David Bowie, “Steel On The Skyline” (Eat A Peach EAT 43/44)
Live in St. Ann’s Warehouse, New York, USA, October 12, 2002
CD1; Sunday / Cactus / Breaking Glass / Fame / Ashes To Ashes / Slip Away / China Girl / 5:15 The Angels have Gone / Survive / I’ve Been Waiting For You / Rebel Rebel / I’m Afraid Of Americans / Life On Mars
CD2; Look Back In Anger / Heroes / Heathen / Moorage Daydream / Afraid / Stay / The Bewley Brothers / Everyone Says Hi / Hallo Spaceboy / Let’s Dance / Ziggy Stardust
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Were we aware that the tours that David Bowie undertook to promote ‘Heathen’ and ‘Reality’ were going to be the last live shows that Bowie would ever perform, tickets would have been even hotter than they were. Obviously, no one knew, whether there might be the inkling that David may have taken a break afterwards to spend time with his family anyway or if, as was suggested, prior to 2012 / 2013, he had sunk in to a long and protracted writers block, something that may have happened anyway, we may never know.
The shows though were a continuation of Bowie’s late 1990’s appearances, knowing that he was stepping in to a later-period phase, a family to support and with the passing of not only his heroes but contemporaries on his mind, Bowie was starting to discard the past of dressing the part of someone else and becoming himself. David Jones, as we all know, was a natural born raconteur, self taught, furiously intelligent but with a human touch rather unlike some of the people that he idolised and it was this personality that ultimately he brought to us.
2002’s ‘Heathen’ tour was touted as the “Low” album being played in full, which, in the beginning, it was. The theme had started to be stripped down by the time that Bowie reached New York again and his ‘New York Marathon’ tour was a broader mixture of old and new, taking in tracks from as early as the Ziggy days right up until the latest album. This concert at St. Ann’s Warehouse, located in the Brooklyn Park district of NY was the second of the shows in New York where Bowie had made his home in SoHo and is taped from an In-Ear monitor recording, unfortunately no matrix recording but still a deeply enriching listen with enough audience response itself.
The set begins with ‘Sunday’ from “Heathen”, firstly a discordant wave of different and textures and tones bouncing against each other then Bowie arrives to the stage. To lead David in, there’s a persistent click-track in the left channel, at first it struck me as a fault on the disk but then, once it had vanished after the first ‘verse’ and turned in to part of the beat, I realised it was deliberate. Following the events in New York of just over a year previous, the lyrics would give rise to the rumours that ‘Heathen’ was indeed a post-9/11 album, ideas that Bowie dismissed but also accepted that may have seemed the case.
The set continues after a good evening to the crowd and an introduction to Earl Slick, with ‘Cactus’, typically mordent and abstract lyrics in this cover of the Pixies, “Surfer Rosa” track, trying to reach in to the message would confuse even the clearest of minds – In that case, it’s IDEAL for this concert. There then follows a succession of kiss-blowing to the crowd as Bowie jokes with them, through the IEM, you can hear Gail Ann-Dorsey chuckle to herself.
The ‘Heathen’ tour had originally begun as a double header between the album and “Low”, a heavy, double-barrelled version of ‘Breaking Glass’ follows, all spiralling guitars and military drums, the short-crunch, krautrock element is taught and crystalline, an abrupt halt sends it crashing to a halt, Bowie then regales us with a short non-story about the fact that Earl Slick was born on Sheeps Head Bay, a joke that Bowie was still trying to find the punchline to. David twins this with an introduction to a broodingly dark ’Fame’, hints of earlier and later musical successes power it and at the end, Bowie shouts out lines like a newspaper seller, the way that fame was promoted when the song was written.
‘Ashes To Ashes’, promoted on the sleeve, doesn’t appear here but comes a little later on, instead we skip straight to ’Slip Away’, originally destined for 2001’s, ’Toy’ album as ‘Uncle Floyd’ , the album which was scrapped for whatever reason, had this piece re-recorded. Meditative and reflective, it was a sound that would become part of Bowie’s later oeuvre.
Catherine Russell and Gerry Russell are given curt introductions before the next song when, originally sung by Iggy Pop, ‘China Girl’ gets an airing, much more crunch than either of it’s earlier incarnations, this is Nine Inch Nails meets high-class pop, it’s almost like David starts to ape Iggy’s mannerisms before turning an ill-advised impression of Oriental speech. Even in the early 2000’s it was have been cringey, quite why it gets dropped in, I’m not sure.
