David Bowie 1997-08-11 London,UK
Aug-11-97 Shepherds Bush Empire London England
02. The Man Who Sold the World
03. Queen Bitch
04. Waiting for the Man
05. The Jean Genie
06. I’m Afraid of Americans
07. Battle for Britain (The Letter)
09. Seven Years in Tibet
13. Looking for Satellites
14. Under Pressure
15. The Heart’s Filthy Lesson
16. Hallo Spaceboy
17. Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
18. Little Wonder
19. The Last Thing You Should Do
20. Dead Man Walking
21. White Light/White Heat
22. O Superman
23. V-2 Schneider
24. Look Back in Anger
25. All the Young Dudes
Wow, an impossible dream. Seeing David Bowie up close in a small venue. I’d been a fan for longer than I could remember but had only seen him at festivals or in large venues from some distance away. This was going to be special. The release of Earthling had seen him touring more than normal and he’d got a great band together. Unbelievably this was to be my third Bowie gig of the year. The first being at Madison Square Avenue in January in a cold New York. A special 50th birthday gig with lots of guests. A couple of week prior to this one he was outdoors at the Phoenix Festival in Staffordshire. An ad on the back of the festival program revealed he was doing a couple of gigs at Shepherds Bush Empire and I was there as soon as they went on sale. He’d come through a dodgy period post the Glass Spider /Tin Machine debacles and he seemed more confident than years. He’d embraced drum and bass and laced his recent albums with its rhythms. To deliver these he’d got a superb band together and he’s mixing the classics with the recent stuff.
We entered a packed, expectant SBE and tried to get as close as possible as sightlines downstairs are not great unless you are over 6ft. The crowd went mad as he walked on alone with an acoustic guitar and performed some Hunky Dory classics: Quicksand and Queen Bitch. Over twenty five years old but he delivered them as if they were new releases. His voice unchanged and from 10m or so he looked great for a 50 year old. There is a blues version of Jean Genie and a percussive take on The Man Who Sold the World, where almost nothing of the original backing survives beside the guitar riff repopularised by Nirvana.
It’s a stellar first segment and he almost maintains it through a couple of Earthlings numbers. The reception is slightly more subdued but that’s inevitable given that the older numbers are lasered on the brain of most of the audience. The drum and bass of I’m afraid of Americans and Little Britain clang through the SBE. It’s not a genre I’m that familiar with but the songs themselves hold up. Reeves Grabels electronic guitar is astonishing for its range of synthesised sound. Far removed from Bowie’s earlier partner, Mick Ronson.
Fame and Stay burn up the place but its Under Pressure with Gail Ann Dorsey playing that distinctive bass line and singing Freddie Mercury’s lines that steals the show. Bowie and her seem to have a close rapport and she looks great too.
Halfway through the final number of the main set, the electro-drum and bass of Little Wonder, a pair of gigantic eyeball balloons are rolled out over the crowd. As they billow and goggle towards the balconies, the colours of the irises become clear in the strobe lighting. One blue, one green, they are the trademark changeling eyes of David. The giant eyes stare down at the crowd, then roll back up towards the singer and he’s off. He returns for an ageless Moonage Daydream and a grand finale of White Light/White Heat. Bowie seems to have reached that exalted position of being able to deliver interesting new work that his crowd will listen to aswell as delivering the classics with joy and verve. Can he sustain it without the wrong footing he’s made in the previous decade.