The Bewlay Brothers At The Hammersmith (Rattlesnake RS 128/29/30)
Disk One : Introduction / Life On Mars? / Ashes To Ashes / Look Back In Anger / Survive / Breaking Glass / Cactus / China Girl / Slip Away / Absolute Beginners – Band Introductions / Alabama Song / Speed Of Life / Be My Wife / Fame / I’m Afraid Of Americans / 5.15 The Angels Have Gone. ( 72:06 )
Disk Two : I’ve been Waiting For You / Afraid / Fashion / Rebel Rebel / Heroes / Heathen ( The Rays ) : Encores : Sunday / I Would Be Your Slave / Moonage Daydream / Changes / Starman / A New Career In A New Town / Everyone Says Hi / The Bewlay Brothers / Sound and Vision ( 76:12 )
Disk Three : Hello Spaceboy / Let’s Dance / Ziggy Stardust : BBC Radio 2 in Concert : Introduction / Sunday / Look Back In Anger / Cactus / Survive / 5.15 The Angels Have Gone / Alabama Song / Everyone Says Hi / Rebel Rebel / The Bewlay Brothers / Heathen ( The Rays ) ( 74:50 )
To promote his most recent release “Heathen”, David Bowie undertook a multi-national series of shows and appearances. The final show of the U.K. section, a show that seemed to spring up with only a couple of days notice via promotions to bring big name artists to the newly renamed Carling Apollo Hammersmith ( Also known as the Hammersmith Apollo when Ziggy and the Spiders played their final show there in 1973. Then it was “The final show .. we’ll ever do”, tonight it’s “The final show .. we’ll ever do on the day of a f*cking tube strike” he slyly jests) while making it difficult for fans to prebook by selling the tickets at the box office just a couple of days before or leasing just 150 on to the carlinglive website, is presented here with a very good audience recording. It sounds so good in fact that if listening through speakers one might mistake it for a slightly muddy soundboard after a short while of listening.
Bowie has always been one who seemed to shun the very thought of his past catalogue but it was only with his last (?) trio of albums – “hours .. “, “Heathen” and “Reality” – that he seemed to stop searching for the new heart beat in music and decided instead to furrow the fold his contemporaries were by launching his albums through straightforward, adult orientated rock. Something that chimed with his feelings and his encroaching years and kept him in line with the fans who had been following him since the start.
Everything is covered here – right from some of the earliest hits ( Post Decca years obviously ) right up to the ‘Heathen’ album from which we’re treated to no less than 9 songs in a 34 track set. The stage is set for many of those earlier tracks to be reinvented – sometimes sharply, often with a little twist on the theme.
The show starts somewhat awkwardly with the BBC DJs’s Mark Radcliffe & Mark Riley – popular with a certain contingent of the student community in Britain and no doubt beyond, bringing their “crazy” antics to the stage to compare. If this is your kind of anglocentric tinged humour then fine but the increasingly scatological and bawdy banter feels a little flat to me.
Thankfully they don’t stick around long and Bowie shunts them off of the stage with a minimalist, piano lead “Life on Mars?”. A Berlinesque, soft reading of the track that really shot his career atmospheric. It continues in to it’s second half with a screaming guitar backing backing by Earl Slick and the sturdy thump of Sterling Campbell’s drums.
Introduced as ‘The first cowboy song of the night’, “Ashes To Ashes” is build a little more solidly than the original – the bass lines seem to have additional parts, small shoots, that extend from the main body while Earl’s weeping guitar parts are a subtle flip from the lines that we know. Bowie is still at his theatrical best, slightly over emphasizing the words, an arch delivery that plays upon the characters that he invented and in his newest stage persona – not the cold, aloof ‘Stage’ era Thin White Duke but not the bronzed, buffed Bowie of his ‘Serious Moonlight’ period either. This is genial, talkative Bowie, one who’s justified that he’s not playing a part anymore, not masking feelings. It fact he’s as chatty as a child who’s not seen school for six weeks – flitting between subject to subject, elongating his words and muttering about world weary topics – things that would have been far beneath his radar in the earlier days of his career.
