beeb

Released for the first time on vinyl, Bowie at the Beeb, is a compilation featuring a comprehensive overview of David Bowie’s BBC radio appearances during his early years, and it has been long overdue. The great vinyl reissue company Rhino Records released it last Friday as a four-disc set. It was originally planned for release in 2000 when Virgin Records put out a CD version of it. It was never to be. I wrote about it after receiving a preview copy of the set for review in “Goldmine Magazine.” The renaissance of vinyl records was a few years away. Now, 16 years later, Rhino has amended what Virgin Records failed to deliver.

Below you will find my original review of the compilation where I explore the quality of music the Bowie-curated compilation featured. It includes references to some of the glitches that had to be corrected after release as well as a paragraph about a third CD featuring a 2000 BBC concert that came as bonus disc with the initial release, marketed as a limited edition held together by a slipcase cover. This concert is not part of the vinyl set, which would have probably added two more vinyl slabs to the already big four-disc box set. I have yet to hear the vinyl version of this set (it’s in the mail!), but I have faith in Rhino, which has long released excellent quality records. As for the music, it’s a brilliant retrospective of Bowie’s formative years, and I get into in detail in the original “Goldmine” review. Without further ado, here’s my archival piece as originally submitted to my editor at “Goldmine” (I’ve only made a few tiny tweeks):

DAVID BOWIE
Bowie at the Beeb (Limited Edition)
Virgin/BBC (7243 5 28958 2 3 / 7087 6 15778 2 2)

Providing one of the most comprehensive insights into the development of David Bowie in his early years, Bowie at the Beeb is probably one of the greatest retrospective collections on the legendary musician available.  The only retrospective that could possibly stand above it is the now out of print Sound + Vision box set, which heralded the beginning of the re-release of Bowie’s then out-of-print back catalog by Rykodisc, in 1989.  But that collection even lost momentum by the third disc, omitting many a rare track.  Bowie at the Beeb is all about the rare tracks—it’s David Bowie recording exclusively for the BBC, from his pre-“Space Oddity” era to his Ziggy Stardust years.

The recordings on Bowie at the Beeb are so dynamic, and so rich in importance as an indication of where Bowie was in development between albums, it would be hard to avoid commenting on every single track.  The retrospective Bowie At The Beeb 'Best of the BBC Sessions' 3CD_Posteropens with the never-before bootlegged sessions from 1968, a year which saw Bowie mostly immersed in Buddhism and mime—not in the recording studio.  Though recording since 1964, Bowie had not achieved any form of stardom yet and was in limbo after his fifth failed record contract.  Bowie himself had to provide the tapes for this one, as the BBC had lost the original masters.  Fans have reason to rejoice Bowie’s modest decision to release these tapes, as he has often been protective of officially releasing early recordings he felt were below par.  But these selections are some of the better songs Bowie wrote in an era often maligned for its easy-listening, sometimes cheesy quality.

A session from 1969, easily found on bootleg though never broadcast, follows, including one of Bowie’s greatest sixties songs, “Let Me Sleep Beside You.” A lengthy, though abridged, concert from 1970, hosted by John Peel, comes next.  It is in this session that Bowie publicly introduced Mick Ronson.  Ronson and Bowie are also presented in rare form as a duo, performing “The Supermen” and “Eight Line Poem,” in a 1971 session that kicks off disc two.

Bowie at the Beeb is a fantastic tribute to not only David Bowie but his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, whose presence can be felt as early as the last third of the first CD.   But it’s CD two that is pure Ziggy-glitter heaven, including covers of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and “Waiting for the Man,” among a variety of different BowieBowie by Brian Ward cuts.  Only two songs are repeated, “Hang On To Yourself” and “Ziggy Stardust,” but in distinctly different versions, as they are culled from different recording sessions.  Owing too a production error, the “Ziggy Stardust” track from the 1/18/72 session is duplicated in the 5/16/72 session.  An estimated 25,000 copies were shipped before the error was caught.  To make up for the missing track, Bowie, being the internet-friendly artist he is, has offered a free download for those who purchased the album prior to the error correction at http://www.musicmatch.com/get_music.  To get the track you need to download and install the MusicMatch Jukebox software (for free), then load any Bowie at the Beeb CD into your CD-ROM drive.  Once your CD is verified, you will be given the opportunity to download the correct version of the song.

If you’re wondering about the overall quality of the recordings, it’s safe to call them incredible, considering the shoddy bootleg versions already out there.  Though the sessions here omit some tracks, making the more comprehensive bootleg versions still valid, the superior sound quality and the expertly selected track selections by Bowie himself, make this a definitive, well-paced compilation.

cover_ltdedn

For a limited time, Bowie at the Beeb will be released in a sturdy slip cover with a bonus CD of Bowie’s intimate June 27, 2000 BBC Radio Theatre concert.  The energy of the show is undeniable, including such gems at “Ashes to Ashes,” “Cracked Actor,” and “Stay,” and even a few hits like “Fame” and “Let’s Dance.”  Bowie’s band, including veterans like pianist Mike Garson and guitarist Earl Slick, provide a stellar back-up.  Pick up this limited edition version of the compilation while you can: this bonus concert CD is an extraordinary performance, capturing a rare live moment, as Bowie has eschewed any traditional touring this year.  This third CD will be discontinued later this year, as Virgin will replace the 3 CD package with a double CD of the 1968-1972 sessions, which will also be made available as a four LP vinyl limited edition set including two bonus tracks not included on any of the CDs (Ed: until now! From davidbowie.com, those tracks are detailed as follows: “Oh! You Pretty Things” from the Sounds of the 70s Bob Harris session, broadcast in September 1971, which was previously exclusive to the Japanese release of the CD. This performance features Bowie and Ronson as a duo. Completely exclusive to this collection, and making its debut, is the once lost “The Supermen” from the Sounds of the 70s Andy Ferris session, broadcast in March 1970, and performed with The Hype).

