The trips into the David Bowie archives have begun! Just out (June 29) is a double vinyl/CD/download set "Welcome to the Blackout (Live London '78)" recorded at Earl's Court. This was the same 19,000-capacity venue where Pink Floyd would hold its U.K. "The Wall" concerts a couple of years later.
David Bowie was on a world tour to promote his latest chameleon-like transformation into austere Berlin art-rocker after leaving the cocaine-fueled trappings of his "Young Americans" life in Los Angeles. Collaborating with Brian Eno, Bowie had rediscovered his muse in a pair of albums, "Low" and "Heroes," that favored electronic and asphalt-jungle punk rhythms rather than the smooth soulful sounds from the earlier releases, which had yielded major hits like "Fame" and "Golden Years," and turned Bowie into a true international star.
Bowie's live show mixed some of those hits with his new, more demanding music. The concert begins with "Warszawa," a six-minute instrumental piece which no one going to a Bowie show would have expected at the time. Nevertheless, the audience is responsive and sounds less impatient than what you would imagine. Bowie snaps into a rock and roll groove with "Heroes" next, which had already perked up FM radio stations by that point.
With a first set favoring new material only broken by "The Jean Genie" and "Fame," Bowie rewards the crowd at Earls Court with a six-song medley from his 1972 masterpiece "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust" to lead off set 2. He adds a bit of German cabaret with "The Alabama Song" before releasing guitarist Adrian Belew on a blistering 10-minute "Station to Station." Encores of "TVC-15," "Stay," and "Rebel Rebel" close out the show.
There was a live album culled from this tour back in 1978, the double "Stage" album produced by Tony Visconti. Taped at various shows in the spring, this album has much of the same setlist, recorded just a couple of months before the June 30 and July 1 Earls Court dates. Some material not on that original 2-record set is included and the performance on this, "Welcome to the Blackout" is more strident and enthused in front of the hometown crowd.
Can you believe that Bowie has been gone for 2 and a half years now? You have to wonder what lies in his musical vaults. But, will they be opened with an ear on quality, not quantity, or will there be a wholesale plundering of every take, every fragment of music no matter how inconsequential (like the open season on Jimi Hendrix's leftovers). Only time will tell, but this new double-album release is an auspicious start and an indication that the former approach may be favored.