ramblings: bowie, the paramount, 1-25-04

I can’t explain why I didn’t run out frantically and join Bowie’s fan club and get the best possible seats I could for the Paramount – yeah, the show was six months in advance. Yeah, it would have meant making my first ticket purchase of 2004 still with much of 2003 ahead of me. But this was Bowie. Not that he was ever the sine qua non, but he was still – David fucking Bowie. The shows were events. You bought clothes. (I mean, what woman under 40 didn’t buy a pair of red high heeled shoes when “Let’s Dance” came out? I had two, one patent leather). Even in 1984 there was something still on the edge of dangerous about it, maybe a little deviant, or rather, the potential for deviance was there. I’ll never forget the sight of some big irish fratboy type walking down the aisle on the floor at MSG, screaming the chorus of “Cracked Actor” (go ahead, Google it, I’ll wait.) at the top of his lungs. Like I said, the potential for deviance. Which, in 1984, was almost enough, and in 2004, the potential alone is probably illegal in certain states.

I picked up my ticket in a miracle drop of one ticket on Friday. I get there and find that my MF4 double letter seats are now MF3, row H, which I reckoned was front and center without having to read the little note explaining about the glitch in the ticket system that sold my seat twice. Clearly, I was meant to see this, and clearly, I needed to see it.

But see, I think Bowie, and that still automatically translates into dancing my ass off during “Rebel Rebel” – otherwise, what’s the point? It isn’t sitting in my seat for the quiet songs and maybe daring to stand up during the loud ones. And this was so not a sit down show or a sit down tour. He is snarky, witty, obnoxious, and larger than life, as always. Not to mention still utterly fucking beautiful. Although, I was happy to see him from that close and see that he does look his age, it’s not this unnatural waxy thing that sometimes he looks like on TV (that A&E By Request, he almost looked like he belonged in the Hall of Presidents at Disneyworld). But, I mean, handsome and comfortable beyond belief in his skin.

The lights go down, there’s a little animation to walk them on, and then there’s that opening riff to the aforementioned “Rebel Rebel” – who doesn’t want to dance to “Rebel Rebel”? I’m sorry, but you must not have any kind of rock and roll heart if that doesn’t at least make you want to shake it a little bit – but then they strip it down, modernize it a bit, I can’t explain it more than that, but it’s more melodic and less in your face, more finesse, less wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am (okay, wrong song), before coming back to the original vibe and bringing it home.

It was an odd audience, and not because it was an old audience – it wasn’t old, which is what was weird about it. It was right after “All The Young Dudes” got the worst, most disappointing, anemic reaction – weird, because I remember that just bringing the house down at the same venue in 97 – and the thought flashes through my mind that this isn’t an old crowd because these aren’t the old school fans, these are the Let’s Dance fans.

This thought was confirmed, exactly, with “China Girl” as the next song and the largest cheer of the night. Larger than “All The Young Dudes”? What is wrong with you people? I’d even bet that, if I’d taken a casual survey of the people around me, they wouldn’t even know that “China Girl” is an Iggy song. So, again, odd.

He turns around and says, “Band, what do you want to do next—“ and then gives a major spoiler that the next three songs in a row will be from Low – alludes to the fact that he’s just spoiled the surprise – admonishes us, “It’s my band!” when a few dozen of us bother to cheer the song choices. But, um, yeah. “A New Career In A New Town,” “Breaking Glass” and “Be My Wife” – the thing about the Berlin era albums, to me anyway, isn’t lyrics (with the exception of “Heroes”), it’s the whole sonic package. Which, admittedly, is hard to do live (I missed night four of the Serious Moonlight Tour at MSG and apparently they played “Warzawa,” which, while on paper is a “holy shit!” moment, in person I gotta tell you, I ain’t so sure about). This band, though, is stellar. Gail Ann Dorsey is still around to sing that second part on “Under Pressure,” and this tour we have Earl Slick and not Reeves Gabrels. (In 97, I was waiting in line with friends and some Bowie fanatic had a shirt that said, “Reeves is God”. My friend responded with, “I don’t think he’s even John The Baptist”.) For Bowie to have toyed with a more industrial sound was obvious. For him to come back to straight ahead rock with a band that as flexible as silly putty is a much smarter choice. Otherwise, he could have ended up like Lou Reed, who, god love him, has some weird-ass band with some freaky male soprano and has his tai chi teacher come out and perform while he sings (I am so not making this up).

Highlights: I think “Man Who Sold The World” has lost the Kurt Cobain association (at least I’m less tired of it since I’m not hearing it on the radio every 10 minutes), “Hallo Spaceboy” was was delightfully evil, “Life On Mars” into Panic In Detroit fucking killed (especially having Earl Slick playing the lead on the latter), and finally, “White Light White Heat” into “I’m Afraid of Americans” and then “Heroes,” also restructured along the same lines “Rebel Rebel” was… utterly mindblowing. Missing in action for me would have been “Look Back In Anger” and “Boys Keep Swinging” (former maybe not, but latter would fit well with his mood this tour. Oh well.)

Encore: too short. “Five Years” was more of a triumphant screamer than a cry for help, “Suffragette City” got the only real crowd participation of the night (guess), finally ending with “….Ziggy played guitar….!”

Other thoughts: While my general rule is, “Lead singers should not play guitar” (think Daltrey, Jagger, et. al.), Bowie at least doesn’t overdo it and when he straps one on now, he really fucking means it (see: “White Light White Heat” – and I have to say this is the first time he’s really sold me on his version. Up until now, I could let it slide but didn’t really dig it.)

He still delivers. He still brings it. I think he even surprises himself – like one moment, in the middle of “I’m Afraid of Americans,” out of nowhere he strikes the Jesus Christ Pose and his eyes are burning and filled with laser intensity and you know the flames are just rumbling somewhere deep inside there. Still.

Which is why we still go. For the potential.