David Bowie, Riverside Studios, London and various cinemas
Wednesday 10 September 2003
Sixty-eight cinemas in 22 countries and a packed house at London's Riverside Studios. In the fourth decade of his career, David Bowie still knows how to bring a new record out in style. Tonight's show, which coincides with the release of the album Reality, is billed to make technological history as it's beamed via satellite to big screens across the world.
Fans in Europe watched the show as it happened, but because of "time-zone issues" the concert was aired in Asia, Japan and Australia the next day, with screenings in North and South America next Monday, the day that his new album is released. The show was shot digitally in widescreen and recorded in surround sound for perfect reproduction in cinemas.
While the act of watching a gig at the cinema hardly strikes you as a breakthrough - one imagines that most Bowie fans have got to grips with the concept of televised entertainment by now - the magnitude of the audience is impressive. After this, Bowie's world tour almost seems like an unnecessary chore.
This is the ultimate entertainment for the middle class and middle aged, offering the camaraderie of a gig without the sweat, smoke or warm lager (a coke and a bucket of popcorn will do nicely, thank you). The spirit of reverence that usually pervades Bowie gigs is conspicuous by its absence, as shouts of "Turn it up" and "Bollocks to the neighbours" drown out the opening track.
Yet the customary rules of cinema-going are also flouted. I watched a relay of the gig at the Odeon cinema in Brighton. In common with the other cinemas to which the concert was relayed, late-comers are greeted with a smile, while the use of mobile phones is positively encouraged. At the start of the show, viewers are asked to text their requests and questions, some of which will be put to Bowie later on. Though the messages streaming across the bottom of the screen are mostly an unnecessary distraction, Mark from Birmingham's "Could you play 'Please, Mr Gravedigger' for all of us who work with dead bodies?" must rank as one of the evening's highlights.
And the music? Well, despite the promise to play "many cuts from his legendary back catalogue", the new songs outnumber the old by two to one. Reality is played in its entirety, beginning with the rabble-rousing "New Killer Star", a song that picks through the Bowie back catalogue in under four minutes, and concluding with the comparatively limp "Bring Me The Disco King".
In between there is a strange but beguiling cover of Jonathan Richman's "Pablo Picasso", an obscure George Harrison dirge called "Try Some, Buy Some" and the defiantly jaunty "Never Get Old". The songs from Reality are followed by an entertaining, if sporadically uncomfortable Q&A session, chaired by the reliably sycophantic Jonathan Ross. Alas, the technology collapses under the strain, and our host is unable to take a question from a fan in the Odeon Leicester Square. "Tell him to open a window and shout," cackles Bowie with characteristic larkiness, before treating his global audience to a handful of classics, including "Hallo Spaceboy", "Modern Love" and "Cactus".
The crowd at Riverside Studios scream and punch the air; the crowd in Brighton clap politely in their seats. You wouldn't exactly call this an experimental triumph. But, as trips to the pictures go, I've had worse.
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