Hans Morgenstern

Images from top to bottom: courtesy Rhino Records, the Virgin Records promo poster, Brian Ward shot from inside the original booklet, bonus CD cover art from www.teenagewildlife.com.

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili PepperA1 10-7-97Back in October of 1997, I wrote about what will go down in history as David Bowie’s longest ever live performance. I was following reports of the Earthling tour extensively via this once great but now dormant Bowie fansite Teenage Wildlife. I knew how his set list varied from show to show and what songs were on it. On what was the second of back-to-back nights at the Fort Lauderdale nightclub/live venue The Chili Pepper (now Revolution Live), he performed every different song he and his band had played on that tour. The show was one of two back-to-back shows that was added when the first show sold out in minutes. Below is an edited recap of what happened those two nights, based on a review that ran in “Jam Entertainment News” for the first night and a recap for the Teenage Wildlife site. The photos were all shot by a friend I made via Teenage Wildlife, who got me a ticket for that second night, Kelley Curtis.

*  *  *

Having last stopped into Florida in 1990 for his Greatest Hits tour, “Sound + Vision,” Bowie’s absence from Florida for seven years and two world tours was made up for with two intimate, spell-binding evenings at the 1,000-person capacity Chili Pepper in Fort Lauderdale. Though both shows were characterized with obscure cuts, a sprinkling of covers, a dash of hits, and a heap of selections from his new album, Earthling, they were both distinctively different experiences.

David Bowie Chili Pepper 10-7-97

The concerts started Oct. 7, a Tuesday. I got there at 1 in the afternoon, for the first show. There were only about five people there already in line, some of whom had been following Bowie around on tour. A few hours after bonding over similar likes in music beyond Bowie, we listened to sound check, where Bowie and his band performed six songs all the way through, a nice preview of what was to come at night.

It was just after 7  p.m. when the doors opened, and I was able to find an ideal spot to lean right against a barricade at the front, in front of bassist/vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey’s set up. After listening for over an hour of trendy danceDavid Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper3 10-7-97 music, the lights went low and Bowie sauntered out of the shadows with an acoustic guitar. He said hello and started playing “Quicksand” solo.

Though it was a dream come true to have Bowie alone, in front of you playing some deep cuts from his catalog. The show was a strong and tight example of why Bowie’s backing band for Earthling was one of his best, ever. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels and pianist Mike Garson, both veteran Bowie players with eerily angular playing talents, exemplified why they came from Bowie’s only two other true band projects. In the late eighties, Gabrels was an important part of the genesis of Bowie’s pioneering return to hard rock with Tin Machine, and Garson originally helped define Bowie’s glam rock sound with The Spiders From Mars, in the early seventies.

But the chemistry couldn’t have been complete without Bowie newcomers drummer Zachery Alford and Dorsey. In fact, the highlight of the performance came when Bowie took a back seat to meld with the band on the Laurie Anderson cover of “O Superman.” Gail Ann Doresy by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97Bowie took a back seat while Dorsey sung lead. Bowie backed her up on the chorus and shimmied and twisted along with her during a skittering drum and bass musical interlude. The huge horn refrain and fade-out toward the end of the piece was characterized by monstrous, fat notes on Dorsey’s keyboard. She gave a over-the-top smile as the foreboding notes just came rumbling out. During a second refrain Bowie strapped on a humongous baritone sax, and boom, the song droned on with a hypnotic vibrancy that I could have never imagined. It was a more up-beat version than Anderson’s, so I had expected it to be shorter than her original of 8-plus-minutes version, but it actually seemed longer and delightfully indulgent. I’ve always loved that song, and it was probably the highlight of the evening.

Other highlights with the band included “Waiting For The Man,” a Velvet Underground cover, which Bowie updated exceptionally well to what was then his new electronic/hard rock sound. A majority of his new Earthling material translated well live, as well, thanks to the presence of some pre-recorded backing tracks, something Bowie should have done on many previous tours.

David Bowie Reeves Gabrels by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97

Some fun color from the stage included Bowie showing off his sandals at the beginning of the show. During “Little Wonder,” Bowie put the giant eyeball balloon against his crotch and started bouncing it there while wearing a devilish smile. He tossed it out into the audience, and it lasted just a few seconds before it burst. Bowie covered his left eye and declared, “My eye! You animals!”

Bowie was a lot of fun on stage, posing to “Fashion” and just being a goof, never taking himself too serious but giving strong renditions of his songs. There was a cool mix in the crowd, from those who probably had seen him as Ziggy Stardust to those for whom Bowie was something new. Still, there was a rehearsed distance that night. Reeves Pick nameHe was still an arena performer gesturing to the audience rather than connecting with individuals. Although, during “Hallo Spaceboy,” he did wave “bye-bye, luv” to a drunk man who tried to take a swing at a security guard and was promptly dragged away. I did recall connecting with Gabrels for a second who looked at me bopping my head and sticking out my tongue and gave me a smile. At the end of the show I got one of his picks, which could be found on the floor as the audience cleared out.

But the real magic was yet to come.

