David Bowie: A Reality Tour (Sony DVD)
David Live (BMG CD)
David Bowie: Stage (BMG CD)
Apparently sensing a dearth of live David Bowie product in the marketplace, no fewer than three concert discs from the Thin White Duke have been pushed out for sale in the past few months. While Bowie freaks may be rejoicing, it's a decidedly mixed bag for the rest of us. Talk about misleading titles: David Live, from 1974, is a prime example of false advertising, because Bowie barely has a pulse for most of the set. Whether it was drugs, his shitty backup group or his disdain for the material, it's a horrible album that is easily dismissed. Even Bowie has disowned it, making its re-release more mysterious.
Stage, from 1977, is the real deal Holyfield, however. Recorded when Bowie was in the midst of his Berlin period, recording ambient and challenging material with Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, it's exactly what David Live isn't. Bowie is on top of his game here, backed by one of his all-time greatest bands. Guitarists Carlos Alomar and Adrian Belew help Bowie out as he revisits cuts from Diamond Dogs and Heroes, the pinnacles of his studio career. Recorded during rehearsals for a tour, the synth-heavy sound captures Bowie at his avant-garde best while still including crowd-pleasers like "Hang On To Yourself" and "Ziggy Stardust."
The live DVD, A Reality Tour, comes from Bowie's most recent farewell tour, and it's also amazing. Finally capitulating to his audience's demands - but not completely - he plays his greatest hits one last time for a live audience.
The standout cuts here are the newer ones, in which Bowie proves he still has ambition to burn after all of these years. "I'm Afraid of Americans," which sounded muddy in its studio incarnation, absolutely sparkles here, taking its rightful place alongside "Ashes To Ashes" and "Changes" in the Bowie hall of fame. Comparing the 2004 live version of "Be My Wife" with its 1977 counterpart, there's no appreciable drop in quality, which is quite a remarkable feat. If he sounds and looks bored on "Ziggy Stardust," the grand finale, maybe it's because he's spent 30 years trying to live up to that classic album.
You pay your money, you take your chances. Avoid David Live like the plague; otherwise, it's a toss-up between the others. If you need to see the Old and Thinner Gray Duke, buy the DVD. If you want the mysterious '70s Bowie, buy Stage. You really can't go wrong with either of those, because they show David Bowie to be a pop music legend and genius no matter which decade you choose.