Reptile (Nine Inch Nails).
Reptile (Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, first live performance, 1995).
Reptile (Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, live, 1995).
Hurt (Nine Inch Nails).
Hurt (Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, first live performance).
Hurt (Bowie and Nine Inch Nails, live, 1995).
Complete Bowie/NIN “transition” sequence (live, 1995).
And remember, with all original numbers the audiences are hearing numbers they’ve never heard before—so this makes for a varied stage act. It’s risky, because the kids aren’t familiar with the tunes, but I’m sure it makes their musical life more interesting.
David Bowie, Melody Maker, February 1966.
He didn’t want to tour again. Each of the last three times had been unhappy in its own way: Glass Spider had exhausted him; Sound + Vision had been soul-eroding; the Tin Machine “It’s My Life” tour had been soured by a bandmate’s addiction. But Virgin Records believed Bowie finally had something with Outside—pre-orders were starting to pile up and the reunion with Eno was getting press—and urged him to consider at least doing a short promotional tour.
So in May 1995 he began rehearsing for a provisional half-dozen shows. He retained the core Outside group of Reeves Gabrels, Carlos Alomar and Mike Garson and hired a new rhythm section. Sterling Campbell had the chance to join a band (unfortunately it was Soul Asylum), so he begged off and recommended his friend Zachary Alford, who had drummed for the B-52s and Bruce Springsteen. And Erdal Kizilcay, after having served as a bassist/Johnny do-it-all since the mid-Eighties, was unceremoniously cut loose, for good. Bowie’s new bassist was Gail Ann Dorsey, a busy session musician and occasional solo artist, who Bowie had first seen playing Bobby Womack’s “You’re Welcome, Stop on By” on The Tube.
Pleased with his band and intrigued to play his new Outside material, Bowie agreed to expand the tour: six weeks in America and another four months, off and on, in the UK and Europe. Bowie hired a keyboardist, Peter Schwartz, to serve as musical director. As Paul Trynka noted, this was a political move, getting Bowie off the hook, as he didn’t have to choose a “favorite son” among Garson, Alomar and Gabrels, all of whom had been directors in past tours.
I really want, for the rest of my working career, to put myself in a place where I’m doing something that’s keeping my creative juices going, and you can’t do that if you’re just trotting out cabaret-style big hits.
With “Sound + Vision” as the template for what he didn’t want to do, Bowie crafted a fairly radical set: over half of the songs were from a record that, for the first few weeks of the tour, hadn’t been released. (And were still fresh for Bowie: a reviewer noticed him cribbing lyrics from sheets of paper.) Bowie claimed his revived songs were “obscure even to my oldest fans,” a bit of an overstatement. But even those who knew the likes of “Andy Warhol” (its inclusion owed to Bowie’s recent portrayal of Warhol in Basquiat) may not have recognized them at first: e.g., the trip-hop reclamation of “Man Who Sold the World,” with its signature guitar riff erased. Many younger attendees thought Bowie was covering the late Kurt Cobain.
Some old songs were included for thematic or sonic ties to Outside: “Joe the Lion,““My Death” and “Nite Flights.” Bowie mainly harvested from his late Seventies works, an acknowledgement that the “Berlin” records had become the hippest Bowie albums of the Nineties and that he was bored with glam-era standards. “I compile cassettes of the obscurer stuff for the car. It would be wonderful to play live stuff I want to hear myself. Before I tended to pander to the audience,” he said.
So the “Outside” tour included a pair from Low (“What in the World,” “Breaking Glass”), a trio from Lodger (“Look Back in Anger,” “Boys Keep Swinging” and “DJ”) and, for an occasional closer, the live debut of “Teenage Wildlife.” A few concessions came later in the tour, when Bowie brought in “Under Pressure” as a duet with Dorsey. When he moved to the UK and Europe, he occasionally played “Moonage Daydream” as a closer and “Diamond Dogs” as a mid-set booster.1
Bowie’s gambit was choosing Nine Inch Nails as his opening act for the US leg. He had never done anything like this before: having a younger, hungrier band open for him. (“The most aggressive band ever to enter the Top Five,” Bowie crowed to the New York Daily News.) He risked being blown off the stage, being made to look old.2
But he needed to upgrade the brand again. His management team had commissioned a survey of teenagers in the summer of 1995 and found the kids had “a brutal disregard for history and legacies.” When asked what words came to mind when they heard “David Bowie,” responses included “gay” and “Let’s Dance.” As per David Buckley’s bio, the survey writers suggested a radical revision of the Bowie image, such as making “a new-blood hip hop and rave album of new workings of old songs.” (Another suggestion: collaborate with DeVante Swing).
