David Bowie, “A Reality in Osaka” (Wardour-169)
Intro / Rebel Rebel / Hang On To Yourself / New Killer Star / Fame / Cactus / All The Young Dudes / China Girl / Reality / 5:15 The Angels Have Gone / The Man Who Sold The World / Hallo Spaceboy / Sunday / Heathen / Band Introductions / Under Pressure (68:38)
Slip Away / Looking For Water / Quicksand / The Loneliest Guy / Be My Wife / Sound And Vision / Ashes To Ashes / I’m Afraid Of Americans / “Heroes” / Bring Me The Disco King / A New Career In A New Town / Five Years / Suffragette City / Ziggy Stardust (76:19)
Live at Osaka-Jo Hall, Osaka, Japan, 11th March, 2004.
By Mid-2004 it seemed that David Bowie was going to turn a Dylan. A heavy touring schedule was prominently in place, ‘Reality’ had followed ‘Heathen’ in a rapid succession, one that Bowie himself admitted was a quick on his terms and joked that the next one would be out in a few weeks. The theme was in keeping with previous, where as the former featured a darker musicality, the latter was brighter, poppier, even despite lyrics that jibed at the then American president, just beginning his second term and his decision to proceed to wage his war ensured that unlike some of his contemporaries, Bowie was unafraid to bite back.
The tour that promoted the album began in Denmark and took him on 117 dates until the tour was cancelled when David fell ill due to a heart attack. A brilliant mixture of songs from the latest album, a few classics and covers and a hint of the ‘Low’ album that the last tour twinned with ‘Heathen’, the shows were more about Bowie and the band than focusing on the sets or many characterisations of previous incarnations.
The Asian leg of the tour spanned 5 short dates crossing Singapore, through Japan ( 3 dates) then on to Hong Kong. The show in Osaka would be the only one in the city though, no doubt, demand would have been high for tickets, a gruelling tour schedule would have been quite enough. An exceptional audience recording, it captures a great deal of energy from the crowd but lots of the ambience from the stage too – Sympathetic with the musicians, it reveals a brilliantly wide stereo impact. As mentioned on one of the Bowie groups on Facebook – It could almost be a soundboard recording it’s just that sharp.
The concerts each began with a multi media screen show showing animated versions of Bowie and his band grooving to a rehearsal of sorts (Perhaps the audio WAS actually captured at the band reheated for the tour, maybe it was a studio outtake that was chosen for it’s driving groove) – The band perform as David plays harmonica, stops, tells the band he likes what he hears, carries on. From this, the band emerge on to the stage and launch in to the newer version of ‘Rebel, Rebel’ as broiled up for the new sets, we swiftly move on to a very Ziggy-esque ‘Hang On To Yourself’, the very picture of Dorian Gray, it doesn’t appear to have aged at all and, were it not for the very distinct backing vocals, you’d sear that it hasn’t been performed live, it has been shipped in from 1973. Hard to believe it’s it’s first appearance in around 30 years.
Hardly breaking beat, ’New Killer Star’, the first single from ‘Reality’ joins us, written, un-specifically mentioned, with a nod to the ongoing Middle-Eastern tension going on, the great sing along style makes it perfect for stadiums, the only thing that loses it drive is when Bowie stops for briefly stops for breath a couple of lines in but his voice otherwise is fantastically powerful.
“Fame” comes in the same skin as it did on last years tour as does “Cactus”, the Pixies cover, a perfect fit for Bowie’s voice. He bolts the two together with his first introduction – possibly wary that his Japanese isn’t as good as it could be and despite the fact that he could court gobbledegook all night and the crowd would lap it up, David is relatively quiet, any kind of small talk is kept to a minimum until the second half of the show.
“All The Young Dudes” is promoted by asking the crowd if they would like to sing along, you have to assume they do as it’s nearly imperceptible on the recording. ‘China Girl’ wisely loses the bad pronunciation of the “Shut Your Mouth” line that David employed for America.
The promotional line is prompted again with a furious version of ‘Reality’, whooping, hollering, brass-plated guitar lines, rubber bullet drums and a menacing impact, the track is exhilarating – It also picks up habits such as a chiming harmony from the sidelines that bolster the differences from the album version.
Another track than had been rarely performed, ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, is given a proud support. Between wailing guitar, stabbed organ punctuation, ghostly harmonies and that metronomic tick, Bowie’s voice stands astride his Newley influences and the softening of his Beckenham accent. A great reprise for this oft’ forgotten song then back to the hypertension of, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, one of Bowie’s later period, electric successes that he stuck to towards the end of his live career.
