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Week 90 | At the Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99) (2021)

July 21, 2021

Part of the “Brilliant Live Adventures” series of live albums featuring recordings from the 1990s, “Kit Kat Klub” is yet another nice recording of a nice performance from the time.  I use the word, “nice,” because while there’s nothing wrong with the album, it is somewhat undistinguished, especially taken together with the other albums from the collection.

OK— I’ll amend what I just wrote: there are a couple of things wrong with “Kit Kat Klub,” starting with the fact that it is the second album in the collection that includes the song, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me.”  The song also appears on, “Something in the Air,” on which Bowie explains that the song is the first he recorded as David Bowie (back in the mid-1960s).  It’s not a bad song, but its more a curiosity than something that should appear on more than one live album.  “Kit Kat Club” doesn’t even come with the explanation of its historic significance.

Something else wrong with the album— its too short!  Most live albums have the disadvantage of featuring songs we’ve already heard.  Personally, I think most Bowie songs sound better in their original, studio-recorded forms.  In most (but not all) cases, Bowie performed his live songs with the same or very similar arrangements as the studio versions, so in most cases its hard for me to hear a live version of a Bowie song without thinking of it as inferior to the studio version.  Bowie’s better live albums compensate for this by including a lot of music.  In contrast, this album only has twelve songs.  They are performed well, so the experience of listening to the album is pleasant, but there should be more here.

I listened to this album a few times, put it aside, then started listening more to, “Something in the Air.”  “Something in the Air” is better.  This is not because Bowie’s performance is better, but because it is essentially the live album that corresponds with the album, “hours…”.  “hours…” is one of Bowie’s weaker albums, but much like another of his weaker albums, “Never Let Me Down,” its songs sound better live.  In this respect, these particular songs are different than most of Bowie’s better known works.  “Kit Kat Klub” includes some songs from “hours…”, but it ends up being a mishmash of songs from just about every phase of his career to that point.  In that respect, it lacks cohesion but is also too sparse to constitute a true retrospective.

The strength of the album is… it is David Bowie singing some of his songs.  The performances are all good.  Unless you were looking for more songs from his Glam period, there’s nothing about the listening experience here that disappoints.  

That said, its hard not to conclude that the parade of live albums is becoming a little exploitative of Bowie’s legacy.  While, again the album is nice, I question who it is for.  The answer, of course is that it is for those like myself who miss the lead up to a new Bowie album and the experience of listening to it over and over before deciding where it fits into the pantheon of albums that got us liking Bowie in the first place.  A casual fan would be happier with a different album, but the problem for those of us who have the other albums (or most of them, in any case), is that its hard to find something truly new from an artist who is no longer with us.  Bowie himself saw to it that, in his life, we would have access to what he actually wanted to make public.  There remained, and still remain a handful of never-released or genuinely rare songs that don’t appear elsewhere.  An example of what I would call genuinely rare is a collection of “Outside Out-takes” (from the “1.Outside” sessions”) which I have only encountered on YouTube.  That collection is significantly different from the actual album, “1.Outside,” yet to my knowledge has never been officially released in any format.  “Kit Kat Klub” and collections like it are not that— they are warm and they are familiar, but they are not new.  

One final note— I have commented before that the entire “Brilliant Live Adventures” project would have worked better as a collection of live recordings from different concerts without duplicate songs.  What we have instead is a series of recordings of particular concerts (with a previously released promotional collection, “Live and Will,” thrown in).  Bowie presumably performed hundreds if not thousands of concerts over his half-century career.  Presumably many more recordings exist, including many of great live performances.  But that doesn’t mean they should all be packaged up as albums and released.  I do hope for more Bowie albums (for instance, I’d be all over an album of B-sides, or songs performed by Bowie on other peoples’ albums).  But each release of live albums that are very similar to other live albums seems more ephemeral and harder to judge on its own that the last.  

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