October 17, 1997
Story by Tony BonyataWhen David Bowie walked onto the stage of the sold out Aragon Ballroom in Chicago last week, the audience, ranging in age from 25 to 45, couldn't have asked for a more intimate, varied and powerful performance. Leaving behind the excess baggage of his career from the eighties, which included the popular but creatively stagnant albums Let's Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down, Bowie reminisced for two and a half hours through his past catalog (one that spans back to 1967) and forged into the future with his latest musical incarnation of techno sampling and jungle beats. With the help of one of the strongest bands in his career, featuring Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Gail Ann Dorsey on bass and vocals, Mike Garson on keyboards and drummer Zachary Alford, this five-piece musical militia launched a massive attack on famous hits, cover songs and, most thankfully, a number of more obscure tracks from Bowie's illustrious past.
Photo by Phil Bonyata
While not complete, what follows is an essential chronological discography of Bowie's albums (sans his 1972 masterpiece Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars of which no songs were performed) that he pulled material from for last week's stunning show in Chicago.
The Man Who Sold The World (Rykodisc, 1970) 4 stars
Stark, precursor to heavy-metal featuring songs of madmen, alienation and supermen. First album to feature future 'Spiders From Mars' guitarist, Mick Ronson. Original drag cover of Bowie reclining in a dress banned in the U.S. for it's promiscuity./I>
Bowie, dressed in an Asian-tailored green silk shirt, gold silk trousers and leather sandals, slipped into the title track "The Man Who Sold The World" beautifully as the band transformed it into a tranquilized, trip-hop number with Bowie performing some of his most passionate vocals in his career, while on the trance-like "The Supermen" Bowie pulled off a hallucinogenic sax solo in between his telling of a super race.
Hunky Dory (Rykodisc, 1971) 5 stars
First fully realized album and quite possibly his best to date, Bowie turns down the volume a bit in favor of cabaret stylings, jaunting piano and acoustical guitar numbers. Tributes to Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground and the birth of his son, Joe dominate this classic album introducing Bowie as rock's chameleon.
On the opening number "Quicksand', bathed in light with only an acoustic guitar, Bowie never sounded, or for that matter looked, better as he sang this slightly obscure tune.
Aladdin Sane (Rykodisc, 1973) 4 stars
After kicking open the closet door on his masterpiece 1972 Ziggy Stardust album, Bowie kept his lipstick-smeared alien alter-ego, Ziggy, around for another go and released this collection of disconnected wonderments, featuring an amphetamine-pumped cover of the Rolling Stones "Let's Spend The Night Together" and the fantastic, fanatical, avant-garde piano work of Mike Garson.
In 1990, on Bowie's greatest hits 'Sound and Vision' tour, he vowed that he would never play his best known songs live again. While he did play some of his hits from that tour last week, he did manage to rework them enough to give them a new life of their own. "Jean Genie:, from Aladdin Sane, opened up with an authentic Muddy Waters-styled blues intro which transformed this Ziggy Stardust era number into a Chicago roadhouse blues tune. Kind of a Muddy Stardust for the nineties. "Panic In Detroit" was another old favorite that was slightly juiced up without losing any of the immediate urgency of the original.
Young Americans (Rykodisc, 1975) 3 1/2 stars
Heavily influenced by the black soul sound coming out of Philly in the early seventies, Bowie released his own brand of 'plastic soul' with John Lennon and,then unknown, Luther Vandross helping out on backing vocals. First album to feature long time rhythm guitarist and collaborator Carlos Alomar.
The first encore of the evening was his best selling hit "Fame", from Young Americans, which was twisted into a heady-metal, groove-induced number courtesy of Gabrels' guitar shrapnel and Dorsey's funky bass.
Station To Station (Rykodisc, 1976) 4 1/2 stars
Enter 'The Thin White Duke', Bowie's next cold, nihilistic alter-ego. Dropping the wham-glam-thank-you-maam of Ziggy and carrying the soul sound out for another album, although much bleaker and self assured on this go round, Bowie released a six song album touching on T.V. love affairs and longing for his golden years.
Gabrel's sonic guitar blasts were showcased as they weaved effortlessly in and out of Bowie's crooning vocals on the song "Stay".
Low (Rykodisc, 1977) 5 stars
Once again redefining himself Bowie, along with collaborator Brian Eno, single-handedly create a musical genre to be known as ambient, techno. With one side featuring deranged little pop songs and the other majestic synthesized mood music, this is a man who shows that he is willing to take risks.
