In theory, the issue of the limited edition set of 1990s Bowie tour albums as the Brilliant Live Adventures series, was a cool and wonderful thing. The 90s were all about Bowie re-finding his mojo after the excesses and compromises of the 80s, and it was an interesting process to observe as a fan. We were pulling for Bowie to become BOWIE again. And musically, he was working out his issues admirably. But the manner in which this series of live albums being sold online came off was seen to be something of a 12-car pileup of music retailing. For starters, there were only 6000 physical CD copies of the six albums in the series, [4000 for the LP versions] and the last time I checked, David Bowie has a lot of fans.
As the drip-feed of each volume happened, the issues with online sales became worse and worse. With the last few editions selling out in hours and resulting in the crashing of the various sales platforms of the online dealers. All of which made the fans understandably irate. At the time I observed from afar; I had not been buying much music in 2020 owing to the instability of the juncture between covid-19 and my employment. So I passed on these Bowie albums at the time. That’s not to say that I was uninterested. Just that I’d decided not to worry about them too much. Especially seeing them skyrocket into the heavy three figure price in the ravenous aftermarket.
But in 2021, the Bowie estate issued mea culpas on the way the sales had been handled. To that they they decided to press up another run of the series to better meet demand and soothe fevered brows. They set up a web page to gauge interest where fans were encouraged to say which volumes they would be interested in buying a re-pressing of. Fair enough! I had seen the “1:Outside” and “Earthling” tours and they had some amazing highlights that were duly captured on two of the volumes: “Ouvrez Le Chine” and “Look At The Moon!” So I voted for those, and it was not a commitment to buy. Just a show of interest. But over a year later, the albums were back in the Bowie store late last year. And though I’m “trying to cut down,” about a month and a half ago, I bought the two live albums I was interested in. How did the performances shape up?
David Bowie: Ouvrez Le Chien – World – CD 
- Look Back In Anger
- The Hearts Filthy Lesson
- The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
- I Have Not Been To Oxford Town
- Andy Warhol
- Breaking Glass
- The Man Who Sold The World
- We Prick You
- I’m Deranged
- Joe The Lion
- Nite Flights
- Under Pressure
- Teenage Wildlife
The band assembled for this tour was the first one in five years for Bowie solo. The only thing between the 1990 “Sound + Vision” tour and this one was the Tin Machine “It’s My Life” tour of ’91-’92. The band was formed and featured three Bowie veterans as well as his new foils.
- David Bowie – vocals, saxophone
- Carlos Alomar – rhythm guitar, vocals
- Reeves Gabrels – lead guitar, vocals
- Gail Ann Dorsey – bass, vocals
- Zachary Alford – drums
- Peter Schwartz – keyboards, synthesizers
- George Simms – vocals
- Mike Garson – piano, keyboards
When I saw this tour in Atlanta, four days prior to this recording on October 13th, 1995 in Dallas, I was thrilled that I was seeing Bowie with Mike Garson back on piano and the lead guitarist who I felt saved his bacon, Reeves Gabrels. But the material sourced for this set list was a blend of the just released “1:Outside” album and impeccable pulls from Bowie’s Art Rock back catalogue. The sort of material he quarantined his more popular material via the “Sound + Vision” tour specifically to limit himself to.
A vibrant “Look Back In Anger” opened this set with the modern arrangement of the song he’d performed at the La La La Human Steps show in 1987 with Reeves Gabrels. This live version was even better than that [excellent] recording as a bonus track on the 1991 Ryko “Lodger” CD owing to the glassy shards of perpendicular piano inserted here capably by Mike Garson. I can remember paying particular attention to him in the live setting of the show we attended.
Next followed a quartet of new material. “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” was always an overwrought collision of cod-industrial with the labored and infuriating conceptual thematic conceit of the “1:Outside” album acting as a weight around the ankles of all of the songs. “The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction [As Beauty]” came off somewhat better due the blistering solo that Gabrels took for nearly the last two minutes of the song.