The following Wednesday, I arrived later, at around 3:30 p.m. and still got a spot close to the door. But then the tour bus pulled up, close in eyesight to the few of us in line, unlike the previous day. Something was afoot, as if the Bowie and the band wanted the attention. About four of us walked over. David Bowie by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper2 10-7-97My friend who acted as photographer for the show handed me her record of Aladdin Sane, but she wanted to stay back and hold out spots and take some shots. We were only about four people, but, when the band started getting off, more fans started coming. I stood right in front of the bus with camera ready, and wouldn’t you know it? Bowie stepped off. People started crowding, and I stepped closer. He was signing everything. I held the record out, and someone passed it to Bowie, who signed while smiling and chatting with fans. People were trying to sum up what he meant to them in 10 words or less: (“You’re the man!” etc.) or making requests (“Do ‘Changes’ tonight” etc.). I just kept my mouth shut. I’ll save that when I get the interview, I thought.

He finally took the opportunity to slip away and everyone went running back in line to show off their prizes. We were like a bunch of silly kids, still trembling after the encounter. Later, from outside, we could once again hear the David Bowie by Kelley Curtis outside Chili Pepper 10-7-97band doing sound check, including a country and western version of “Scary Monsters.” When we were let in, I got the same spot as the night before. The show started 15 minutes early, and Bowie said hello and asked if we were in a hurry. “Do you want a short set or a long set?” he asked. You can imagine what the crowd said, and Bowie just laughed. He said, “Good, ’cause we feel like being here for a long time, so call your mothers and tell them you’ll be late.”

Selections that night included the mellow but intense Ziggy Stardust-era staple, “My Death.” There was also instrumental interludes featuring his new versions of “V-2 Schneider,” “Pallas Athena,” and “Is It Any Wonder?” a new piece derived from Bowie’s 1975 hit “Fame,” which featured an endearingly amateurish alto sax bit.

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper8 10-7-97

Bowie was certainly having the time of his life, being very chatty, telling his story about taking the infamous Jimmy Page riff for “The Supermen” and then reusing it for “Dead Man Walking.” He played both, the latter was an acoustic version. When he did the eyeball balloon during “Little Wonder” this time, he humped it so hard it almost knocked him back. Then, when he threw it out into the crowd it immediately burst on a light, overhead. “I’m such an animal!” he said, while the skittering, elastic drum and bass solo went on. Then he pulled out another eyeball balloon and threw it out. Still, it didn’t last much longer, bursting in a few seconds.

He introduced “Seven Years In Tibet” by saying, “This is ‘Seven Years In Tibet’ now a major motion picture called ‘Seven Years With Brad Pitt.'” He also made a joke of this spray he uses to soothe his throat David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper5 10-7-97during performances, hinting that it was some kind of pharmaceutical by The Chemical Brothers, which included some ingredient “with the initial E.” He sprayed it and laughed a bit mischievously then said something like, “Oh, what the hell,” and unscrewed the top off and drank it down– a sort of hint of what the audience was in store for as far as the effort from his voice.

Throughout the show he said things like, “The longest show we’ve played was two hours and forty minutes. We’re going to try and beat that record tonight.” He did three sets that night. He never played around with phony finales. Before the breaks he said, “This is only a bathroom break, we’ll be right back.” The show turned out to be three and a half hours long! He played 36 songs. It included every song Bowie had been performing on the current tour, minus one, which he probably only forgot to play because he did it at sound check (“I’m Deranged”).

This was a truly unprecedented event as far as Bowie concerts go. Toward the end of the show Bowie waved off someone backstage who seemed to be trying to hurry him off. He and the band just kept doing song after song after song. By the finale of “All The Young Dudes,” David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper10 10-7-97Bowie’s tongue was literally hanging out of his mouth while he smiled brightly. After the song, in a high-pitched, exhausted and grateful voice, he said, “Thank you.” With a gracious wave goodnight, Bowie admitted it was the longest performance he had given on tour so far, lasting way beyond his previous two-hour-and-40-minute record. “We went well over the three-hour mark,” he said and added, “We’re never going to do anything like this again.”

In these two evenings, Bowie proved himself a true anomaly among his rock ‘n’ roll peers, defining a new standard for popular rock artists over 50. While everyone else has turned their live performances into cabaret shows, Bowie continues to develop as a true artist. He did not rely on old hits to captivate the audience but did what he has always done best– perform and transform, and the fans loved him for it.

Here’s the full set list, provided by SetList FM:

Dead Man Walking (Acoustic)
Quicksand
I’m Waiting for the Man
Always Crashing in the Same Car
The Supermen
My Death
The Jean Genie
I’m Afraid of Americans
Strangers When We Meet
Fame
The Hearts Filthy Lesson
Seven Years in Tibet
Looking for Satellites
Under Pressure
Fashion
Hallo Spaceboy
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Little Wonder

Encore:
Panic in Detroit
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
The Last Thing You Should Do
V-2 Schneider
Battle for Britain (The Letter)
O Superman
White Light/White Heat
Moonage Daydream

Encore 2:
Queen Bitch
I Can’t Read
Telling Lies
Look Back in Anger
Fame (Is It Any Wonder version)
Pallas Athena
Stay
Outside
The Man Who Sold the World
All the Young Dudes

David Bowie by Kelley Curtis Chili Pepper 10-7-97

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2016 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

David Bowie - 1. Outside cover artIt has been 20 years since I first reviewed David Bowie’s 1. Outside, which first saw official release on Sept. 25, 1995 in the U.K. (I believe it came out the following day in the U.S.). I was pretty critical about the album upon its release, and I have since grown to appreciate it more. It’s still not a perfect album, but what was hard for me to swallow was the ornate quality of much of the music, compared to his previous, lesser known album the soundtrack for The BBC television mini-series The Buddha of Suburbia. Released in late 1993 and only the U.K., mostly hardcore Bowie fans heard this album, which neatly bridges Black Tie White Noise, which came out earlier that same year, and 1. Outside.

