Friday, August 14, 2009

DVD of the Day: David Bowie VH1 Storytellers

Okay, so there really won't always be a DVD of the Day every single day. But today's DVD is the recently released "David Bowie VH1 Storytellers." The show on the DVD comes from 1999, so don't get too excited, fellow Bowie fans. Why it took 10 years for it to come out, I have no idea. But since it's been nearly 6 long years since Bowie's last studio album, 2003's wonderful "Reality," I will take pretty much any leftover Bowie product! And this show is really great, Bowie has always been one of the most charismatic rock stars, and to watch him work a small venue is awesome. The stories he tells are interesting and funny, and he does many different funny voices as he talks. And he looks terrific, rocking a hooded sweatshirt in that way that only David Bowie can. My theory is that clothes that would look ridiculous on anyone else just look great on David Bowie. I think he made some kind of deal with the fashion gods.

So, how about the music? Well, he starts with a beautiful version of "Life of Mars?" surely one of his greatest songs. Although he leaves out the first verse and starts with the second. Bowie's voice has aged really well, in fact, it may have been the best it's ever been on his last few tours. He can still hit all those high notes on "Mars." Wow! Bowie plays two songs from his then-latest release, "Hours," the singles "Thursday's Child" and "Seven." These were two of the best songs from that album, and they're well-performed here. Bowie throws a curveball into the mix when he performs his very first solo single, from 1965, "Can't Help Thinking About Me." It sounds very much like an early Who song, and this odd choice actually points the way to where Bowie would go next. His next project after "Hours" was the unreleased "Toy" album, which saw Bowie re-recording some of his songs from the 1960's, along with a couple of new pieces written in a similar style. Some of the finished tracks trickled out as B-sides when "Heathen" was released in 2002, but sadly the full album never saw the light of day. "China Girl" gets a nice, moody opening here before Bowie launches into the more familiar arrangement. And the show ends with two fairly obscure songs from the 70's, "Drive-In Saturday" and "Word on a Wing." Lyrically, "Drive-In Saturday" continues the theme of "Life of Mars?" of people escaping from reality through movies. "Saturday" takes place sometime in the future, with the narrator looking back and trying to "get it on like once before/when people stared in Jagger's eyes and scored/like the video films we saw." "Word on a Wing" is from the "Station to Station" album, and it is a cry for help from Bowie's darkest days, as he was in the throes of a crippling cocaine addiction. Despite this, "Station to Station" is one of his best albums. It's a beautiful song, and it's very much like a prayer.

On the DVD, we also get four bonus performances, although sadly, no more stories from David. There are two more songs from "Hours," the lovely "Survive" and "If I'm Dreaming My Life." (The four songs he performs on the show are definitely the four strongest from "Hours.") There's also a stripped-down version of Tin Machine's "I Can't Read," which offers proof that Tin Machine could create things of beauty. (Also see "Amazing.") And finally, a track from "Low," one of my very favorite Bowie albums, "Always Crashing in the Same Car." It's given a different flavor here, with Bowie's acoustic guitar carrying the song along. It's fantastic.

David Bowie's music has meant a great deal to me over the last 10 years, and he's one of my all-time favorite musicians. The two Bowie shows I've seen in person are two of the best shows I've ever seen, and they will remain forever locked in my memory banks. I really wish that he would record another new album, as his last two, "Heathen" and "Reality" are two of the finest he's ever made. But until that time, I'll have to make do with what's already out there, which is a significant chunk of the greatest rock music ever.


Holly A Hughes said...

Sounds like an excellent DVD -- I'll have to check it out. Bowie has fascinated me since the early 70s, though I've never quite crossed over into fandom (may have something to do with the fact that I never found any kindred Bowie fans). My favorite album of his may be (don't laugh) Young Americans, though recently I got hold of early London Boy album and it's a real revelation.

BTW I should note that the name and concept of this Storytellers series came from a stage show Ray Davies did. Always the pioneer, Ray!

Mark said...

It's too bad you've never crossed over into full-blown Bowie fandom, but it can be a lonley place. It took me quite a while to find some fellow Bowie fans. Young Americans isn't my favorite, but the title song and "Win" are two of his greatest songs. His early stuff is pretty interesting, his first album was quite odd, he was very into Anthony Newley! Bowie's first album also came out the same day as Sgt. Pepper. Talk about bad timing!

And yes, I did know that Ray Davies pioneered the Storytellers concept! Good work Ray! Which reminds me, I should listen to some Kinks...