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David Bowie - David Live CD (album) cover


David Bowie


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2.93 | 73 ratings

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2 stars I don't hate this quite as much as seemingly everybody else does (the rating at PA is a good deal higher than what I'd expect to see elsewhere), but that doesn't mean I find it very good. The quick and dirty summary that usually goes with this album is that this is the recording where Bowie decided to reinterpret his back catalogue as plastic soul numbers, but that doesn't quite nail it. I'd almost go so far as to say that if that really fully described this album, I could actually dig this; as is, this album has more fundamental problems than one would imagine just from reading the usual descriptions of it.

The first problem is that, while David and company certainly lean their performance in the direction of soul, they also make an attempt to have the performance qualify as arena rock, and the combination doesn't work well at all. There's a good chunk of electric guitar posturing, yes, but there's no real energy or power or anything along those lines that's required for decent arena rock. Look, I get that Bowie wanted to get away from his glam posturing of a couple of years previous, but I'd almost rather that he'd gone all out with his reinventions and completely ditched any rock presence whatsoever, somewhat like what he did on Young Americans (not that that's a great album, but it would be funny to hear the back catalogue sounding more like that than this). I mean, what's the point of hearing the guitar line of "Rebel Rebel" over and over again if it's going to be played in a lazy, boring manner? I'm not saying I'd want to hear more of the lazy saxophone wailing that Bowie seems to think is all you need to make something into soul, but if he'd spiced things up a bit, thrown some diversity and variety into the mix, and had basically taken more care in forming this concert (like, say, including more than one cover of an old soul song), he could have had his own Live at Budokan years before Dylan did it (and yes, I know most people don't like Dylan's reinventions there, but I think they're a crackup). Alas, pretty much everything gets pegged into the same halfhearted arena soul hole, and it's not a great time.

The second major fundamental problem is that Bowie's vocal performance is horrendous. His voice clearly starts to deteriorate less than a quarter into the show, and he becomes less and less able/willing hit the right notes with any significant power as time goes on. If ever somebody wanted to make a serious argument that Bowie is secretly a terrible singer, this concert would pretty much have to be exhibit 1a, wouldn't it? I'm not asking for exact duplication of studio performance, and I guess that Bowie thought that just getting roughly in the neighborhood of correct notes was what constituted "authentic" soul singing, but I don't think it would have been too much to ask for something better than what we got here.

As for the songs themselves, the upside is that most of the Diamond Dogs performances (and he ultimately does all of the material from that album except "Future Legend" and "We Are the Dead") are pretty good (aside from the travesty that is "Rebel Rebel" here), and "Time" ends up sounding right at home and goofily enjoyable as ever. Oh, and I guess "Space Oddity" sounds ok enough. On the downside, he massacres one previously good song after another from Man Who Sold the World through Aladdin Sane (as well as a so-corny-it's-almost-funny rendition of "All the Young Dudes"). What's funniest to me about these performances is that, especially because of the prominent saxophone wailings, these actually end up sounding a good deal like the pseudo-rock performances that crept up in Frank Zappa's final live tour, except Frank was more diverse and inventive in his rearrangements and constantly had tongue planted firmly in cheek. If you're going to have songs that are as heavily tied to great performance and clever arrangements as to solid melodies, then you have to have great performance and clever arrangements for them to work. Strip away those strengths and you're left with the muck that makes up this album.

Ultimately, I think there's more salvagable material here than many people might believe, but that's not saying much. If you absolutely have to get this, make sure you get the full remaster that restores the whole concert in order and has supposedly superior sound quality to the original (I'd hate to imagine how that would have sounded, as the sound here isn't exactly pristine), but you'd be better off just not getting it.

tarkus1980 | 2/5 |


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