David Bowie's A Reality Tour

by Kevin Wierzbicki and Anthony Kuzminski

For this week's TBT we kick off our reflection on the music legend David Bowie with a look back at Kevin Wierzbicki and Tony K's reviews of his A Reality Tour live release from 2010.

Kevin Wierzbicki's Review
Just now available on CD, this is the companion piece to the A Reality Tour DVD that came out in 2004. Bowie's current albums at the time were Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003) and after suitably winding the crowd up with an appropriate oldie choice of "Rebel, Rebel" Bowie launches into Reality's "New Killer Star" and "Reality" without any new album promotion. That's a bit odd considering that his between-song patter calls off the year and album title for many of the oldies, a seemingly never-ending roster of hit after hit. But the variety here is excellent; among chestnuts like "Fame," "All the Young Dudes," "Life on Mars" and "Under Pressure" are goodies like the rarely performed (these days) "The Man Who Sold the World," a woozy guitar-filled cover of Black Francis' "Cactus" that spotlights longtime Bowie cohort Earl Slick and somewhat overlooked Bowie/Eno compositions from the '90s like "Hallo Spaceboy" and "I'm Afraid of Americans." Another song performed here that's rarely heard is "Sister Midnight;" Bowie co-wrote the song with Carlos Alomar and Iggy Pop for Iggy's first solo album The Idiot and the ominous tone of the number presents a chilling representation of how both artists were embroiled in battles with substance abuse at the time. Bowie's voice is a little husky when he speaks between songs and he even jokes with the crowd that he may need help singing since he "gave his voice quite a belting last night." To the contrary though he's in excellent voice throughout and his tenacity is especially on display on quiet numbers like "The Loneliest Guy." This thirty-three song set on two CDs will please Bowie fans from all eras and collectors will welcome the 3 tunes included here that were previously unavailable; versions of "China Girl," "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon" and "Breaking Glass."

Anthony Kuzminski Review:
Pablo Picasso spent the better part of seventy years producing art. Over this time, he pushed the boundaries of what we defined as art and in the process altered the course of painting and sculpting in ways no one could have anticipated. Whether it was his Blue Period or some of his later sculptures, most were revolutionary and it took years and in some cases decades to see how ahead of time he was. The same could be said of David Bowie in the realm of music. Shifting styles and genres may have initially appeared as a gimmick but ultimately six decades on, it's proven to be Bowie's masterstroke. Painters and sculptors will occasionally gather their works and put them on display for all to see and relish in. These exhibits help bring a life's work into context as you see different shades of their talent on display and when viewed as a whole, you sometimes see a larger body of work. Musicians have concert tours, but in truth, few execute shows that allow the listener and attendee a widescreen viewing of their life's work. When David Bowie embarked on his Reality tour in the fall of 2003, whether it was known at the time or not, he had the most accomplished set of musicians of his career in tow and when the tour ended nine months later, it proved to be not just his most revealing and accomplished, but one that even the legendary tours that proceeded it couldn't surpass. Finding a way to fuse his eclectic catalog of songs into one conjoined family is no easy feat. Each of his concert tours, while enthralling, in the past had a hard time finding a way to pair his more commercial offerings with his art-school music; until the Reality tour. Earlier this year A Reality Tour made its debut digitally and on CD for the first time. Originally released as a DVD in the fall of 2004, A Reality Tour finds Bowie and his meticulous and magical band at the peak of their powers. The album containing thirty-three songs (thirty-five at the iTunes store) is the best and most potent live document the uninhibited artist has ever released. Never before has Bowie sounded so confident and at ease with his delivery, arrangements and his legacy. The greatest accomplishment of the 2003-2004 tour was the effortlessness Bowie seemed to have with pairing his classics with his lesser known fare. If he were Picasso, he would have found a way to display all of his work in a story like fashion where nothing seemed out of place whether it was a misunderstood painting or a sculpture that verged on pornography. A Reality Tour is a document every live act could learn from as Bowie glided between the esoteric, the exotic and the downright euphoric with ease and simultaneously leaving every attendee with a smile on their face.

I had always steered away from seeing Bowie in concert because I was afraid I'd walk away aggravated not seeing the hits. Ironically, the reverse ensued when I was privileged enough to observe two shows that winter and spring of 2004; I sought after more than the hits but wanted to analyze Heathen, Reality, 1. Outside and Earthling. The coupling of songs and stylized sequencing was mouth gapingly tremendous. Artists struggle with set lists because concert tickets no longer top out at $20. It's an investment and as a result, fear drives most acts to rely on the hits, however, this doesn't matter to David Bowie. Instead of concentrating on only the crowd pleasers, he administered a way to disclose stories from within all eras of his career and the position of certain songs (notably on "I'm Afraid of Americans" and "'Heroes'" back to back) validate distinctive themes throughout a recording history that goes back forty years.