For example after “Ashes .. ” and before “Look Back .. ” Bowie begin to talk about television then levitation before admitting that if he pushed himself to float higher then he’d get nose bleeds all while the band strike up. He’s like a continuity announcer between shows when he knows his broadcast team just want to play their shows the go home.
“Look Back In Anger” is the brutalistic version of the track from ‘Lodger’. A rugged trek through ‘Lodger’s’ best loved or most hated track depending on who’s reviews you read.
Another track from the Berlin period “Breaking Glass” takes another turn with a run of weeping guitar solos. The damning atmospherics remain but there is a life in there that shudders to get out. As the song might be considered autobiographic on Bowie’s part, these energetic spikes only add to the fevour.
The first of ‘Heathen’s’ tracks appear next with the Pixies cover “Cactus”, a rhythm line that seems to begin with it’s roots in 50’s R’n’R before rolling in to Bowie’s new state of adult rock and more of those see-sawing guitars. This is followed by a busy, rancorous version of “China Girl” full of bluster and chugging force.
“Absolute Beginners”, one of the best if silently admired songs from Bowie’s oeuvre is charmingly beautiful tonight. Extending itself out over six minutes, the chiming backing vocals, the heavy trench of the groove it brilliant to hear.
Apparently David hasn’t sung “Alabama Song” for quite a long time, if this is true then it doesn’t show, there is one small hiccup at the start when David falters his words but from then it’s all back to the norm, a theatrical bombast of knowing winks and queasy imagery. This is tailed by one of ‘Low’s’ instrumentals, the thrilling “Speed of Life”. A quick tune up then off like a bullet straight through while Bowie takes a break from the event. Because he isn’t here either the track doesn’t have to change for any whim so, apart from a few extra, small nuances, it just retains it’s shape.
From the end of the ‘A’ side we have “Be My Wife”, Bowie makes his return for this song from “1970 – blergh” with a slightly more subdued vocal but then maybe he’s still saving his voice for “Fame” where he really kicks out an impassioned service and has the already brickwallish song made a little tougher and brighter just as “I’m Afraid Of Americans” does. A roaring, prowling, leopard of a track that leaps wildly as it reaches the chorus.
Disk two begins with the cover of Neil Young’s “I’ve Been Waiting For You”. The aching but powerful version from ‘Heathen’. As soon as David announces it there are whispers throughout the crowd of Neil’s name as the anticipation of hearing this track sets peoples minds aglow. It’s a great set up towards “Afraid” the cataclysmic beast that stands around the middle of ‘Heathen’.
“Fashion” heralds the end of the first part of the gig by launching the first of a set of three songs that build in ubiquity, stepping on to “Rebel, Rebel” – the new millennium’s, reconfigured “Never Gets Old” version that still struts around the spiraling riff that was conceived in 1973. “I was 9 when I wrote that. Then I played it to you when I was 14 .. Now I’m 38” jests Bowie.
Another song to get a refigure is “Heroes”. A slow, travelator heartbeat while the keyboards work towards a rousing bed until Earl jumps in with a metallically supine solo. Towards the end David breaks out his triumphal, rousing vocal expertise and lifts it to the roof.
After this “Heathen ( The Rays )” seems an unjustly dour way to end the first part of the set. Hinted to being close to a 9 / 11 song ( Although the lyrics were written before the attacks ) the lyrics might suggest the shift of the world but the music is as ineffectual as a standard especially measured against the rest.
Thus the encores. It would be a temerity to suggest David leave us this way, especially on the waves of his newest album, while he might be pleased with it and his fans might agree that it was his best album within the space of the decade, it wouldn’t sate our appetites for the show but within the 12 ( ! ) encores Bowie does his best to space out the new and the old, working evenly to cover all bases.
“Sunday” and “I Would Be Your Slave” are deployed early on to suffice for promotional duties. Two very balladering figures, the second featuring a hint of drum ‘n’ bass, an off-cut from the figures imagined on ‘Earthling’.
