might be enough truth in an old saying that, “All the young dudes carry the news.” Difficult to tell tonight at the National Exhibition Centre as many of those self same, fresh-faced dudes had neglected to put in an appearance, and sent their parents instead.

The man who Viz liked to call just “Dave” was in attendance though, and still looking pretty spry for someone who once perfected the art of hoovering anything powdery up his thin white conk. Now of course, in so many ways, Dave is completely straight. Just shows that “a ch-ch-ch change” is as good as a rest.

Dave’s here to plug his new CD, Reality, a curious title given that back in the ’70s, he traversed a mirror-ball’s worth of images, each reflecting a shiny new aspect of the creature that came to be called “Bowie”. John Lydon said that Bowie “was the first to show how utterly fake everything was”. Why bother with reality when you could be a folk-rock Nietzsche, a Rock ‘n’ Roll Orwell, a Pierrot-blanched Teddy Pendergrass, or even a Cockney Krafwerk.

Here he is though, with long-time ol’ faithful’s Earl Slick and Mike Garson, and the now-familiar sight of shaven-headed bassist Gail Ann Dorsey who we are later invited to sing Happy Birthday to. A good job too, as many here don’t seem to recognise the words to the many verdant leaves that fall from Dave’s many-splendoured songbook. It’s not just the new tunes they don’t recognise, or even the less celebrated ones (Sister Midnight, Loving The Alien), but even those that are as familiar as the back of the nation’s collective hands (Life On Mars, The Man Who Sold The World).

Of course, recognition approaching rapture greeted China Girl, taken from Dave’s tan-and-tidy teeth period, when he sold enough records to sell out even on Ziggy’s planet. A similar acknowledgement greeted the clicky-intro to an actually pretty spiffing versh of Under Pressure, with Miss Dorsey taking the now vacant position of dual-vocalist. Just as on that now distant number one hit, Dave out-sings his opposite number, though the tumult does give me the fear that I’m surrounded by Queen fans. For the sake of my own sanity, I quickly banish such perfidious thoughts from my mind.

Though Dave (always the gent) delivers the new stuff apologetically, for the most part it’s welcome, if a tad noisome in parts. There is a genuine pale beauty to The Loneliest Guy that recalls the desolate landscapes of This Mortal Coil‘s It’ll End In Tears. The performance of Sunday has a suitably repentant tone that seems at odds with the “reality” of Bowie’s fabulously successful life.

When avoiding some of the wannabee Nine Inch Nails techno-rock outs, Bowie’s new material deserves closer inspection. The fear of isolation is a consistent theme, an unlikely state of being for one whose professional and personal life seems to be one of such stellar composition. Maybe it is lonely out there in space. Of course, he could just be recalling the reaction to Never Let Me Down and Tin Machine.

So ultimately, Dave’s still in fine voice, and fine form. If you can afford to stump up the price of a modern stadium gig, check out Bowie now he’s on sale again. Don’t let your parents have all the fun.


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