“Look At The Moon!” Saw Bowie Curating His Live Set With A Crack Team [pt. 2]

david bowie look at the moon!
Festival Bowie En Regalia ©1997 Pat Pope

[…continued from last post]

Disc one ended with a lovely take on “Under Pressure” with sparkling piano from Mike Garson in addition to Gail Ann Dorsey’s duet vocals with David Bowie being a particular calling card in this period of Bowie’s repertoire. After “retiring” so many of his hits on the “Sound + Vision” tour it added a bravura turn to highlight his contemporaneous sets reliant on less popular material. The massed backing vocals on the song’s climax were icing on the cake.

I admired Bowie referring to “Heart’s Filthy Lesson” as an “oldie but goldie” and the pull on this usually underperforming Bowie song was the berserk tone on Reeves Gabrel’s guitar tone. But what a burst of energy the title track to “Scary Monsters [And Super Creeps]” afforded the program! Hearing anything from that album was like a gift given that the tour for it was cancelled following the assassination of John Lennon in 1980. I loved the dueling bursts of guitar and synth pulse in the stripped down middle eight. Elsewhere, the kitchen sink was thrown into the pixilated mix, with crashing drum fills and Drum + Bass loops fighting with Gabrel’s insane guitar solo.

Afterward, the mood intensified with a version of “Hallo Spaceboy” that was all about the album version. The less said about the wrong-headed Pet Shop Boys remix single version the better. This song needed the brutalizing vibe of the album version to accurately embody the violence of re-entry that was at the song’s core. Every time I hear this I can imagine sitting in a tin can screaming through the atmosphere ready to shake apart by the resistance. Or maybe a most pit. I get confused. But Garson’s valiant solo was deliciously at odds with the head-banging vibe for maximum dissonance.

To follow this with the intense, but light-hearted “Little Wonder” showed good sequencing. Possibly the most endearing Bowie has even been captured when live was his spirited exhortation of “hot diggety!” before the solos in the second movement of the Drum +Bass track. That song closed out the set but the biggest thrills to comes would be found in the generous encore segment.

The always exciting “Dead Man Walking” was for me, the immediate highlight of “Earthling” and one of the best songs I’d heard from Bowie post-1980 to the time of its release. Again, the joy and power of Gail Ann Dorsey’s backing vocals were a joy to hear. The only disappointment was in the decision to play a four minute version of the six minute opus. Ending it with a fade chord instead of Mike Garson’s nimble [and surprising] samba that always hits me so wonderfully.

A fantastic new arrangement of “White Light/White Heat” followed as built on a pulsating synth loop that echoed Bowie’s panting in the intro. Gabrels’ solo was another monster here with Garson’s pummeling piano ending things on an energy peak. Bowie’s panting segued wonderfully into the biggest shocker in these sets, and the reason why I had to buy this release: the completely unexpected cover of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman.” I remember this happening in the set we saw live and it was one of those utterly shocking concert moments where one can’t believe what one is hearing.

Ms. Dorsey carried the lead vocal here, with Bowie only joining in on the choruses. Where the minimalism of the arrangement expanded to take in carefully modulated elements of the Drum + Bass style Bowie was exploring at this time. Oscillating between the calmly spoken calls and the squelching fury of the instrumental responses. The decisions to incorporate this song into this set was a brilliant one.

Finally, the number two reason why I had to buy this edition was the ultimate song here. Bowie teased the audience “just stay…just for a minute or two” with scant recognition from the audience as the unfamiliar synth loop led them astray before Bowie let loose a “damn!” under his breath as Gabrels stuck the boot in on the distinctive riff at the heart of “Stay.” As pulsating synths spiraled upward against the funky rhythm that Zach Alford and Ms. Dorsey were putting down. The original arrangement was not taken to full embrace of Drum + Bass, but was still heavily altered to shake up the paradigm and to vigorously color outside of the song’s outlines.

What it was was every inch the showstopper that it had always been. Given the a full 7:41 to expand into an almost psychedelic version of the blistering Soul song. The guitar here was the least changed element of the song which helped to ground it against all of the pushing and pulling being done to it. With Gabrel’s final climactic solo finally cutting free of the song’s blueprint. What a thrill it was to hear this live and I’m gratified that this arrangement has been captured on disc here.

Until such time that the Bowie estate releases a 3xCD of “Night Two at The Chili Pepper,” this CD will hold a special place in my hear as at least an approximation of that utter and complete Bowie feast. The five piece band were necessarily built on a foundation of samples and loops to put across the Drum + Bass leanings of the “Earthling” material; but the level of musicianship that players like Garson, Dorsey, and Gabrels brought to the live playing ensured plenty of thrills.

And the set lists that Bowie was interested in exploring at this time were deep cut extravaganzas meant for the fans like myself who ended up sitting out the eighties and wondering if Bowie would ever rediscover his mojo. His tours of the nineties were proof that he was re-positioning himself in a more fitting place than his stadium years had evidenced. I’ll admit that I’ve not been bothered to buy all of the posthumous releases that the Bowie estate have been releasing, but I have enough of the live albums to know that they manage to supersede all of the official live releases in his canon. “Look At The Moon! [Live Phoenix Festival ’97]” remains in stock for $24.95 at the Bowie web store, but it won’t last forever. “Ouvre Le Chien [Live Dallas ’95]” is already sold out and expect all of the “Brilliant Live Adventures” series to follow suit sooner than later. I’ve got to admit, after hearing these two gems, the appearance of “Repetition” on the “Something In the Air [Live Paris ’99]” disc is whispering in my ear.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to “Look At The Moon!” Saw Bowie Curating His Live Set With A Crack Team [pt. 2]

  1. Big Mark says:

    I had to have this after reading the above, and upon first listen, it does not disappoint! Thoroughly engaging and a most worthy addition to the Bowie canon.

    Liked by 1 person

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