Two “Heathen” tracks follow, ’Sunday’ and the title track, there’s the touch of minimalism to ’Sunday’, more of the wisp of a glisten that carries David’s lyrics and voice through, it’s latter part, although turning heavier, still sounds ominous enough to judge trouble brewing, ‘Heathen’ follows the same pattern – both are much more vehicles for the voice rather than expanding on the musicality of the band.
The band introductions are sedate too. Bowie is chatty but sounds cautious or maybe a little less excited than he might if he was comfortable with his stance.
An amazing version of ‘Under Pressure’ follows, Gail Ann Dorsey takes on Freddie Mercury’s part, no soprano herself, her part is Lisa Fischer to Merry Clayton – A fantastic voice and beautiful use of notes but despite the effect, live,a different beast.
The second disk begins where the first left off, repeating the compliment David pays to Gail at the end of the first half, Bowie then introduces ’Slip Away’, mentioning that the song’s subject is American TV personality, Uncle Floyd, this ushers in a round of polite applause, confusing David who asks if there are any Americans in the audience. ‘Looking For Water’ is preceded by a little tomfoolery on stage as the band fool around with an odd Jazz inspired jam, essentially an in-joke between them all, as Mike Garson plays part of the ’Sugar Plum Fairy / Nutcracker suite’ then Bowie asks the audience if they want more, they cry in the affirmative so the band comply – Mike savvy enough to drop in two familiar notes at the end which cracks Bowie up. The “Reality” track features a slightly extended intro, the aggressive punch of the track garnering power slowly but surely.
‘Quicksand’ creeps out of nowhere – only in Japan might it get a quiet smattering of applause as America or Britain would tear up the seats. Played quietly, almost fully acoustically until the middle where it gains weight, then returns to a graceful drift. After an attempt at banter with the audience, we return to “Reality” and the ‘Loneliest Guy’.
Two “Low” songs feature next – both ’Be My Wife’ and ’Sound and Vision’ are all balls and sinew, much rockier and with more muscle than their album versions, they are complicit with their original formations but have grown from slight Krautrock foundations to American rockers.
‘Ashes To Ashes’ was already borne from a punk / new-wave theorem so doesn’t change it’s skin as much. The mood flails towards the end as Mike Garson’s piano playing, wrestles with the original melody – to the bands credit, they don’t fall from their rhythm as hard as the piano jars against the pulse. Bowie thanks the audience in a brilliant way, pretending to say ‘thank you’ to each and every audience member, it raises a broad smile until David mentions that he and the band would look forward to coming back very soon – Talk about taking check!‘“Heroes”’ brings the main part of the set to an end.
Returning to the stage, we great ’Bring Me The Disco King’, the jazz ballad that concludes “Reality”. It suits Japan, where there is an abundance of jazz fans, perfectly, the ambience from the tape is perfect for capturing the delicate notes too, Bowie’s voice rings loud.
One last song from “Low” too in ‘A New Career In a New Town’, completely instrumental, generally a brave move for a rock act to lose their leading voice to sound alone but nothing that David hasn’t tried before, you just can’t help but get sucked in to it all, coming so close after a spooky minimal track, it sits perfectly.
The night ends on the notes of 3 classic tracks, all from the same album no less, ‘Five Years’, the apocalyptic forebearer featuring lyrics that wouldn’t have been out of place on any of Bowie’s albums, leads the charge, the music gently collapsing like watching tumbling buildings towards the end, the beat of the heart slowly ebbing out, while ’Suffragette City’ retains it’s big booted, lavacious, glam sneer.
Finally, the night comes to an end to the strains of arguably, one of David’s best known tracks – commercial, maybe not, who’d have thought you might get away with ‘bitched’ on the airwaves in the early 70’s – but Ziggy is still the character that David was best known for.The applause that follows the beginning and end of the song is the strongest of the night. The concert concludes with a simple ‘Sayonara’ and there in, Bowie waves an unknowing goodbye to Japan.
The presentation of the set is beautiful, solid pin-sharp images of David at the time, respectful fonts by which Bowie would surely approve. A shame that it had been stock-piled for release though whether it might have been released in respect to ‘backstar’ being released or because of Bowie’s death, we may never know. certainly worthy of collection, I’d argue a requisite, in fact, it’s that good.