“I Have Not Been To Oxford Town” might be my favorite song of the album; a theatrical sea shanty with a melody that lasted for days while the title track simply meandered for four and a half minutes. Much more excitement could be found in the electric new arrangement of “Hunky Dory’s” “Andy Warhol!” The juxtaposition of Carlos Alomar on acoustic guitar and Gabrels filthy distortion was an inspired usage of each guitarist. And the random wave synth burbling underneath the surprisingly aggressive new arrangement was simply thrilling.
Not much revision came to the still amazing “Breaking Glass,” It sounded like they even used the same ARP patch for the descending synth hook! Ans in 1995, you can imagine that it was an actual ARP 2600. This band was owning this material! I’ve gone on record as to not being on board with “The Man Who Sold The World,” but this new, incredibly subtle arrangement was a real winner. Certainly the best recording of it by anyone on disc I’d ever heard. The subtle yet still dynamic arrangement had a Lalo Schifrin feel to it. With tablas, gentle synth washes, and a subdued energy. As duly noted by the subtle howls emanating from Gabrel’s guitar, at least until he cut loose with his solo! They jittery rhythms of this track segued easily into the proto “Earthling” rhythms of the subsequent “We Prick You.”
“I’m Deranged” benefited from a shocking insertion of Alomar’s scorching wah-wah rhythm guitar. But the two further cuts from the new album tended to depress the energy here. Fortunately, the show went out with a bang with four Bowie deep cuts and classics. The muscular “Joe the Lion” was a treat to hear with Fripp-adjacent guitarist Gabrels biting deep into the music with a pleasing mixture of gusto and tastelessness. The rhythm section emphasized the tune’s boogie feel while Gabrels made the song his own.
If there can be said to be one song’s inclusion in the set that clinched my purchase of this disc, it was “Nite Flights.” When I saw this tour, I was spellbound by the amazing Scott Walker cover that was the apex of “Black Tie White Noise” getting a rare airing. The cinematic synth strings in the intro coupled with doppler-shifting white noise patches calling back to “Station To Station” could only be a great Bowie touchstone. I loved hearing the foghorn-like synth hook that always gave me chills rendered on guitar with an elegant line in feedback from Gabrels.
Furthermore, the athletic walking bass line and operatic soprano backing vocals by Gail Ann Dorsey gave this extended workout on the incredible song a real soaring quality that made for Bowie’s baritone, Walker-esque crooning. Special mention must also go to the BVs of George Simms; who harmonized so tightly with Bowie that I thought he had overdubbed himself here! Hearing this live was a real gift.
Ms. Dorsey got another chance to shine even more brightly with her star turn duetting with Bowie on the unexpected Pop classic of “Under Pressure.” It was certainly the biggest hit in the program in America even at a scandalously low number 29 Top 40 placing. Ms. Dorsey effortlessly occupies the Freddie Mercury shaped hole in the song to bring it to astonishing life. Once could imagine Bowie thrilled to have a bass player who was capable for filling in this effectively for the late Mercury! The arrangement did not significantly differ from the 1981 hit, but with a song this great, that was perhaps the correct way to present it.
Finally, the concert ended with the bravura performance of the great “Scary Monsters” deep cut “Teenage Wildlife. It was a thrill to hear Gabrels take on another classic Fripp lead guitar and right out of the gate he was inserting fruity modulations of his guitar to immediately differentiate himself. With Garson adding straightforward, yet poignant piano fills. Having a band with over half of the member also singing made the backing vocals for this one a joy as well. Bowie also retreated from the Anthony Newley-esque phrasing he favored on the album version; managing to reclaim this into his mature period.
