David Bowie, ‘The Potential of a Superman’ (Golden Eggs GE 129/130)
Disk One – Quicksand / Strangers When We Meet / Dead Man Walking / I’m Afraid Of Americans / White Light, White Heat / Battle For Britain / Seven Years In Tibet / Fashion / Fame / Looking for Satellites / Telling Lies / Under Pressure / Stay (65:48)
Disk Two – O Superman / The Jean Genie / All The Young Dudes / Hallo Spaceboy / Scary Monsters / Little Wonder
Bonus tracks; Little Wonder / Telling Lies / Scary Monsters (49:47)
Parc Des Princes, Paris, France, June 14, 1997 with bonus tracks from Nulle Part Ailleurs, February 17, 1997.
At the point where Bowie was precariously balanced between international superstardom and old rocker who was once current, he was toying with drum and bass – The hurriedly BPM’d cousin of UK house, beloved of those who thought rap too slow and soul to vapid – It was a pool that Bowie was tempted to dip his toe in to because of his friendship with Bristolian musician Goldie who also made his name in the art-world with his style of grafitti – David having also thrown his brushes in to the forum and showing his own art in various galleries – but also because of it’s formation from free jazz, another of David’s loves.
The album ‘Earthling’ was sourly denounced in most of the new music presses as shameless band wagon jumping, a bid to show Bowie as still being ‘current’ in an ever youthful market, while some of that may have been true, David could never be denounced for going the other way and introducing himself back to Britpop, the often borish and boring pubrock rehashes that his own “Rebel Rebel” had unwitting spawned 25 years earlier.
The resulting tour to promote the album was gobbled up by his fans – This was a drastic switch from his Sound And Vision tours certainly, Bowie having eschewed any notion of mostly playing “the hits” and on focusing new songs or lost buried classics – Which he does by walking quietly on to the stage to a rendition of ‘Quicksand’. Indeed, it’s arguably either 5 or 8 songs until he gets to his first ‘classic’ Bowie (Strictly speaking, ‘White Light ..’ is a VU song, however, seeing as David carried it so well in the Ziggy years ..)
This band continues the grungy sound that Bowie picked up in the earlier 90’s and mixes it’s industrial foundation in with the electronic clattering of the junglist pattern.
The sound of this release is a nice blend of IEM and audience, however, it’s a little more bassy than it needs to be – Maybe that’s the blessing of Gail Ann Dorcy being in the band – as the audience mix takes over every so often. Somewhere in between over and undercooked, the bottom end is sometimes a little overwhelming, the midrange requires a bit of a boost – It’s not painful to listen to, it just lacks a little pep. David is almost combatitivley untalkative, apart from a couple of thank yous, there’s barely a squeak from him in terms of acknowledgment or jovially joshing with his band mates or the audience.
From the clatter of the introduction music, the set winds it’s way through the backroads of Bowie’s career thus far – The surprising entrance of ‘Quicksand’ as previously noted, right up to recent renditions – ‘Strangers When We Meet’, ‘Dead Man Walking’ and ‘I’m Afraid Of Americans’, only one of those could be reasonably noted as being a “hit” in the most commercial terms though they’re hardly shocking avant-garde.
A track that Bowie had always clung to, despite it being a VU song, was ‘White Light, White Heat’, here reinterpreted as a stomping industrial / disco hybrid. Heavy on feedback, the tempo is brusque and busy, the harmonies fulsome and thrilling. It’s when it enters it’s final third that it really gets exciting as Bowie gasps, sparks fly from the frets and the whole track gets just a bit more weird.
The furious rendition of ‘Battle Of Britain’ is typical of the ‘Earthling’ sound – Bowie’s Newley drawl seems to work with ease against the furious clattering of the breakbeats, it’s middle section drops the beat intermittently and Mike Garson throws in a little ‘Aladdin Sane’ piano madness. It’s almost uneasy listening but goodness knows how you might dance to it.
Two very typical bed-fellows are brought to the centre of the set from two very different shades of Bowie’s career, ‘Fashion’ flits with the new, wearing very attractive new designs, ‘Fame’ is the same kind of cerebral weirdness that the piece always was but with more of the grungy, torn edges applied.
‘Looking For Satellites’ is a recent piece, one of Bowie’s downbeat but optimistic strolls, using the backing of the cut up lyrics effect, it’s stream of consciousness weirdness one of the best of Bowie’s traits.
Receiving one of the biggest cheers of the night, ‘Under Pressure’ almost seems like it was written with Gail Ann Dorcey in mind, we know that’s not the case obviously, but there are very few others who could have taken on Freddie’s part and grabbed the style as their own. It needs little dressing and so stays true to the original style. True to it’s form, ‘Stay’ appears next, it’s shape formed by static and lead but the change is an interesting format. It’s a brave decision but unfortunately, rather than changing for the better, it makes some of the parts feel insipid.
A real curveball, Gail-Ann is given a semi-solo spot to sing Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’, the audience react positively to this change up and quite rightly as this d&b reformation of one of pops weirdest hits works nicely. It’s certainly a marathon take but the 9 minutes length fairly whistles past.
It’s a real juxtaposition against the electro-Elvis version of ‘Jean Genie’, a wild and brittle version of this ‘70’s glam stomp – It draws influences like water from a pool, rolls them around it’s teeth and spits them back out again. A mighty revisit without being as audacious as stripping it back altogether, it was never going to be a song that wouldn’t stand on it’s own merits.
The end of the set looks away from the classic set closers and sticks straight to message – The brutal Pet Shop Boys collab, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ leads the march, it’s oddly placed singalong chorus oddly gratifying to hum along to.
‘Scary Monsters’ is only slightly high jacked from it’s original variation on the album of the same name – Funny how somethings never changed – then we end on, ‘Little Wonder’, the first single from the album in the UK and, while it’s the popiest choice, it would obviously be the target for much band-waggon heckling. In this version, Bowie turns up his Bromley roots and sings in his best “sarf Landon” accent most of the lyrics, really emphasising the street feel he was reaching for. Towards the middle mark, Bowie drops in the lyrics to “I Hear A Train”, anticipating the train sound affects.
The bonus tracks come from Bowie’s appearance on the French TV show, Nulle Part Ailleurs. Two tracks from the album and an appearance for ‘Scary Monsters’, it’s older brethren. Only the songs are included – David’s introductions and chatter are faded out quickly but reasonably, if there were are interview segments, they might have only added to the track timings marginally.
You know what a Golden Eggs release looks like by now, the photos used for this collection are very handsome and follow Bowie through promotion and haircuts through out the year, the interior features a good all around write up of the era too.
A CD that you’ll certainly want to grab if you’re a fan of this era, of this album and if you want to hear what Bowie was doing at this point with some of his rarities. It’s appealing as it’s an abbreviated show as a little too much drum and bass might have you reaching for the headache pills. This CD is just on the right side of the right length however.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)