The customary opener for the shows was the rearranged battle call of "Rebel, Rebel"; Earl Slick's switchblade guitar riff tears open the concert hall in a way few other songs could. The cover of "Cactus" (of the Pixies) is searing with an ever too brief snippet of T.Rex's "Bang a Gong". Smacked in between "Fashion" and "Sister Midnight", it oozes splendor and doesn't feel like a song that is beneath the immortal songs on either side of it. "Sister Midnight", from Iggy Pop's The Idiot made a welcome return to the set. Produced and co-written by Bowie in 1977 it's a tune that probably owes more to Bowie than to Pop. Recorded at the same time he was creating Low and 'Heroes', it's a steely deep cut. "Afraid" (from Heathen) is a turbulent paranoia rocker that feels as if it could have come from Scary Monsters while "All The Young Dudes" is an arm-waving sing-a-long anthem that unites and was created for this specific purpose. Bowie meticulously paced these songs so they fit together like a family of bandits, each with their own distinctive personality but together they stand as one. Previous Bowie tours had leaned too heavily on one or the other, but here he sculpts them to be something downright marvelous.

The pairing of 1977's "Be My Wife" and 2003's "The Loneliest Guy" is a stroke of genius. The former a telescoping yet beseeching rocker and the latter is a meditative and prosaic solemn ballad. The first time I heard "The Loneliest Guy", the performance was so ghostly yet spine-chilling I assumed it was a deep cut from one of his masterpieces. I was stunned to realize it was from his latest and most recent record, Reality (for which an argument can be made as a modern work of genius along with Heathen). Watching him complete the song in Milwaukee in the spring of 2004 was an unparalleled moment. As he sung that last verse, he turned away and cleared his eyes. I was close enough to see it wasn't just lint and I couldn't help but be caught up in the moment. The band didn't overpower the song but complimented it allowing Bowie's lyrics and vocals to enter into a spiritual atmosphere. The devotion of Bowie's voice here stands one of the paramount performances I've seen or heard by any performer, anywhere. "Hallo Spaceboy: and "Sunday" were sandwiched in-between such luminous classics as "The Man Who Sold the World", "Under Pressure" (featuring some rapturous vocals from bassist Gail Ann Dorsey whose bass lines steered the course) and "Life On Mars" further exemplifying the depth of one of the greatest catalogs of the rock n' roll era.

As the album unfolds, your memory is jogged with gems like "Fantastic Voyage", "Changes", "Ashes To Ashes", "China Girl" (a bonus track) and a radical reworking of "Loving the Alien" from his 1984 record, Tonight. "New Killer Star" and "Reality" keep the voltage high early in the show while the boyish glee in his delivery of "Changes" and "Never Get Old" is downright blissful; these two songs written thirty years apart but seem to be twin songs from different mothers. "Breaking Glass" from the iconic 1977 record Low is done justice by the band in a resolute arrangement. The more novel fare from Heathen and Reality finds the band weaving their powers together in an unyielding fashion underscored on the jazzy "Bring Me the Disco King", the seductive "Slip Away" (Dorsey's bass once again navigates the way) and the industrial resplendent "Heathen (The Rays)". The album was recorded over two nights in Dublin in November 2003 where a total of thirty five different and unique songs were performed over these shows. If you buy the album at iTunes, you will get all of them and the CD issue has thirty three (due to CD space). Despite being recorded decades apart and by several different musicians and producers, Bowie's touring band solidify the material to feel as if it came from the same era. This is a rare feat in the world of concert performances. Bowie's backing band wasn't just a gathering of well rehearsed musicians but ones with incalculable aptitude. They provide these songs shades and colors that in some instances surpass their studio counterparts.

The Reality tour was like a family tree of Bowie's discography. You watch and listen in wonder as the material felt so seamless you assumed they were all from the same generation and not spanning a few dozen albums and five difference decades. As a performer, Bowie found a way to liberate his expansive cannon like an unrivaled lover. He doesn't just believe in kinky off-the-wall sex or merely intercourse, but provides a wide ranging encounter with the ultimate goal of assuring all partners get their rocks off in some form or fashion. Some acts nail you with hit after hit, which is neither audacious nor in the long run always gratifying. But Bowie understands how to entice an audience, tease them, play with them, make them beg for more and in the end, delivers a euphoric release that is unparalleled culminating with a trilogy of Ziggy Stardust songs ("Five Years", "Hang On To Yourself" and "Ziggy Stardust") If Bowie never steps on stage ever again, it will be our loss, but he can rest in comfort knowing that he left the stage at the peak of his powers leaving the crowd pining for an encore…that may or may not ever come.

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David Bowie's A Reality Tour

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