This was a joy to listen to but I have to play devil’s advocate and mention that the new songs here, while good, tended to stand in stark contrast to the unimpeachable classics that surrounded them. The band were excellent across the board. But having four tunes from “1:Outside” sitting up front as a slightly indigestible mass, tended to take this program down a peg. Which was almost a crime, because the pre-1995 material here was unimpeachably terrific. When I think of what David Bowie means to me, this may be the most enjoyable live album I’ve ever heard from his quarters! Which makes it unsurprising when visiting the davidbowie.com web store to see that this second pressing is no longer available. Making my impulse to buy it a few weeks ago absolutely correct. If you might have an interest, act fast as the aftermarket is starting to see the title skyrocket in price again with it still a two-figure disc. But maybe not for long.
Since I’m a filthy streamer, I’ve listened to all of these album – Ouvrez is quite good, but my favorite was Liveandwell.com, a collection Bowie curated.
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Jeremy Shatan – I’ve had “Liveandwell.com” from our Bowienet days 21 years now and it was just “Earthling” material. While I enjoyed that album more than “1:Outside,” give me the material here! Any day.
That’s a good point…I was out of the loop originally, which may be why it struck me like a thunderbolt.
Jeremy Shatan – Point well made! And “Earthling” was an album all about sonic impact.
Bravo PPM. This is a good record and band. Concur with your thoughts on this particularly his excellent cover of Nite Flights.
the press music reviews – The strangest thing about this [excellent] band was that they had 2nd keyboardist Peter “Ski” Schwartz, who was even the music director for the tour! Schwartz had his only brush with Bowie on this tour, but I felt that the results captured acquitted him smartly. A few years later he was MD for Pet Shop Boys “Nightlife” tour.
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First saw Bowie on that “Sound+Vision” tour, actually thinking it was going to be his last as a solo artist and that his Tin Machine project was going to be it. Then I saw that tour with Nine Inch Nails and… I think I preferred it. Don’t get me wrong. I loved those classic hits, but he seemed like he was going through the (glossy) motions. He was more energized and did some different stuff, he seemed to be enjoying the material more. It was a few years later that I found (in Italy) a CD of that whole concert, including the “duet” parts with Nine Inch Nails. Sounds good too. I next saw him on that “Earthling” tour, twice. Once as a winner of a radio station contest and got treated to a 30 minute acoustic set with him and Reeves along with a short Q&A. Got to stand about 5 feet from him and was shaking with excitement. Then that night was the concert, and again, he was actually enjoying himself and the material. I’m not terribly interested in many of the live albums, honestly. So many of them are very “samey” and with the difficulty in procuring these I lost what little interest I had in obtaining documents of his latter live career.
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postpostmoderndad – You echo my experience with the “Sound + Vision” tour being my first [underwhelming] Bowie live experience. With so much of the “Sound + Vision” tour synched to those huge scrim videos, it was exactly a case of him going through the motions! I mean, there was a backing band led by Adrian Belew [also my first Belew concert] and I can’t remember anything about it! “Outside” tour was far more impactful, and “Earthling” was on another plane. Seeing Bowie in a small club was worlds apart from a pro hitting their marks 400 feet away! Bowie was 20 feet away and having an incredible time! The only special effect was an inflatable eyeball. And that night they wouldn’t leave the stage! That was fantastic that you won the radio station session contest! You can share that story with your postpostmoderngrandchildren one day!
I sure would enjoy a copy of this, as I saw Bowie at that Sound & Vision tour (and enjoyed it, particularly given my unusual seat) but didn’t catch him again until after the 1. Outside and Earthling tours, though of course he touched on material from both albums.
I am constantly befuddled as to how badly the estate is handling this sort of thing. Why so few copies of these live albums, and why in such limited runs? Creating a frenzy of feeding fans and driving up prices for secondary buyers is sooooo the opposite of what (I feel) Bowie would have wanted. Who’s running the ship over there and why haven’t they been given a damn good paddling, that’s what I want to know!
chasinvistoria – Right??! With an artist of Bowie’s stature limited editions make no sense!