"Always Crashing the Same Car" a devilishly simple little tune that is rarely ever heard proved to be one of the highlights of the evening for the true fans as Bowie could barely contain his toothy grin through this number.
Lodger (Rykodisc, 1979) 3 stars
Third consecutive album collaborating with Eno, Heroes being the second. A more unfocused mish-mosh of tunes which did however spawn the classic hits, "D.J." and "Boys Keep Swinging".
Although the number "Look Back In Anger" seems to be performed on every Bowie tour since it's release, Alford's pounding drums along with Gabrel's kinetic guitar lines resuscitated this song that would be better left on the shelf on Bowie's next spin through town.
Scary Monsters (Rykodisc, 1980) 5 stars
Cutting the cord from Eno and firmly reestablishing himself as an artiste, Bowie influences a world of 'new wave' musicians known as the 'new romantics' with this brilliantly raw, autobiographical collection of songs.
Bowie opened up the song "Fashion" with the statement, "Written in a time when we used to say ,we aren't famous but are clothes are", this half-a-pack-a-show man (this guy actually makes smoking look healthy), posed as if he were in a Shakespearean fashion show. As the band broke into the full-frontal title track for Scary Monsters a woman threw her black bra up to Bowie as he and Gabrels coyly argued over it.
Tin Machine (EMI, 1989) 4 1/2 stars
Bowie's wonderfully, fresh outing as 'just one of the boys in the band', albeit a hard driving, extremely dynamic rock band. Although generally slagged off by critics, this album actually saw Bowie returning to form after a creative slump throughout most of the eighties.
Original Tin Machine guitarist, Reeves Gabrels led the band into a pared down version of the brilliant "I Can't Read', which unfortunately lacked the intensity of the rhythm section of original band members Tony and Hunt Sales (both sons of comedian Soupy Sales).
Outside (Virgin, 1995) 3 1/2 stars
After a second less successful Tin Machine effort, both in sales and creatively, along with the release of his mature, cool jazz schtick on Black Tie, White Noise, Bowie brings Brian Eno back into the fold to produce this dark, techno influenced work. Although a little pretentious at times, this album once again finds Bowie back on track.
"The Hearts Filthy Lesson" along with the industrial heavy-handed "Halo Spaceboy" both were songs that seamlessly melded the old songs with the new .
Earthling (Virgin, 1997) 4 stars
With the hardcore, industrial sounds of bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Prodigy in vogue, Bowie fits comfortably in with the times with this montage of frenetic beats, techno rhythms and catchy melodies.
All five of the songs performed from Earthling in Chicago, "I'm Afraid Of Americans", "Looking For Satellites", "Little Wonder", "Seven Years In Tibet" and "Battle For Britain (The Letter)", worked incredibly well and were appreciated by the rather hip older rock audience. "This is the best Bowie show Išve seen since his 1976 'Station To Station' tour", exclaimed long time fan Mark Huff, a Woodstock, IL resident who has seen every tour of Bowie's since his 1974 'Soul Tour'. 'I loved the newer songs from Outside and Earthling. He actually could have played a few more of his new ones to please me", Huff went on to say. "It was kind of funny to see him open the show singing, 'And I ain't got the power anymore' (a line from 'Quicksand'), Bowie was in absolute peak form and really still does have the power. Although there were many pleasant suprises, such as 'Quicksand', 'Always Crashing In The Same Car' and 'Panic In Detroit', I think he could have played a few more obscure tunes instead of songs like 'Fame' and 'Fashion', two songs that he always seems to play."
Bowie, a musical sponge who absorbs different styles and sounds (glam rock, white soul, ambient and now techno) and reformulates them into his own style, has never been one to shy away from covering other people's music. On his 1973 release Pin-Ups he payed homage to the bands of the sixties that influenced him in his youth, such as The Yardbirds, The Who and the Syd Barrett-led band Pink Floyd. He has also recorded cover versions of Iggy Pop, Bertolt Brecht, Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Berry and even modern day mope, Morrissey. So it was no surprise that he would pull a few more covers out of his bag of tricks in Chicago. Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground's "Waiting For The Man" and "White Light White Heat", two longtime favorites of Bowie were both revved up rockers, the latter in which he sprawled on all fours in his best Iggy Pop 'I wanna be your dog' stance and intensely screamed out the chorus. Also performed was a wonderful version of avant garde performance artist and wife of Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson's "O Superman", which was sang exquisitely by the intriguing Gail Ann Dorsey.
With Bowie firmly back on track musically (and it's been a while since you could honestly say this) it'll be nice to see what he has up his sleeve next.
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