Buddha was a rapidly produced album (Bowie has said it took him six days to write and record) with the only musicians besides Bowie being multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay, pianist Mike Garson and, on one song each, Lenny Kravitz and a little known-UK group called 3D Echo. It recalled such high points as 1974’s Diamond Dogs, which saw Bowie playing most of the instruments, and 1976’s Station To Station, another quickly produced album. It also had instrumental pieces that sounded like the work he did with Brian Eno in Berlin for 1977’s Low and “Heroes.” The few songs on the album were quirky yet catchy, not unlike the songs off Low. Bowie actually reworked one of the Buddha songs, “Strangers When We Meet,” for 1. Outside, and it’s still a high point of the album.

The thing about Buddha that stands out from its bookends is how forward moving it feels without the self-consciousness of the other records. The influences of New Jack Swing in the Black TieThe Buddha of Suburbia cover art and industrial music for 1. Outside, not to mention this reach to bring back Eno for 1. Outside feel ham-fisted by comparison. To top it off, 1. Outside was driven by an ultra-high concept. It was supposed to be the first album of a trilogy that Bowie never completed (hence the “1.”). It also was meant as a testament to the turn of the millennium that looked back to the turn of the 20th century. When I wrote the review for 1. Outside, I happened to have been working on an independent study in college focused on late 1910s Italian Futurism, and some references in the album made an allusion to the art movement, which seemed perfect to kick off my review.

All these years later, I think it’s a better album than I originally gave it credit for. Many of the songs are counter-intuitively constructed, defying pop music conventions. They needed many repeat listens to grow accustomed to. In those days, music critics were more often than not given cassettes to review albums. I still have my copy. It was not easy to go back and forth and give particular tracks or moments closer listens with a tape, as opposed to the mp3s we get now.

FullSizeRender (7)

These songs are complex and the album is one of Bowie’s most conceptual works in a long time. These tracks were also created organically during jam sessions among the musicians. There was also much hype about Bowie’s reunionbowie eno promo cd with Eno, who worked with Bowie and the band in the studio, even co-writing some of the songs, like he did on those important albums Bowie released in the late ’70s. Just a few years prior to 1. Outside‘s release those albums had been reissued by Rykodisc, and the hype, as always, was that Bowie collaborated with Eno on them. Eno’s name was as big as Bowie’s on the promo material (note the cover art of the promo-only CD sampler for their reissue above).

There are many factors that cloud our perceptions as critics. We try to absorb the art in a personal vacuum, but history, personal experience, maturity and more often slip through the filter. The fact is, I was still a college undergrad when I wrote the review below, and I feel I short-changed some credit to the genius of Bowie at the time. Though much older than when he broke barriers in the ’70s, from Ziggy Stardust to the Eno trilogy, he continued to plow new creative ground in the 1990s, and it was a challenge to absorb such an experimental and progressive album as 1. Outside after Black Tie White Noise and Buddha of Suburbia, not to mention the end of the straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll side project Tin Machine.

Below you will find my original thoughts on the album. With hindsight, I would raise the rating by a whole additional star, as I have grown to appreciate the album much more since its release.

DAVID BOWIE – OUTSIDE
Virgin: * * * (out of 5)
by HANS MORGENSTERN

Filippo Marinetti wrote the first Futurist manifesto in 1909, telling us to never look back. He preached the importance of war as a cleanser and called for the destruction of all libraries and museums. Through this campaign the futurists would allow for the creation of art in its purest form, uninhibited and uninspired by the past, an immaculate representation of the current spirit of the times.

Outside, David Bowie’s first concept album since 1974’s Diamond Dogs, explores art gone to the extreme in the not-so-distant future. It’s December 31, 1999, and self-mutilating performance art, like Chris Burden’s nude crucifixion on the top of a Volkswagen van, has become passe. In a twisted move to take shocking performance art to another level, someone has decided to dismember a 14-year-old girl and “creatively” put her body parts back together, leaving “the work” at The Museum of Modern Parts.

Outside‘s story is hard to decipher as it is the first part in a trilogy that will make up the complete diaries of Nathan Adler by 1999. All the listener really gets is the murder of Baby Grace Blue under investigation by the art-crime detective/professor Nathan Adler and a list of suspects that could include a “tyrannical” futurist suffering a mid-life crisis and the man who fell back to earth, Major Tom.

As far as the musical pacing goes, the album takes awhile to get to any outstanding tracks. The first real interesting song, both lyrically and musically, is the sixth track, “Hallo Spaceboy,” sprinkled with subtle references to Major Tom, Bowie’s subject in 1969’s “Space Oddity” and 1980’s “Ashes to Ashes.” The music, co-written by Brian Eno, deftly connotes a rocket tearing through the Earth’s atmosphere as if Major Tom might actually be plunging back to Earth. The stomping booms of Sterling Campbell’s drum kit seem to echo off electronic walls of murmuring voices from ground control as Reeves Gabrels’ angular guitar riffing melts into saxophone-like honks.

Throughout Outside the production by Bowie and Eno has a futuristic metallic shine. The opening track, “Leon Takes Us Outside,” starts with a bunch of murmurs lost in an ambient wash of noise and then bursts into “Outside,” a cut that features each instrument gleaming with its own sound. The scarcity of reverb makes each string on Bowie’s acoustic guitar ring with its own separate note.

Besides slick production, Bowie and Eno, muffle the instruments on some tracks to get a dirty, industrial sound that seems influenced by Nine Inch Nail’s Downward Spiral. “The Hearts Filthy Lesson” buzzes with NIN influences, but with Bowie’s voice mixed so high above the murmuring instruments, the song makes for a weak industrial experience.

The music is at its best when its subtle and angular, coming at you with strange constructions that make for surprising listens. It makes perfect sense that Gabrels and pianist Mike Garson slip into a ska-like jam toward the end of the pounding “Hallo Spaceboy.”

