David Bowie, MEN Arena, Manchester
Ziggy's gone and all that's left is a space-age Sinatra
Tuesday 18 November 2003
David Bowie spent much of the Nineties in a state of shivering insecurity. The creative brinkmanship that let him shed identities and styles with much less skill in the Seventies had thwarted him, leaving him nervously searching for directions.
Once rock's most brilliant chameleon, his attempts to camouflage himself with modern musical trends made him look like an ageing dandy, chasing fashions he once defined. His only convincing recent role has been as David Bowie Limited, the first pop star to sell shares in himself - a dizzying distance from Ziggy Stardust's Day-Glo gutter glamour.
The relaxed, sophisticated middle-aged millionaire he now presents himself as may be as fake as Ziggy's make-up, but it has at least let him give up chasing the modern world. Bowie's relative revival in the 21st century has been about him and his audience accepting his glories are in the past. His new albumsHeathen andReality, produced by Tony Visconti who worked with him in the Seventies, have been successful because they sound like Bowie used to, not the future.
The first few minutes of this latest UK tour at least attempt to shock with the new as a cartoon Bowie band plays on the big screen, as the real musicians file on, and the real Bowie strikes a pose on the stage's lip.
When he kicks into "Rebel, Rebel", the old-time hooligan's stonk, the crowd roar, reassured they'll be getting the nostalgic good time they paid for. Really, though, the night takes a long while to slip into gear. Whether it's the soundless, sheep-pen nature of this huge arena, the dull, Tin Machine-like rock tendencies of the band (despite it including two Seventies Bowie veterans), the ageing audience, or Bowie's own clumsy stage movements, atmosphere and engagement are hard to find.
It's only when Bowie stops trying to rock, and starts to croon, that he finds some poise. "China Girl" is sung with vaulting voiced flamboyance. Then, in Reality's "The Loneliest Guy", he clutches his head, bemoaning his alienation like a space-age Sinatra. For the mid-Nineties glam-reviver "Hallo Spaceboy", he marches on to a gantry above the crowd, kneeling and miming, eyes fixed on one dancing fan. Attempts at intimacy reach their peak when he begins "Life on Mars" as a spot-lit silhouette, backed only by his keyboardist, Mike Garson.
The skeletal melody and mysteriously beautiful lyrics of one of his best-loved songs work their own magic, and for a moment, the past can almost be touched. Soon, though, those disconnections from the strange soul who wrote it are obvious once more. The magic is gone.
Books And it is whizzpopping!
MusicThey're running their own restaurants
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kate Winslet thanked 'particularly horrible' girl who bullied her at school after Titanic success
- 2 Australia to impose 24-hour curfew on all cats to protect endangered species
- 3 Black and ethnic minority people twice as likely to be hit by Tory cuts than white people, report finds
- 4 Walter Palmer: Cecil the lion killer revealed to be American dentist
- 5 What TripAdvisor users think of 16 of the world's most popular landmarks
Conan O'Brien accused of stealing jokes from Twitter, could have to pay hundreds of thousands in damages
Child Genius: the Final, Channel 4 - TV review: Top marks to the child prodigies but mum and dad should take a bow too
Game of Thrones season 6: New toy line suggests Jon Snow is not among the dead
Game of Thrones season 6 set photos leak online
The Great British Bake Off 2015: Meet the 12 contestants
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
The last thing Labour needs is a leader like Jeremy Corbyn who people want to vote for
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband