by Alex Petridis / Guardian
10th September 2003
A superstar’s performance in an exclusive London venue is beamed via computer to 68 fan-packed cinemas in 22 countries. Thirty years ago, David Bowie would have used this scenario as the basis for a concept album examining the alienation of celebrity in a technological dystopia. Tonight, he is taking part. Quite rightly, it is heralded as an Innovative Event.
However, as Bowie’s concept album would no doubt have noted, technology is prone to failure. In Brighton, opener New Killer Star plays so quietly that it is drowned out by the munching of popcorn. The audience voice their disapproval, which briefly gives the Innovative Event the air of a Saturday morning children’s film club.
Once the sound is fixed, Bowie’s forthcoming album, Reality, is unveiled. It repeats the guitary format of 2002’s Heathen, with mixed results. Days of My Life twinkles prettily. The title track and the melancholy Fall Dog Bombs the Moon are fantastic. But not even an onstage wind machine can stop The Loneliest Guy, a ballad, sounding overcooked. Jonathan Richman’s evocation of adolescent snottiness, Pablo Picasso, sounds deeply odd sung by a man knocking on 60.
Meanwhile, fans’ text messages scroll across the bottom of the screen. This makes the Innovative Event look more like an ITV telethon than is perhaps intended. Some pose searching questions: “Did Heathen reflect Nietzsche’s theory of meaninglessness in the world?” Others do not: “I LUV YOU SNEEZY XXXXX”.
Next, there is a Europe-wide Q&A for the fans, which simultaneously recalls the Eurovision Song Contest and a particularly chaotic phone-in on 1980s kids show Saturday Superstore. Technical hitches abound. The questions are staggering. Josephine in Berlin wants to know what happened to a dog Bowie owned in the 1970s. Unsurprisingly, Bowie replies that the dog died. He wears a regretful expression. Whether he is regretting the passing of the hound or his decision to take part in the Q&A is unclear. His answers reveal less than his skintight trousers do.
An encore featuring a breathtaking version of 1979’s Fantastic Voyage restores equilibrium. Bowie exits looking pleased, with good reason. After all, most of his 1970s peers would be hard pushed to fill a sporty hatchback with fans eager to hear their new material, let alone 68 cinemas.