Bowie and Eno worked together in the late ’70s, one of Bowie’s most prolific periods spawning the albums Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. They threw a lot of pop conventions out the window and created an avant-garde pop styling. They use this styling in Outside to reflect Bowie’s theme of art struggling to be creative. Bowie echoes the feelings toward 1920’s modernism, the parent of futurism, in lines like “There is no hell” and “We’re swimming in a sea of sham” in “The Motel.”

david bowie press kit Outisde

With Outside, Bowie sometimes falls through the trap doors of creating something new for the sake of creating something new, leaving the listener wondering if this album isn’t all a sham. One has to sit through about half an album’s worth of failed attempts at creativity that sound either like rip-offs or dull failures to get to anything ground-breaking. Overall, songs like “We Prick You” and “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town” are worth the tedium.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

RHP promo stillFull disclosure: Mark Kozelek blew off a scheduled interview to my face the night after this concert. Still, I don’t take my taste for his music personally. I kinda knew he could be rude after this show in St. Petersburg, Florida. At one point he shared his hotel room details on stage because he’s “on the prowl now.” At another point he told a fan, “I’ll fuckin’ choke you with this Flying V.” Despite all that, this show at the State Theater, on Nov. 21, 1997 is one of my fondest remembered live shows. His Name is Alive opened it, and I met with them at sound check (they were way friendlier). I’ll never forget the long row of varied guitars lined up backstage for Red House Painters. There must have been 40 to 50 of them, including that Gibson Flying V. Reportedly, all had their own tuning for various songs, depending on what Kozelek would feel like playing that night.

My interview with His Name Is Alive was for “Goldmine,” which they got a kick out of:  an obscure alt-rock band — whose biggest hit played on MTV’s weekly alternative late-night show “120 Minutes” — profiled in a stodgy record collector’s magazine. The Red House Painters interview would have been for “JAM Entertainment News,” a statewide Florida ‘zine. It could be Kozelek wasn’t impressed with the opening act going into the national publication, or he just didn’t feel like talking about his music (he denied we had the appointment, even though his PR company would express their frustration to me about him, as if he had done this before). Who knows? I don’t care much about it at this point. This has become my fun Kozelek anecdote from back in the day.

What matters is that his music still holds up, and I was really pleased to see 4AD recently reissue its entire RHP catalog on vinyl (I picked it all up). Most recently, I was digging through some of my old cassettes and found a decent quality audience recording of RHP’s performance from the night before I was supposed to sit down and talk to Kozelek in Orlando. This was the first of two dates in a Central Florida tour in support of Songs For a Blue Guitar.

ZZZ005853-PP

One of the things that make the Red House Painters live so interesting is how they reinterpret their original recordings. Live, the songs often change a lot, and often for the better. Take this night’s version of “Grace Cathedral Park.” Kozelek’s voice is sadder than on the record. He sings each line with a yearning, which is more powerful than the wistful reserve on the record. Even the guitar line has changed. On the record, it’s a dreamy, strummed affair, but live, it’s a rambling, hypnotic hook in a minor key. “Evil,” despite Kozelek double-timing the vocals, is as intense as ever because of the song’s crawling tempo and dynamics. A change halfway through, where Kozelek groans out wordless vocals that crescendo from a mutter to a siren’s howl, is remarkable in its stripped down, hypnotic drone rock mastery.

Despite a terrific version of “Evil,” the highlight of the night wasn’t familiar songs, but a brand new track he didn’t even name. He only introduced it by saying, “We’re gonna play a couple of new songs.” Then he played some dreamy chords, awash in a watery effect. In my notes I called it, “You Are My Everything” based on the refrain before the song took a turn during an explosive jam before clamoring into a lower gear and settling back to its beautiful, familiar chords. The part returned with an extra bit of guitar solo on top for a brief moment. I wanted it to go on longer. It was heartrendingly gorgeous. It would later be re-worked (in my opinion, to its detriment) into “Michigan,” on the band’s follow-up album, Old Ramon. It’s so amazing that I have isolated it as an mp3 for download:

Download “Michigan” (live in St. Pete) here

But, if you want hear (most) of the show as it unfolded, you can stream it below in two parts that I’ve uploaded to YouTube. It was recorded with a handheld cassette recorder on a 100 minute Maxell XLII-S cassette. The tape was not long enough to capture the entire show. “Lord, Kill the Pain” was cut short on Side A and “I Feel the Rain Fall” was cut short on Side B. I faded out both before the harsh cuts. By the end of Side B, the band hadn’t even gotten to their encore. As for the sound quality, it’s an audience recording, so there’s not much dynamics. I messed with the amplification a bit in Audicity, which helped. There’s also some tape hiss, but the audience stayed quiet for much of the show (there is some unfortunate restless muttering during the quieter parts of the new songs). In the end, it’s a good historic snapshot of where the band was between what would be their final two albums, Songs For a Blue Guitar and Old Ramon. They actually played three songs that would end up on Old Ramon, which only saw official release in 2001 via Sub Pop Records. Here’s the set list:

“Uncle Joe”
“Evil”
“Albuquerque” (Neil Young cover)
“Grace Cathedral Park”
“Lord, Kill the Pain” (cut)
“Michigan”
“Kavita”
“Medicine Bottle”
“River”
“I Feel the Rain Fall” (cut)

And now the show:

Hans Morgenstern

Images courtesy Island Records.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

heathen_reality_cvrs_v2_1000sq (1)

While we’re sharing old David Bowie reviews along with reissue news, it’s only been a few years since we mentioned that Bowie’s brilliant 2002 album Heathen was reissued on vinyl (David Bowie’s ‘Heathen’ album to see vinyl reissue). Well, now it seems that it’s coming back again, along with another version of Reality (2003), which was only reissued last year on vinyl, also via Music On Vinyl. According to Bowienet, this time the albums will arrive in more luxurious tri-fold sleeves. We may also have a change in audio quality. Friday Music, the boutique vinyl reissue company handling these reissues, boasts,  “mastered impeccably by Joe Reagoso (David Bowie/Jeff Beck/Deep Purple) for the first time on audiophile vinyl.” The Heathen vinyl will also be a translucent blue and the Reality disc will be clear.

