A Reality Tour

“I hope you’ve got some sleeping bags and tents. This might be a really long show tonight,” says David Bowie from the stage a couple songs into his newly released live disc A Reality Tour. This turns out to be accurate as the show doesn’t conclude for almost thirty more songs encompasing two discs. Pulled from a pair of shows recorded in Dublin back in 2003, there’s little to hint that this turned out to be an ill-fated tour (it was cut short due to Bowie’s health issues, and one show was cancelled after the death of a lighting tech). Bowie sounds energized and in good voice, has a top session band behind him and an energetic crowd (mixed high). Overall, the disc does well in conveying the feeling of being there.
To his credit, Bowie picks songs from throughout his catalog, with about half the selections coming from his prime Seventies albums and the rest mostly from his post-Eighties work. In fact, only a few Eighties songs sneak in, and the most well-known only as a bonus track (“China Girl”). The highlights still come with the older material, including a great duet with bassist/vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey on Under Pressure (she kills on the Freddy Mercury vocal), the slow-building, anthemic Heroes and the suberbly sung Fantastic Voyage. Hang Onto Yourself comes late in the set as part of a trio of Ziggy Stardust songs and is the only really rocking moment of the show. The rise in energy (and beats per minute) produce the best crowd reaction of the night.
The band plays well, though only occassionally catches fire. On many of the songs from Bowie’s later albums, including “Heathen” and “Reality,” the guitar parts turn more atmospheric or noisy, robbing the songs of the kind of riffs that make something like “Heroes” compelling, and giving a lot of the material a sameness (the lack of strong vocal melodies doesn’t help). Some of the instrument tones are problematic, with guitars sounding like they are played through solid-state amps (and if they weren’t, the culprit may be too many digital effects) and the bass tone a bit too bright (see “Sister Midnight” and especially “Ziggy Stardust.”)
Which is not to say that the discs aren’t a good listen. Bowie didn’t have much to prove on this tour, and really just needed to give a good show, which he does with good cheer and occassionally excellent performances from him and the band. In the end, A Reality Tour is a meant more for his fans than as a way to convert non-believers, and as a token of the tour, it does an admirable job.

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