David Bowie: The Academy, Manchester; live review

by John McCready / The Independent

25th July 1997

It starts and you’re thinking that everybody else who has spoken about his recent live performances must be either stupid or heartless, or both. Bowie appears alone and smiling, obviously genuinely touched by a rowdy, can-waving crowd. I’ve got my fingers in my ears waiting for chest-vibrating jungle tones to roll and instead we’re eased into a genuinely moving acoustic “Quicksand”. The sense of nostalgia is tangible – 2,000 people crushed together, each imagining themselves alone in teenage bedrooms at least 20 years ago, wondering whether to end it all or see if anyone is going down the youth club. It’s hard not to be overawed by this.

What can these critics who slated his half-ancient, half-modern London shows be talking about? A jungle revision of “The Man Who Sold the World” follows and works perfectly. “Jean Genie” almost electrocutes half the audience – they jump like the floor has been wired to the mains. The rest of his band are on now, behaving themselves, paying attention to the core of the song and not messing about in the way that musicians who can play too well often do.

After this, however, they start doing just that. A particular bollocking must go to guitarist Reeves Gabrels who spends his time making those kind of Eighties car-crash-feedback noises so beloved of older blokes who have listened to too much Robert Fripp. He refuses to even refer to the sublime funk of “Fame”, and forces you to re-run in your head the proper guitar parts of the closing stay as he approximates the properly arty sound of a transatlantic jet in trouble. The bulk of the set has you looking at your watch during lumps of perfunctory jungle punctuated by oblique paranoid telegrams. There is even a horrible banging techno version of “V2 Schnieder”, which seems to last at least a week, and a take on Laurie Anderson’s “Oh Superman”, which makes me feel like I am waiting for a bus.

Had I gone home after “Jean Genie”, I would have called you all liars and idiots. But you’re right. This is an old man who should know better copying young men who know nothing. Even so, you leave thinking, hey, that was David Bowie and he can be crap if he wants to.


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