The Bowie news page tantalizingly leaves us with “Stay tuned for more news regarding Friday Music releases.” Hopefully, that could mean even more desired early-period Bowie albums that were released on RCA and have been out of print on vinyl for much longer than these albums. There have been some cruel teases that never came to fruition (EMI/Capitol Vaults delays Bowie reissues… again) and random reissues in the past (Reissue of the year: Station to Station (plus exclusive edit for “Wild is the Wind” on mp3), but nothing career-spanning, so albums like the so-called Berlin trilogy would be welcome news.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in these two later-period works. Heathen stands as an alltime favorite Bowie album for this writer. So far, it’s the only one of these reissues that has a release date, slated for June 23 (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link). David Bowie - Heathen album artReality‘s release date remains TBA. Both albums mark a certain era for Bowie. The start of the 2000s for the rock icon hint at a creative artist very aware of being in his autumnal years. It’s a mix of self-referencing nostalgia and a new-found creativity. The two albums each featured two covers among the original Bowie compositions. “Cactus” by the Pixies and “I’ve Been Waiting For You” by Neil Young on Heathen and “Pablo Picasso” by Johnathan Richman and “Try Some, Buy Some” by George Harrison on Reality.

Heathen also did death and mortality way better than hours… (From the Archives: David Bowie’s hours…reissue on vinyl and my 1999 review). It went from self-centered to more aware of the subject’s relationship to time and place. There’s a wistful tribute to a vintage New York TV show called “The Uncle Floyd Show” (“Slip Away”) that also featured the stylophone, which Bowie made famous on “Space Oddity.” The album was capped off with the incredibly powerful “Heathen (the Rays),” which subtly referenced the fall of the Twin Towers. Then there are some of the songs that Bowie made of old ideas (“Afraid” and the outtake “Wood Jackson”) and self-covers, like the B-side “Conversation Piece.”

But the best part of Heathen were the all-new originals, featuring Bowie at his most original. There’s the creepy “I Would Be Your Slave,” with some unknowable wind instrument pulsing and whooshing below a melancholic string section and a skittish beat. Following it, Bowie references space and the Stardust Cowboy who inspired Ziggy Stardust with “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship.” There’s another skittering beat and a swooning string part, but it also features a squonking baritone sax and rubbery guitar licks.

I never reviewed the album, but I loved it, and it was great that Bowie found new energy, rebooting himself after the lackluster hours… with a never-released album of self-covers called Toy that preceded Heathen, which included some songs from the Toy sessions. I did review Reality. I was granted a preview CD of the album, about a month ahead of release. I can’t recall who I wrote it for. It may have been the “Miami New Times,” when they ran reviews in print. If not, it could have been the record collectors magazine, “Goldmine.”

David Bowie Reality album art

DAVID BOWIE

Reality

ISO/Columbia Records (CK 90576)

It has become the ultimate litmus test for David Bowie:  How good is any new release compared to his 1980 album Scary Monsters?  Anyone who has followed Bowie’s reviews will notice critics pulling out the Scary Monsters card, if not, even further back to the Eno trilogy of 1977-78: Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger.

But it’s been well over twenty years since the release of these albums, and Bowie has recorded some comparable works in the last decade alone, including 1993’s Buddha of Suburbia, 1995’s Outside, 1997’s Earthling and last year’s Heathen. Bowie’s music is certainly in a renaissance of sorts and Reality, released this past September, carries on that trend.

Producer Tony Visconti deserves some credit, proving to be a magical presence behind the boards for Bowie. He’s back for a second year straight, previously not having worked with Bowie since Scary Monsters and, prior to that, having produced Bowie’s acclaimed work with Eno in the seventies.

Reality moves dynamically from song to song. Bowie has written some of the catchiest tunes in ten years, like the album’s single “New Killer Star,” and truly propulsive numbers like “Looking For Water” and “Reality,” the latter sounding suspiciously similar to “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).”  Most of the tracks have odd quirks like the sputtering guitar intro of “New Killer Star,” which proves Bowie’s been listening to Radiohead and bands on the Thrill Jockey label.  There are also some plaintive moments like the creepy “The Loneliest Guy” and the jazzy “Bring Me the Disco King,” which highlights Mike Garson’s jittery piano work and seems to mimic the music of David Sylvian. With Reality, Bowie proves he’s much more than the sum of his work in the seventies and a vital source in the contemporary music scene.

*  *  *

I can’t say I disagree with this review, almost 12 years later, and I must say it reads like something I would have written for the “Miami New Times,” so it probably first appeared there. I’ll leave you with a live version of “New Killer Star.”

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

hours vinylThe news came last week via the official website of David Bowie: Bowie’s 1999 album hours… will finally see official release on vinyl by Music On Vinyl on June 15. There are two limited editions on colored vinyl. One is mint green, the other is mixed purple and blue. Both are limited to 2,500 copies. There is also a regular black vinyl version that is not limited. All vinyl is weighted 180g. The records also feature 12-page booklets.