‘5:15 The Angels Have Gone’ heralds from the latest album, it’s classically wrought, semblances of shards of glass shattering and a dark vein of doom rising, it prowls carefully through basslines before the crashing drums drive through to break the restlessness. ‘Survive’ takes us to an earlier Bowie, post 2000 still, it was an annex of his later works that David was dealing with loss, ‘Survive’ works this brilliantly, ending with a rousing guitar belly and and a chirpy, chanted coda.
A cover of Neil Young’s ‘Waiting For You’ is described as being the next track, instead we get, er, ‘Ashes To Ashes’. Already a minimalist, new wave styled track, it is bolstered by a clean, ghostly harmony, choppier guitar lines and a staticish synth solo at the end.
‘Waiting For You’ takes the screaming guitars of the originals and gives them a waspish do-over, as the long would have bern played live back in the Mid-60’s, it’s rather true to it’s original format but with the nu-electronica edge that Bowie was driving. The coda is a furious burst of energy, wailing guitars and pulsating drums.
Jokingly referred to as ‘a song that all the people at the back know’,’ Rebel, Rebel’ had been given a make over at the time of “Heathen” and returned as a monster hybrid of textures old and new, “Aladdin Sane” piano jostles with the famous riff which gets an echo effect.
‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’, the leery, bleeping, grunge monster makes an appearance, eyeballing the crowd, the skirmish is fittingly Pixies-style quiet-loud-quiet, it brews to a rumbling, deathless conclusion. Finally for this disk, written in “1317 and one we still do today”, ‘Life On Mars’ is one of the inevitable for the set.
‘Look Back In Anger’ starts disk one, stated as being, “Written a bit later on ..”,
Generally a stark, bare, triumphal track, “Heroes” has been built upon in the few years since it premiered. Here it has a grooved slant, The ghost of a ‘Station To Station’ train runs through the background. The vocals begin almost immediately and David starts to run in time but a little too fast at the same time and because of the change, Bowie starts to ad-lib towards the end when the song runs from a false ending. David jokes at the end that the song can be found on “Heathen” if you want to rush out and buy it. One song that is on the however is the title track, it’ll be the final new track tonight and possibly the last where the crowd are quiet and reverential.
After an extended break, David returns to the stage and humorously berates the audience for not making enough noise for him to return by joking about his age and the fact that he can make more noise then them. ‘Moonage Daydream’ gives them the chance to prove that they can make more noise than Bowie by calling back his lyrics to him, he soon takes back the mantle by giving it some of his best.
‘Stay’ recalls the anguished sound of the ‘Isolar’ tour, a starving classic on record, it’s bunched up appearance on stage, a smattering of back up vocals and slight of Mike Garson’s piano, swish effortlessly around Bowie’s tight vocals.
One of the classics of the early Bowie period, ‘The Bewley Brothers’ was launched at the time, his fans had constantly nagged him for it, what was David to do but throw this track out there. Suggested it’s notable for the fact that he ad never learned it and there were ‘around 15 pages of lyrics’, it’s appearance is met with a culpable buzz of excitement. Slight, in a minimal sense, it’s just how we remember, Gail and Catherine offering impeccable cockney accents as the track falls in to it’s lower third.
‘Everyone Says Hi’ rounds up the new track – the lyrics obviously more profound nowadays in retrospect but dished up with a bundle of knockabout, joshing humour. Towards the end, Bowie lapses in to ‘Glass Spider’ style style theatricality, screwing up his eyes and pushing up his hair-do, Bowie almost signals the end of the set list but throwing in a bit of a curve, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, a cymbal heavy, bassist electonic wail, throws the last of the more recent tracks out, the space theme draws it close to the beginning of his career(s). The IEM suffers a little with crackle at the start but it slowly moves away.
Despite the self aggrandising rants against his 1980’s, superstar period, ‘Let’s Dance’ still stood tall in the mind of Bowie’s fans as, ‘not bad, really’ and it must pick at Bowie’s mind that, despite the period, they are still great lyrics. Here, first half reinterpreted as a lonesome ballad, slowly building into the album track, segueing through THAT howl then turning back in to the ballad speed, through a discordant bongo / drum / bass rework before the guitar worms it’s way back in.
Finally, after a thank you speech that’s hardly a thank you speech (David having used his goodbyes up in 1973, obviously) ‘Ziggy Stardust’, pretty much a straightforward rendition, if such a thing exists, it’s a shame to realise just how much we’ll miss this voice and talent. David leaves the stage to a fantastic joke about the band having a residency, each Saturday night.
The packaging is standardised Eat A Peach in presentation – A mini LP cover, with photo sleeves for the disks, a 4 page booklet featuring liner notes, tour dates and a band introduction for each member, also in full colour.