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Week 84 | Glastonbury 2000

Another in the series of posthumous live albums, this one, much as the name implies, is a recording of Bowie’s 2000 appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in England.  It contains a healthy sampling of Bowie songs from the 70s, 80s and, best of all, 90s.  The more recent songs are the highlight of this two-disc collection because there are fewer available live versions of these songs— “Little Wonder,” “Hallo Spaceboy” and “I’m Afraid of Americans,” than there are of, say, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Heroes” (both of which are also here).  In a few cases, such as “Let’s Dance” and “Rebel Rebel,” Bowie performs well-known songs with arrangements that are different from the more familiar studio versions.  For the most part, however, Bowie seemed to be giving the audience what it wanted at this concert- a tour of his greatest hits to date.  

So, of course, I like this collection.  I have been especially enjoying the second disc, which is about as concentrated a collection of some of his best-known songs as exists outside a playlist.  The discs are attractively packaged in a box featuring a long-haired Bowie from his performance, and contains two DVDs of the performance.  Since it spans about 30 years of Bowie’s career, it is good enough for someone who was interested in owning only one Bowie live album.  

All that said, the collection could have been better still in a few ways.  Some of Bowie’s earlier live albums include songs that Bowie never included on a studio album.  In that respect, they included something “new.”  That’s not the case here.  Also, though the concert was performed in 2000, it includes no songs from Bowie’s most recent album, “…hours.”  And for that matter, there’s nothing from “Black Tie White Noise,” “The Buddha of Suburbia” or (it almost goes without saying), Tin Machine.  In fact, while the span between the oldest song in this collection is 27 years (“The Man Who Sold the World” from 1970) and the most recent (“Little Wonder” from 1997), Bowie ignored an entire decade of his output between the 1986 song, “Absolute Beginners”  (which is included) up to “Hallo Spaceboy” (1995).  I suppose I agree with what seems to be a widely held consensus that Bowie’s very best songs mostly came out of the 1970s, but I genuinely like the broad swath of his music.  I enjoyed the mix of songs from different eras when I actually attended Bowie concerts.  Unlike most Bowie live albums, this one comes from around the time I was attending his concerts, so there is a potential for an album like this to evoke an association with a personal experience.  My memory might be wrong, but it seemed to me that Bowie performed a higher percentage of his “new stuff” at the concerts I attended.  

There is another way Bowie’s performance of many of his familiar songs differ from their studio versions — by 2000, his voice had changed.  Actually, Bowie’s voice evolved throughout his career.  This is noticeable even in albums that are only a few years apart.  I suspect that Bowie understood this and is part of the reason for his stylistic shifts.  Bowie’s performance of “Starman” on this album sounds like he was trying to imitate his younger voice.  The result is worthy— I like the inclusion of the song on this collection— but Bowie 2000 does not sound like Bowie 1972. 

Bowie’s voice would become deeper and his ability to instantly switch pitch would diminish.  Also, during the glam period, he had little tricks to sound effeminate— he’d add lilts, sequels, sighs, gasps and warbles that would somehow all sound suggestive.  He would largely abandon these techniques by about the mid-1970s, even for songs like, “Boys Keep Swinging,” that seem to be about gender roles.  

Think about the studio recording of, “Starman.”  Bowie sings, “there’s a STAR-man, waiting in the sky.  He’d LIKE to come and meet us…” By 2000, Bowie seems to have lost the ability to hit the same pronounced notes on “star” and “like.”  Later in the studio recording, he sings, “I have to phone someone, so I picked on you-ooh-ooh.”  His articulation of their word “have” is breathy and slightly drawn out— “haaaalf.”  The effect is subtle, but the breathlessness in the beginning, and the “you-ooh-ooh” at the end somehow sexualizes the line.  He even manages to add a couple of syllables to the word, “far,” as in “far out” through a subtle, Mark Bolan-like warble.  To my ears, there’s something coquettish about that— a combination of anticipation and uncertainty.  

Bowie couldn’t reproduce some of these effects with his older voice, which was deeper and had less range.  But he gave it a go on this version of “Starman”— almost sighing out they words, “waiting” and, “like.”  He exaggerates his “oh-oh-ohs” as “ow-ow-ows.” He squeals, “That ain’t no DJ” and “Switch on the TV,” all of which is what someone trying to sound like Bowie would do, rather than exactly how he originally recorded the song.

In contrast, he performed his newer songs with the same voice with which he originally recorded them.  In recent years, I have seen Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and other veterans live in concert.  I usually leave such concerts thinking that they pretty much sounded like recordings from 40 or 50 years earlier.  McCartney in particular takes great pains to recreate, not reinterpret the experience of hearing Beatles and Wings songs.  That wasn’t the case for Bowie concerts, which was both a plus and minus for actually attending the concerts, but at the end of the day is a positive when it comes to live albums.  Why invest time in listening to a live version of “Ziggy Stardust” from 2000? Because it isn’t the same as listening to the studio recording, or for that matter, a live version from 25 years before.

Since his death, there have been a proliferation of Bowie “live” albums.  In most cases, the “new” lived albums are similar to older ones from around the same time (for instance, “Cracked Actor” is comparable to “David Live,” and  “Nassau Coliseum ‘76” is similar to “Stage”).  “Glastonbury 2000” compares to “A Reality Tour,” which was recorded three years later.  For that latter album, Bowie’s voice sounds about the same but the diversity of songs is greater.  For that reason, I like “A Reality Tour” even better than “Glastonbury 2000,” but I have been listening to “Glastonbury” on an endless loop for many days now and suspect it will be a permanent part of my rotation. 

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