“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.

“I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous before playing this show,” said Julian Casablancas from the stage Thursday at Terminal 5 before thanking the packed house again for the warm reception. Artists gain and lose popularity fast in music, so it may not have been too crazy for him to think people might not care about him or his old band The Strokes that much anymore. But an excited Terminal 5 audience dispelled any doubt. Perhaps music tastes can change, but New Yorker’s always welcome back one of their own.
Doors opened at 8 PM and by 9 PM opener Tanlines was keeping the growing crowd well entertained, mostly with their intense on-stage gyrations. Tweaking computers and keyboards they presented an aggressive dance sound. In contrast, Telepathe, who followed, emitted an intense racket that sounded like a wash of sound rather than finely crafted music. The duo’s similar sounding voices and monotonous songs barely excited the crowd, and a few of their offerrings ended with just a spattering of applause. The group looked a little dejected as they left the stage, but after 35 minutes of without much musical or visual excitement (they barely tried to engage the crowd), it was hard to feel guilty about the audience’s poor reaction.
The reaction was much different when the lights went down for the headliner. With his backing band hitting the stage first, Julian Casablancas strolled out in a slim black leather outfit to the jubilation of everyone in Terminal 5. Although it’s only been a few years since The Strokes played New York, the excitement of the moment was palpable, as was the moment when he began singing in his distinctive croon.
The band started off with “Ludlow Street,” one of the album’s slower tracks, and though it lacked some of the old world instrumentation of the recorded version, it came across well, as did the next song, the more up-tempo “River of Brakelights.” Casablancas took the chance to talk to the crowd a bit, spouting out a stream of expletive-laden thanks-yous to everyone for the warm reception. The casual banter would continue throughout the night, and flew off into such side roads as Casablanca’s admiration of Alicia Key’s contribution to Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” (he would later sing a snippet of it as a ten-second final song of the night, backed only by drums).
Launching into single “11th Dimension,” the band was fully warmed up and the crowd was soon bopping up and down. Every once in a while throughout the night (in “River of Brakelights” and Left and Right in the Dark,” for example), the band hit a chugging groove and Casablancas voice hit that sweet spot towards the higher, more desperate part of his range. The effect recalled what was so great about the Strokes, and the crowd reacted as you would have expected (see the video below). But the other sounds Casablancas has explored proved popular as well. The crowd sang along with “Out of the Blue” and “Left and Right in the Dark.” Casablancas and company played a new, untitled song which felt energetic and a lot more raw than the album material.
Reports from L.A. told of an elaborate stage show, but there were no visuals or fancy costumes at this gig, just the band and Casablancas with minimal lighting effects. Still, the crowd ate it up, especially in the encore when Casablancas and his keyboard player came out to play a stripped-down “I’ll Do Anything Once,” a Strokes b-side (which he announced as a cover). A bigger surprise was the inclusion of the Kings of Leon song “Velvet Snow,” though admittedly it was one of the weaker songs of the night. Still, the singer seems happy to playing live in NY again, whether this solo tour is a diversion before a Strokes reunion or a long term gig.

I’ve never been particularly impressed with Kiss, both as a studio band (I find a lot of their recordings pretty clunky) and as a live band (since it seemed that they relied heavily on the makeup, pyro and other tricks). But this clip from early 75 at the Winterland Ballroom is pretty badass.
It’s clear that Paul Stanley is the key to their onstage energy, since Gene Simmons seems to have two moves and Ace comes from the “stroll around” school of rock guitar. Paul, meanwhile, jumps around, headbangs and windmills like crazy – good stuff!

I should say I like it in black and white too – gives it a little creepy mistique.

I have nothing against the metronome. I certainly could stand to use more time practing with one. And recording with a click track has been a established practice for a long time (though I’m not convinced one way or another whether it always (or never) results in a better-sounding song).
But since when has it been acceptable practice to have a drummer play to a click track during a live show? It’s one thing if the band is using some kind of drum loop, an often-but-not-always dubious proposition (Radiohead has done it well). But just having a metronome keeping the time underneath seems wrong somehow. Not to mention that I’ve seen bands play where you could hear the thing ticking off between songs.
I assume advances in technology have allowed bands of all levels to utilize a computer to help keep the time. For all I know, this practice could have been around among big acts since the 80s. Still, it only seems like recently that I see drummers wearing headphones as they play. Might just be my musical snobbery emerging, but it seems a little weak.
And of course, I couldn’t let this post end without a link to the song Metronome by some band called The Bosch.

I’m not particularly excited by any of these “big” reunions rolling out this year. The Police were a great band, and theirs is one of the few reunions that includes all the original members, but they looked rather pathetic at the Grammys. They were supposedly crummy live back in the day anyway.
The Van Halen reunion is apparently now off. Too bad, since David Lee Roth actually looked somewhat human in the press photo. In the end, I don’t think we’ll ever see a real VH reunion. Eddie is just too nutty these days.
I couldn’t care less about a Genesis reunion. I feel like they never truly went away, even if they offically broke up at some point. Phil Collins has had a major solo career since 1980, so the whole thing seems a little silly.
Speaking of reunions, check out this video showing (three-fourths of) Creedence playing their 20th year high school reunion. Based on the dancing on display here, it’s safe to say that Creedence were the only cool dudes to emerge from their high school.

Speaking of Van Halen, it turns out that the New Year has done nothing to change the news that Michael Anthony is longer in the band, having been fired by Eddie Van Halen. And replaced by Eddie’s son. Seriously.
So, not only will both Sammy and Dave (presumably) be at the Rock Hall ceremony (perhaps Gary Cherone will scalp a ticket), but recently foisted Mike Anthony as well. How many songs before a fight breaks out? Or should that be measures?

No, I’m not talking about Axl’s All Star Touring Band, but rather some awesome live footage of Guns ‘n Roses from back in ’88 at the height of their powers. Despite out of tune guitars, bum notes and Axl’s occassionally lazy vocal phrasing, this show rocks, and the energy in these songs is even better the studio versions. Too bad drugs and egos would soon bring these guys down.
BTW, in case you’re wondering, the venue is the Ritz, which is now Webster Hall in NYC. The show feels so vital that it’s crazy to think that this was 18 years ago…