A Reality Tour
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2010, Volume 17, #3
Written by John Metzger
Mon March 1, 2010, 06:30 AM CST
David Bowie has fashioned a career out of his ability to change forms. Time and again, he has adapted his work to fit within the framework of whatever the musical trends happen to be at any given point in time. Playing the roles of both populist and outsider, he not only has achieved tremendous commercial success, but he also has existed at the fringes of mainstream acceptance. His latest incarnation, however, is his strangest persona to date.
In 1997, Bowie sold the rights to his catalogue, turning it into a Wall Street investment product. In the wake of his decision, he has yet to make another bold, stylistic shift. Instead, as he moved from hours to Heathen to Reality, he has trolled through his past and reacquainted himself with each of the eras in his history. Cynics might claim that Bowie simply is playing it safe, giving himself the opportunity to reap the benefits of his previous gambles. It is possible, though, that the deceleration of his forward progress is merely a reflection of the lack of innovation emanating from the music scene that surrounds him. Much like pop has eaten itself, Bowie is now cannibalizing his past.
Over the years, Bowie has never shrunk from the challenge of presenting new material to his fans. Often, much to their disappointment, he has forsaken his biggest hits in favor of maintaining the characteristic aura of his latest disguise. Perhaps the greatest benefit to Bowie’s backward-looking perspective of late is that he has begun to take a career-spanning approach to his concerts. A Reality Tour, much like the DVD that preceded it, certainly makes the case that if there ever was a time to see Bowie in a live setting, this was it.
Recorded on consecutive nights in November 2003, A Reality Tour mirrors the set list that Bowie had employed throughout his trek around the globe. By fusing together an array of hits, new compositions, and lost nuggets, it effectively traces an arc through each of his musical personalities, mixing and matching them at will. Spreading 33 songs across two discs, the outing celebrates the full breadth of Bowie’s artistic pursuits.
In fact, the most satisfying aspect of A Reality Tour is how seamlessly Bowie was able to transition among eras. He neither presented his material chronologically nor divided his concerts into standalone acts. Bowie resisted the urge to update classic cuts like Rebel Rebel, Fame, and Five Years, and he boldly refused to tone down the challenging aspects of modern selections, such New Killer Star, Battle for Britain (The Letter), and Bring Me the Disco King. Instead, Bowie playfully selected tracks from his canon and allowed them to illuminate the entirety of his work: Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, the budding industrialist, and the neoclassicist — they were all rolled into one on A Reality Tour.
For the record, Bowie’s concerts typically emphasize theatrics as much as they do music. After all, he has always been a showman. To his credit, he gave mightily impassioned readings of his material — from the supercharged fury of Hang On to Yourself and the pulsating march of Sister Midnight to the glam-fueled chug of the Pixies’ Cactus and the eerie anguish of The Loneliest Guy. Still, despite the strength of his performances, A Reality Tour often feels as if something is missing. This isn’t enough to sink the endeavor, but it does reduce the collection’s appeal. ½
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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