None of the press I read has noted the audio source, though I have sent MOV an email asking what it might be. If you are a true audiophile, you want to know what generational loss you might be getting here. It’s a good sign that Bowie’s site announced the release, and not long ago, the same label reissued Heathen, which they said came from the same source as the original release (David Bowie’s ‘Heathen’ album to see vinyl reissue).

I reviewed this album around the time of its official release, in Oct. 4, 1999, in Vol. 25, No. 25, Issue 505 of “Goldmine Magazine.” Those familiar with the music writing on this blog know, Bowie is a favorite (check out the articles tagged here). Though I often write fondly of this musician, I could sense something amiss on this album. The album before, 1997’s Earthling, was so much more interesting, so when this album arrived it came as a disappointment. Below you will find the original draft of the my review for hours… before it was edited and published. I can’t find an archive featuring the original published review. I think I might have given it two-and-half stars out of five. All these years later, I don’t think my opinion has changed much, but I would not call it a terrible album, just a little weaker than what I expect from Bowie, so pardon my use of “balls” and “blemish,” as it’s still better than a lot of music in general:

DAVID BOWIE
Hours…
Virgin (7243 8 48157 0 7)

For David Bowie, the ‘90s were a strong bounce back from the hit and miss decade of the ‘80s. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect bounce back, and his final installment of the decade, Hours…, is just another blemish among some of the greatest music of Bowie’s career. With this new album the oomph of Earthling is gone, and the charming whimsy of The Buddha of Suburbia is nowhere to be found.

What made Bowie so great in the ‘90s was his lack of pretension. With his ‘90s albums, whenever Bowie thought too hard about his songs and music he screwed it up. In 1992, he gave us Tin Machine II out of an obligation to counter the press; cynicism that Tin Machine was just another Bowie experiment, and 1995’s Outside was constrained by its being a musical interpretation of a short story by Bowie. Hours… fails because of its empty-hearted message of “woe is me, I’m getting old,” which rings hollow. Bowie is too content and too rich nowadays (he’s worth millions after putting his catalog up on the stock exchange).

The only good material on hours… comes after plodding through the first few tedious, opening numbers, including the “Quicksand”-like “Seven” (note the 12-string strumming that drives the song) with nary the existential angst of the original (“I’ve got seven days to live my life or seven ways to die” versus “Should I kiss the viper’s fang/Or herald loud the death man/I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought/And I ain’t got the power anymore”?).

mov_hours_colour_x2_1000sq

It isn’t until we get to the center of the album that we find some redemption, even if the atonement is superficial.  “What’s Really Happening?” was a result of a contest by Bowie to challenge a fan to write lyrics for him.  Alex Grant won and deservedly so. His “Grown inside a plastic box/Micro thoughts and safety locks” is more Bowie than Bowie. “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell,” finally brings some balls to the forefront, though it still falls short of the calmest number on Earthling.  It’s not only Bowie who sounds diluted in his performance. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels has also lost some punch, and, as co-writer for every song, he is as much to blame for the weak music on hours… as Bowie.

Calling hours… a mellow album would just be excusing it for being bland. Once again, Bowie falls prey to his self-consciousness, unintentionally diluting the power of his creativity by making a contrived attempt at this coming of age album. Come on, David, any real Bowie fan knows your immortal. Just give us  Bowie.

Hans Morgenstern

All images provided by Music On Vinyl, click to zoom in.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

tall_joe_mooreI met the Dead Milkmen 21 years ago. They were the first band with MTV cred and international recognition I had the chance to interview. It was a job that came to me when a promo/advance cassette of their 1993 album Not Richard But Dick arrived to the offices of The Beacon, the student newspaper of Florida International University. It was an intimidating gig for a green music writer such as I, who mostly wrote CD reviews up until this opportunity. The Milkmen were a weirdo punk rock band with a sarcastic and sometimes cruel sense of humor made famous with songs like the “art fag” song “You’ll Dance To Anything” and the sinister “Let’s Get the Baby High.” To top it off, they hid behind fake names.

But what has really shown through over the band’s legacy years is the profound talent they harbor as musicians. Their sound cannot be pigeonholed as mere punk rock. They have an inventive songcraft that includes both catchy songs and a deconstructive knowledge of genre. Still, a wry, critical and sometimes subversive sense of humor shines through their lyrics. Pre-dating the guys behind “South Park,” the Milkmen’s lyrics spare no one, from conspiracy theorists (“Stuart”) to the devout (“I Dream of Jesus”) to hipsters (“You’ll Dance To Anything”).

I met the quartet of vocalist/keyboarist Rodney Linderman (fake name then Arr. Trad.), guitarist/vocalist Joe Genaro (a.k.a. Butterfly Fairweather), bassist Dave Schulthise (then 11070) and drummer Dean Sabatino (Dean Clean) during a break from sound check at the now long-gone Button South nightclub in Fort Lauderdale. They were as stand-offish as an alternative rock MTV band in the slacker years of the 1990s could be, but they were still funny and sociable. I warmed up to them quickly, and I had them all sign the back of my personal CD copy of Not Richard, But Dick. They left some interesting messages, too:

Dead Milkmen autographs. Photo by Hans Morgenstern

The resulting “Beacon” article was re-printed in 1994 by the Chicago ‘zine “Pure.” You can read the admittedly cheesy and amateurish article here: Vodka Keeps the Dead Milkmen SingingThe one Milkman I best got along with was Genaro, despite his creepy message that accompanied his autograph. After our chat, later that evening, he and I sat on some stools behind the pit to watch Possum Dixon* open the show. Genero and I spoke about a mutual appreciation for Stereolab and other then current up-and-coming artists.

