David Bowie, ‘An Acoustic Evening With David Bowie’ (Soundcraft Records)
Side A; Aladdin Sane / The Jean Genie / I’m A Hog For You, Baby / I Can’t Read / The Man Who Sold The World
Side B; Heroes / Lets Dance / You And I And George* / China Girl* / White Light – White Heat*
Shoreline Ampitheatre, Mountain View, CA, USA – October 19, 1996 except * October 20, 1996.
It was Pegi and Neil Young who came up with the concept of the Bridge Benefit Concert – As noted by the ever reliable Wikipedia, the shows were “an annual Bay Area highlight, the concerts were billed online as the primary means of funding for The Bridge School; over both days, the reserved seats alone brought in well over a million dollars every year.”, “The first concert was in October 1986, and, with the exception of 1987, the concert was held every year until 2016. The benefit was known for having a relatively high-profile lineup and strong performances, primarily due to Young’s extensive connections within the music industry. He performed every year, and oftentimes he would opt to do so multiple times throughout the weekend. At times he would bring another artist on stage and do a collaboration of one of his songs with them.” Bands were chosen or requested by Neil and Peggy to feature acoustically, generally a twist on their usual concert appearances, some bands chose to drop in a few rarities or covers especially for the night.
In 1996, playing along side Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Patti Smith, Pete Townshend, Bonnie Raitt and the ever returning Pearl Jam was David Bowie, making his premier, and only appearances at the benefit over two nights, the 19th and 20th of October. Backed by Gail Ann Dorsey and Reeves Gabriel alongside other secreted accompaniments, Bowie drops in a brilliantly personal gig, as he might have performed in an old NY bookstore or club cafe had he not have been mobbed.
This vinyl LP on Soundcraft Records presents the first of the two nights that featured Bowie, along with a couple of bonus tracks from the second night. The sets have previously been bootlegged on “20th Century Boy” (BOW 0199), “The Benefit 1996 (KTS 678), “Bridge 1996” (SH1 19), “Divine Symmetry” (DB-1), “Unplugged” (DBUCD 1) and “F*ck You All Night Long” (Midnight Beat MB CD 103) – This release would appear to be the first LP release.
The set is a perfect mix of Bowie’s catalogue so far, strangely, having dropped “1.Outside” the year before, David misses any opportunity to promote (It’s obviously not the right place anyway) and plays a great mixture of everything – Beginning in 1971 and running through 1989. He’s charm personified telling funny little tales as an aside, playing little riffs – From ‘Jean Genie’ falls ‘I’m A Hog For You, Baby’, a cover by the Coasters but with a blue twist – An acoustic twist on ‘I Can’t Read’ (A track that we know that Bowie retuned to the following year to reinvent and would all bring back for ’Storytellers’ in 1999). The tracks that you’re no doubt familiar with as ‘greatest hits’ buck the trend too – A brooding ‘Aladdin Sane’ hits depts that the original didn’t, giving an over arching bleakness to the rendition, “The Man Who Sold The World” is a haunting torch song with familiar ghostly harmonies.
‘Heroes’ is magnificent. Full stop, glorious. A powerful stream of optimism quietly ebbs through it and while you might expect it to lift to a crescendo musically, it never does but it still doesn’t have to as Bowie does the heavy lifting with a sublime falsetto at the end. This leaves us with one track left, a cold, funky take on ‘Let’s Dance’, the bones of the piece are obviously still in place, Gail’s bass line and harmonies run alongside Reece’s chiming acoustic, while a taped, frenetic, electric guitar wails away in the back ground.
The bonus tracks feature tracks that weren’t played in the first set, namely, ‘You And I And George’, a traditional that’s almost a tack on to a bad joke about flying and seems to appear from nowhere. ‘China Girl’, as reflected acoustically sounds sublime and shows it can withstand any kind of reinvention. Last, but not least, the Velvet Undergrounds, ‘White Light / White Heat’ is played with propulsive force.
The LP’s cover is a beautiful black n’ white portrait of Bowie from the time, the rear features a montage of images from the charity concerts themselves. Production runs of the LP are 100 ‘Crystal’ editions, 100 clear orange editions and a nominal black vinyl edition. The coloured editions are afixed with a numbered edition sticker on the front bag.