By the summer of 1995, Nine Inch Nails had become the most popular “industrial” band in the US: The Downward Spiral and Pretty Hate Machine were both certified platinum, “Closer” was a constant on MTV and NIN had been touring almost non-stop for a year. Introduced to NIN’s music by Reeves Gabrels during the Tin Machine tours, Bowie also was flattered to read interviews with Trent Reznor in which Reznor had praised him, saying he’d listened to Low daily while making Downward Spiral. He was also taken by Reznor’s melodicism, finding that the man who howled “I wanna fuck you like an ANIMAL!” in arenas each night was a secret rock classicist. “Once you get past the sonic information, [his] actual writing abilities are very well grounded…every era of rock is actually in there, even though it’s in this guise of apocalyptic music,” Bowie said of Reznor. “There’s actually Beatles harmonies in there.”
I think [Reznor] is a keenly intelligent young man, very focused, and quite shy. I guess people said that about me as well.
Bowie, Hartford Courant, 1995.
Although he was exhausted from touring, Reznor agreed to support Bowie. He later said he was terrified of Bowie at first, that he would inwardly recoil when seeing him backstage, not wanting to talk to him. I felt I had to impress him. I had to impress his band. I couldn’t just let my hair down. (That said, this interview with MTV’s Kennedy, shot the night before the first concert, finds Bowie and Reznor being goofy and self-effacing, and seemingly comfortable with each other.)
Their lives had parallels: both had been suburban misfits and dreamers (although Reznor, who came from Mercer, Pennsylvania, had a far more isolated childhood, culturally), both had done time in the minor leagues. Bowie’s journeyman Sixties were similar to Reznor’s Eighties, where he bounced between bands, got bit parts in movies (he’s in the Michael J. Fox “rock” movie Light of Day), worked as a janitor/engineer at a Cleveland studio.
And Reznor in 1995 was where Bowie had been two decades earlier: famous, controversial, cracking up, hooked on cocaine. On the Outside tour, Bowie quietly served as a grounding point for Reznor; he offered, in his music and his performances (on and off stage), the potential of a future. His main vice now was chain-smoking Gitanes. He seemed comfortable in himself, but he wasn’t self-satisfied; he wanted a new audience, and was willing to work for them; he was confident enough, or unhinged enough, to risk embarrassing himself by howling about Ramona A. Stone on stage instead of playing “Changes” again. (Well, perhaps Bowie had become a bit stodgy: NIN’s dressing room was a haven for some of his band, who, according to Reznor, “didn’t want to sit around talking about fucking German art movies. They wanted to hang out.”)
Bowie and Reznor designed an interim sequence to bridge their sets. There would be no NIN encore. Instead Bowie, then his band, would join NIN on stage, then NIN would depart, leaving Reznor singing with Bowie’s band. The sequence also worked, thematically, as a lead-in to the Outside songs. The inter-set began with “Subterraneans” and “Scary Monsters,” the latter ret-conned into a song about Baby Grace. Then Bowie, in a duet with Reznor, sang NIN’s “Reptile.”3
[Adolescents] go through a grimly day-to-day existence. There doesn’t seem to be the bounce that I remember when I was the same age.
Bowie, ca. 1995.
The Downward Spiral, Reznor said, was a 14-track document of someone who was systematically purging himself of anything that tied him to humanity. The record is sequenced to build to “a certain degree of madness,” climaxing with “Big Man With a Gun,” whose lyric was later cited by the likes of Bob Dole and William Bennett as being so morally degenerate that Reznor’s record company should have dumped him for making it. (The furor was one reason Time Warner sold its shares in Interscope, Reznor’s label, in late 1995.)