Sometime last month, when the recent opportunity for a follow-up interview arose, Genero was the guy I felt most at ease doing a follow-up interview with, so I reached out to him when I heard he and his old mates were making a rare appearance in Miami at Grand Central on April 11. We ended up chatting over the phone for nearly an hour. He now admits to liking Radiohead, but not many truly current, contemporary alternative rock artists. He also graciously accepted my notion that the Milkmen’s sound is rooted in both The Velvet Underground and The Ramones. He also said that though The Dead Milkmen have often been considered a comedy band, it’s just how their music came out. They’ve never consciously been a comedy act.

Watch Genero front the band’s famed MTV hit “Punk Rock Girl:”

We eased into that serious talk about music, though. Our chat began silly enough with me asking the same stupid questions I first asked the band in 1993. It started the conversation with more than a few laughs. However, the interview turned really serious later. He explained the decision to break-up in 1994, the band’s relationship with the major label Hollywood Records, and most profoundly, the effect Schulthise’s suicide had on him and the band. You can read most of our Q&A in the music blog for The Miami New Times, Crossfade, by jumping through the blog’s logo below:

crossfade

A much shorter print piece ran in The Miami New Times yesterday. You can pick it up free at news stands for the next week, throughout Miami-Dade County. It can also be read here.

Most of the material resulting from this interview appears in that Crossfade link. However, as you might expect, there was still a lot left over. So here, at Indie Ethos, you can read about their post-reunion life with some stellar new material they have self-released that includes an album from 2011 (The King In Yellow) and several great 7-inches (see them here— one is already sold out). The new music reveals that the Dead Milkmen have remained incredibly true to its sound and humor, though they now have Dan Stevens on bass. Finally, they are nearly done with a new album. Here’s the end of our conversation:

Hans Morgenstern: So tell me about the new material.

Joe Genaro: We were just in the studio last weekend, and we’ll be in the studio this weekend to add to that, so we’re fleshing out… We started out recording a series of 7-inches, and I think the original idea is that we were gonna release everything on the 7-inches and then compile it on the album, but we changed our plans and decided, OK, we’re not going to release all of the songs on the 7-inches. We did four of them, good enough, and we recorded six more songs, and together, that will create an album, what we consider the next album, the 10th studio album.

Do you have a title for it?

No. We have lots of ideas for titles but no title. The working title that Rodney came up with was Servant Girl Annihilator.

Hmm. Interesting.

(Laughs). If that becomes the actual title, we shall see. There’s other titles we’ve been floating around, so who knows. It’s usually, oddly, the last thing that we do— is finalize the title and the artwork and such.

So how many songs is it gonna have?

17 or 18.

And you return to the studio for final mixes or what?

To do final mixes. I think recording is finished. We might polish some things. Sometimes when we’re mixing a song, oh, we can’t live with this little thing. We wished we had played this on a different thing, but otherwise I think we’re done.

What’s different about recording an album now as opposed to the early years of recording for you?

What’s a little bit different now is you take bits that you recorded in one measure and move them easily to another. Like, if you wanted an ending to all line up in the end you can shift. Before, in the tape days, you’d have to figure out how we’re all gonna have to see each other if we’re gonna have an ending where we all end at once. Now you can record it and have the engineer move it where it should be.

And you can sound like expert musicians.

Exactly (laughs), which we’re not.

dead_milkmen_2011_tea.widea

The years have passed since I seriously sat down and listened to your music, but I can’t say you’ve changed so much. What keeps your sound so fixed?

I think it’s three of us, our style, for one thing. No one plays guitar quite like me. They probably don’t want to. Dean is very unique in his approach, very good drummer, and obviously Rodney has a unique sound and has a voice that no one has matched ever. The danger is that we have a different bass player now, but Dan learned to play bass by listening to Dave. He’s a young’un. He came to our attention through being a fan of the Dead Milkmen back in the ’90s. Just after we’d broken up, he befriended me and Dean at the time. I recorded his first band. They’re still actually together. He had a band with two cousins called Farquar Muckenfuss, kind of like a surfy-punk instrumental band. And when my friend Chris [Seegal] put the band The Low Budgets together he also knew Dan. In fact, he and I met Dan together for the first time, in person, at a show. So the band The Low Budgets was the first that I created with Dan in. It just seemed natural that he sort of acquired a similar style to Dave, by learning to play bass like Dave. He has his own style, of course, but he was very good at mimicking. But now he’s becoming more comfortable with the new stuff and no longer trying to play like Dave would have played it.

How do you balance a set list with the new material and the songs people want to hear?

Good question. It’s a tough thing to do. Rodney is our set list master. We all have somewhat of a say. We all have rights to refusal. We don’t try to put too many new songs in. We learned from other people’s experiences that that can be the death of the energy of the show. People come to a show of a band like us expecting certain songs, and we want to make them happy. From personal experience, we’re happy when the crowd’s happy. So we hit the songs that we think people want to hear, and we sprinkle in the songs that we want to play, and things that they wouldn’t mind hearing, knowing that they probably never heard them before.

*  *  *

Hans Morgenstern

The Dead Milkmen play Miami with Sandratz and Humbert, Friday, April 11, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $18 via ticketfly.com. Call 305-377-2277, or visit grandcentralmiami.com. The group continues to Tampa after that, but that show is sold out. Then, they fly back home to Philadelphia, so it’s a mere two-day tour.

Notes:

*I was impressed by Possum Dixon, a band from California that Genaro remembered as fun to party with after the shows this opening act. They then had yet to reach underground college rock fame on the MTV late-night video show “120 Minutes.” Genaro suggested I write about them, too. I would eventually give their self-titled debut a glowing review in The Beacon, comparing them to Wall of Voodoo. Possum Dixon’s vocalist Robert Zabrecky would later send me a postcard saying “We love Wall of Voodoo!”

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)