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Week 87 | Area 2 Festival (2020)

I suppose it was inevitable: I have found a live album largely recorded from a concert I actually attended.  An oddity of Bowie’s postmortem career is that he has been releasing albums at a faster rate than he ever did in life.  Of course none of these albums are truly new, and many, like this one, are ironically “live” recordings of Bowie performing songs that exist elsewhere.  Inevitably these live albums are good, and each contains some songs that don’t appear on other live albums, but there are many that do and are not radically distinctive.  This is the case with, “Area 2 Festival”— there are no songs that don’t appear elsewhere.  Bowie was promoting the excellent album, “Heathen,” at the time, so this album features several songs from, ‘Heathen,” which is its true contribution.  What’s happening is that each of Bowie’s tours is getting its own album.  As of this writing, I think the only two that are missing are the 1990 Sounds and Vision tour and the 1995 tour promoting “1. Outside.”

There was a long time when the only two Bowie albums were, “David Live,” and “Stage,” both of which were double albums and neither of which contained duplicate songs.  That was the case from the release of, “Stage” in 1978 until the release of the soundtrack to, “Ziggy Stardust: there Motion Picture” in 1983.  The irony then was that the soundtrack was a live album from a concert that by then had happened a decade earlier.  The other live albums released during Bowie’s life included the badly named, “Oy Vey, Baby: Tin Machine Live,” in 1992 and “A Reality Tour” in 2010.  Somewhere along the line, “Santa Monica ‘72,” which had been a widely available bootleg, was released as an official live album, but I kind of got the sense that was more a nod to reality, that it was out there, because it covered similar ground as some of what was already out there.  Nonetheless, there was a pattern— Bowie spaced out his live albums, and tried to ensure that they covered different material.

Those days are gone, and that is both a plus and a minus.  The plus is that, without the possibility of genuinely new Bowie music, I’ll take what I can get.  In the specific case of “Area 2,” its good to have eight songs from “Heathen”— almost the entire album— on a live album.

The minus is that the live albums have become less distinguishable from one another.  While, “”5:15 The Angels Have Gone” and “Heathen (The Rays)” appear on no other live album at this point, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Life on Mars?” appear on many.  Well, that’s not the worst thing in the world.  For me, I’m going to acquire every new live album that comes out, but for a more casual fan it might be a bit confusing.

Anyway, I will have a special connection to this particular album because I was part of the audience for much of it. Actually, I showed up after the show started and missed the first few songs.  As the name implies, Bowie was performing as part of a festival.  He was supposed to start later, but the performer who was supposed to come before didn’t make the show, so Bowie started earlier and performed a longer set.  I always regretted missing the beginning of his performance, so this was a particularly welcomed album.

The liner notes reveal that the missing performer was Busta Rhymes, who had trouble crossing the border into Canada (the concert was recorded in Toronto).  According to the notes, “most attendees had come to see” Bowie.  That was certainly true for me— I had no interest in Busta Rhymes or the other performers— Moby, who organized the festival, the Avalanches and Carl Cox.  But I also was under the distinct impression that Bowie was kind of the odd man out from that group.  But that was then and those others do not appear on this album, which also contains a few “bonus tracks” from other live performances Bowie gave in 2002.

It’s worth noting that Bowie’s performance on this album is strong.  Though his arrangement of, “Let’s Dance,” and “Fame,” deviate a bit from their more familiar studio versions, most of the rest of the songs sound like what we were expecting to hear.  Interestingly, Bowie seems to have recovered some of his inflection points on early songs like, “Life on Mars?” even though he lost them on earlier liver versions.  So there’s not a whole lot of experimentation here, but neither are there any duds.

So, once again I am satisfied.  I will listen to this a few more times…but I already have another new live album and one more on the way. So, more to come!

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