Two tracks later was “Reptile,” where alienation has corroded even the idea of sex, the singer equating ejaculation with contamination, his girlfriend with a reptile, a whore, a succubus. She spreads herself wide open to let the insects in…seeds from a thousand others drip down from within. The singer turns the blade on himself in the second verse: he’s worthless, vile, a corrupter corrupted (“Reptile” can seem like Reznor’s sideways sequel to “Scary Monsters.”)
The NIN cut began with pizzicato string loops set against clanking mass production noises, its verses sung over a percussion battery that was punctuated by what sounded like piston/carriage returns. But Reznor countered this mechanical ominousness with glimpses of tonality, still moments of beauty: take the interlude (5:14) marked by a whole-tone rise on keyboard from D to A-flat, reminiscent of a Low Side B instrumental. This had been Reznor’s trait since he started Nine Inch Nails: he humanized the societal indictments of classic industrial music, leavened the industrial sound with, as Bowie pointed out, classic rock melodies and chords. As Alec Wilkinson wrote, “industrial music insisted that modern life had become a shipwreck. Reznor made the ruination specific to a single person.”
Playing “Reptile,” Bowie and Reznor traded off lines in the verses (Bowie, still in character from “Scary Monsters,” gave his best Mockney to lines like “leaves a trayyl of hunn-eey“) and harmonized in the chorus. Reznor kept the big dramatic vocal moments (“REPTILE!” or the howled “LOVELESS!”), while Bowie, when he wasn’t singing, swayed and kept upstage, as if being buffeted by the noise the two bands were churning out.
Bowie delighted in singing the type of lyric that would be cited by the PMRC in press releases as a sign of cultural decay and the “seedy artist” persona that he favored for the early Outside shows also suited the song. Bowie added a necessary theatricality to performances of “Reptile” that otherwise veered towards the bludgeoning—the melodic/industrial tension of the studio “Reptile” was often diminished live in favor of a thudding, corrosive power.
[“Hurt”] sounded like something I could have recorded in the 60s. There’s more heart and soul and pain in that song than any that’s come along in a long time.
That song came from a pretty private, personal place for me. So it seemed like, well, that’s my song…Here’s this thing I wrote in my bedroom in a moment of frailty and now Johnny Cash is singing it. It kind of freaked me out..It felt invasive. It was like my child. It was like I was building a home and someone else moved into it…[But] I haven’t listened to my version since then.
Trent Reznor, on Cash’s version of “Hurt.”
After “Hallo Spaceboy,” the NIN/Bowie sequence ended with a performance of “Hurt,” the closing track of Downward Spiral. Where “Reptile” was bluster and comic vileness, “Hurt” was a kid alone in his bedroom, staring at a wall, rubbing the barely-scabbed scar on his wrist, too numb to even hate himself. The song was a “valentine to the sufferer,” Reznor later said. There’s a defiance in Reznor’s singing on the studio track, moving from the steady whisper of the early verses (suggesting that if Reznor had taken up guitar instead of keyboard, he would’ve sounded like Elliot Smith) to the bravado of the chorus: the kid delights in still being able to hurt someone else.
In 2002, a dying Johnny Cash recorded “Hurt” for what would be his last album. Rick Rubin had given Cash a mix tape of potential covers, including the Cure’s “Lovesong” and Reznor’s “Hurt.” Cash was struck by the latter. He sang it “100 times before I went and recorded it, because I had to make it mine.” Cash’s “Hurt,” with the cold gravitas he gave to Reznor’s words, the way he seemed to inhabit the song’s plaintive melody, made Reznor’s original seem like an imitation. It was an old man sacking a young man’s lament, taking up residence in the ruins.
Cash’s “Hurt” rebuked the future that Bowie had offered Reznor in 1995. A dying old man tells a teenager that no, it really doesn’t get better, that your losses and your miseries only deepen with age, that life is, at its root, catastrophic. But it’s still terrible when you have to leave it behind. A teenager cutting himself in his bedroom at least still has his premises; death still has an air of romance. Cash, in “Hurt,” just has shot memories that aren’t worth the price of salt. Cash took “Hurt” to its serest limits, singing it as if Cormac McCarthy had written it for Blood Meridian. Take the power with which he sings Reznor’s chorus, the best lyric Reznor ever wrote, Cash’s steady roar paced by the repeated staccato piano note:
What have I become,
My sweetest friend.