The old catalogue returns and goes way back to the early glamrock era for “Moonage Daydream”, “Changes” and “Starman”. “Moonage .. ” has Bowie trying out some new vocal exercises then extends to a ghoulish singalong towards the end of it’s stay. “Changes” is preceded by a small vocal snatch of “Starman”, teasing the crowd in to thinking they’re about to hear the song only to be batted towards another favorite. This just makes the expectation more tenable when we finally get to the song itself but still the crowd explode and David sounds his most cockney than he has done all night. Before “Changes” someone had thrown a black and white feather boa to the stage. David wonders aloud where it had gotten to and remembers that he’d left it under a chair at the venue some time ago.
We fall forward again to the mid 70’s, and another instrumental from ‘Low’, “A New Career In A New Town”, a chance for David to rest his chords for a while and for the audience to enjoy one of the more enthusiastic tracks from the album.
“Everyone Says Hi” is the final new track tonight, a bittersweet postcard to loved ones it ended up being the hit single from the album when released.
From nowhere, and for only the second time over live, David announces that tonight they will play “The Bewlay Brothers”. Apparently the first time it was played it was because of the insistence of Jonathan Ross, the then BBC 2 radio celebrity who goaded Bowie in to performing it.
Performed with paper in hand ( Why bother learning the lyrics to a song that you’d never, ever played? ) it certainly resonates with the crowd who can be heard to sing along to the lyrics ( No crib sheets for them! ) but Bowie sounds dis-attached from the song – maybe it’s due to time spent away from the song, possibly Bowie doesn’t want to start to revel in anything that he wouldn’t like to overly concern himself with.
Less obscure is the follow up, “Sound And Vision.” Another track from ‘Low’, this takes in a cowboyesque piano part towards the coda and takes the impassioned drive of the song to a new level.
“Hello Spaceboy” is the final of Bowie’s latest tracks for the set. A pulverizing, nervy, ticking epic. While it may lose some if it’s melodic influences apparent on some of the other tracks it is most favoured by Bowie himself, hence it’s inclusion to the set list.
A specifically different detail takes “Lets Dance”, beginning with a Spanish flavour, replete with quickly picked guitar, breezy backing vocals, it’s ever noticeable lyrics attract the attention first and in continues with it’s new theme right up until it’s title in the first chorus then it takes back it’s former self. Different but the same as it’s original version, the mood is a little more sparse than that. It is furnished towards the end by a short percussive solo section before rebuilding itself and then adding a swooping solo before crashing to an abrupt halt.
We sign off with an extended, technicolour pop version of “Ziggy Stardust”. Rumbling and grand, the song marks his exit from the stage as it did those so many years ago.
The bonus to this set is a gig recorded for BBC Radio 2 on the 18th of September 2002 for a select base of 100 happy attendants. As this show is taken from an FM broadcast it’s sound is obviously a lot neater and clearer than the audience recording from the Hammersmith.
Again it is a respective promotion vehicle for the “Heathen” album – 5 of the ten songs performed are from the album but the other songs are a mix of the obscure ( The very first time “The Bewley Brothers” had been presented live ) and at least one populist song for the benefit of the listening audience.
The show is introduced by Jonathan Ross, Über-fan of Bowie’s and interviewer of a few days before, talking to David on issues such as Japanese figures, art and the music that Bowie had been listening to these days as he picked through the best of New York’s new millennia bands. Mr. Ross makes a far better job of comparing the show, less wacky, daft or fawning, more self assured and confident – this is who should have been introducing at the Hammersmith.
David is as chatty as previous nights, variously picking up on existential issues, the meaning behind some the songs he’s performing, the fact that it’s more or less Jonathan’s show and his requests to play certain songs had been noted and the fact that, once prompted, he can talk for hours on any and no subject at all.
As these songs were already mentioned in the previous part of the review I have no need to mention them again but other than to say rather than collecting various hotch-potch collections of Bowie’s “Heathen” tour then if you were going to hedge your money and time on a singular release, this set would have to be the one.
As usual, top notch packaging from the Rattlesnake label. Housed in a thick clamshell box the artwork is stunning, centering around live Bowie, no press shots, the 8 page booklet inside features no notes just pictures of David and Gail Anne-Dorcey at the venue and one mans lucky visit to the venue itself. The only quibble would be the small typo on the back cover .. “Angles” indeed ..