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end.
Cash grew up Pentecostal and he never deserted Christianity, though at times it seemed that his relations with God were like Tolstoy’s (“two bears in the same den,” as Gorky said of the latter). Cash’s “Hurt” is a broken Calvinism: we are mostly damned, mortal life can never provide transcendence. If there’s another life, well, maybe there’s meaning there, but this one’s shot. Then, the last verse: Cash wonders if he could start again. He considers a resurrection somewhere else, he’s so emptied of his life that he’s finally entertaining hope.
Bowie, in his performances of “Hurt” with Reznor, stood at a remove from the Reznor’s original adolescent misery and the valetudinarian misery of Cash’s. As with “Reptile,” he slightly burlesqued the song, intoning the opening verse in the Dracula-is-risen voice he’d used for high camp moments like “Cat People.” In 1995, standing in the middle of life, his pains behind him, Bowie got a kick in trying on an adolescent’s garb again. He took “NIN’s nihilistic anthems and twisted them into perverse serenades,” wrote the critic Ken Bogle, who saw the Seattle gig. Compared to the Cash cover, Bowie’s performances of “Hurt” can seem flimsy, grandiose. But he’s also reassuring. In his chorus duets with Reznor, Bowie has authority, taking the higher harmony, with Reznor sounding like a kid singing along (flatly at times) to a record. In his odd way, Bowie’s an embodiment of hope here. The young and the old can become so dedicated to misery; Bowie makes middle age seem like a lark, the only time when we have the freedom not to be serious.
I’m playing to a hardcore Nails fan between the ages of 14 and 22…they can often be found body-surfing during my version of Jacques Brel’s “My Death.”
Reeves Gabrels described the audiences at the NIN/Bowie shows as a changing of the tribes. When NIN was playing, most of the Bowie fans were in the lobby; when Bowie was on, the NIN fans went to the lobby, or just left. So Bowie had keep up the momentum of the NIN sets or he’d soon face rows of empty seats. At times it didn’t work: only half the audience remained by the end of one Meadowlands show, and in Seattle “most of Bowie’s newer stuff left the crowd arm-crossingly bored,” Bogle wrote. Bowie tightened his performances, pushed his band. “We had to adjust emotionally to the fact that we were going to be challenged every night,” he said. “It did help me understand a certain aesthetic that was needed to do live performances in front of younger crowds.” Alford recalled to Marc Spitz that this tension is what “made it seem real for David…not knowing what the audience would do at the end of each song.”
The Outside tour generally got fair to poor reviews. Hearing the likes of “Voyeur of Utter Destruction” and “I’m Deranged” for the first time on stage, some reviewers found the new songs incoherent and unmemorable. The Philadelphia Inquirer: Charged with bringing life to his dim new works, Bowie looked like a stiff, robot-ish shell of his former self. This was…the sound of a lost soul, an artist so determined to position himself “ahead” of the culture that he’d neglected the basics. Like songwriting.” The New York Times: “His new songs are oddly made, as if designed to envelop the listener rather than to leave catchy memories…[Bowie] was trying to hold together songs that seemed to dissolve before they ended.”
When the tour moved to the UK in November 1995, with Morrissey now (briefly) the opening act, Bowie’s fight against nostalgia grew more pitched, as he lacked the potential young converts the NIN gigs had brought him.4 Christopher Sandford, attending one of the Wembley gigs, recalled seeing businessmen in hospitality suites, drinking wine and networking, while a raving Bowie performed below them. Fans came dressed as Ziggy Stardust and Halloween Jack and got “Small Plot of Land” instead. The UK papers were often harsh. The Times: an uphill slog…Bowie appeared from behind the drum kit singing and walking as if in his sleep. Or the amazing splenetic rant by Simon Williams in the NME: “El Bowza’s latest lurch away from reality is entitled Outside, which is kind of about ‘outsiders’ and involves all these strange neo-futuristic characters running around El Bowza’s head and it’s sort of a concept album blah blah bollocks blah blah ARSE!!!!!!!”
All that remains are the recordings of the shows. Here, removed from the din of expectations and resentments and bewilderments, is Bowie in fighting trim, backed by one of the finest stage bands of his career, remorselessly blasting through one of his most adventurous sets. It’s fair to say that posterity backed Bowie’s play: the Outside tour was a marvel, with Bowie at his most alive and shameless.
1: Consider the Outside tour the one Bowie never gave after Scary Monsters. The set lists were fluid throughout the US leg (14 September-31 October 1995). The “pre-release” shows in September often opened (after the NIN hand-off) with “Voyeur of Utter Destruction” and “Hearts Filthy Lesson.” Bowie front-loaded the Outside songs until, triggered by “Jump They Say,” he closed with a run of older pieces (often with “Nite Flights” or “Wildlife” as a set-ender). By mid-October, sets were starting with “Look Back in Anger” or “Architects Eyes.” Reeves Gabrels opened before NIN but eventually gave up after being worn out by the collected indifference of NIN fans.
The UK/Ireland shows (14 November-13 December 1995) had a more stable setlist. No longer having to slot uptempo songs first to keep momentum going from the NIN sets, Bowie was free to begin moodily, and he did: “The Motel” and “Small Plot of Land” were usual openers. This leg is where “DJ,” “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Daydream” were incorporated into sets. Bowie’s live staple “White Light/White Heat” turned up in some of the last European shows (17 January-20 February 1996) and would appear during the 1996 festival tour (see “Telling Lies”).
2: Sure, Duran Duran had opened for some dates of the Glass Spider tour in 1987, but they were past their peak. NIN opening for Bowie in 1995 was as if the Clash had opened for him in 1978.
3: This is how the sequence worked, at least in the early shows, but as seen in the “complete” clip above, the Bowie band and NIN were playing together on “Scary Monsters” at some point.
4: It’s telling that Bowie chose not to attend his induction to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in January 1996, instead playing a gig in Helsinki that night. (Madonna and David Byrne inducted him.)
Sources: Reznor & Cash quotes on “Hurt”: Anthony DeCurtis, In Other Words: Artists Talk About Life and Work; on Cash and “Hurt”: Graeme Thomson, The Resurrection of Johnny Cash: Hurt, Redemption and American Recordings; on “Reptile”: Mitchell Morris, “Musical Virtues”; on Reznor: Alec Wilkinson, “Music From the Machine,” New Yorker, 12 December 2012. Bowie quotes are from various interviews of the 1995-1996 period, mainly compiled by Pegg, Thompson, Buckley, Trynka and Spitz.
Top-bottom: shots from various Bowie/NIN shows, September-October 1995.
As for duets, I always failed to see any relevance from it in Bowie’s career.
i saw this show in boston and it was terrific…i loved the way they faded both bands in from one and another…heaven only knows why morrissey had a problem with this when the same idea was presented to him..it worked a treat.
One of his finest tours. I remember seeing it in a half filled Stockholm Globe Arena in January 1996, magnificent. We never got NiN in Stockholm though. He came back the next summer to play a festival in front of, like, 20,000 people, and then when the Reality tour came in 2003, he sold out the same half filled arena in about 15 minutes…
My favourite Bowie tour to watch and listen to, bar none. Granted, the ’97 tour had a very similar lineup, but I think having Alomar around helped both beef up the sound and rein in Gabrels’ pronounced tendency towards messy musical excess. It helps that I’m a NIN fan too.
Also, NO FUCKING BACKING TRACKS
Thats not entirely true. The Outside tour already featured lots of clicktracks, midi, sequencing and samplers. One of the reasons besides the political one for chosing Schwartz as his MD was the fact Schwartz is a midi expert. Lots of things were sampled for this tour from backing vocals, musical textures to drumsounds. I read a Dutch interview with Alford once saying that nearly everything was programmed and that Andy Warhol was one of the few songs with samples triggered live.
Here’s an interesting interview with Peter Schwartz on his MD duties during this tour. http://www.10yearsofbeingboring.com/people/remixers/schwartz (scroll down a bit to half page)
BTW Chris can you delete the DinnerCheque reply, thats my company’s account;-)
I was almost as much a NIN fan as I was a Bowie fan. I used to obsess over one band and then switch to the next one a couple of months later. NIN was one of those bands, but I discovered them only around 2002 and was delighted to find out that there had been such a collaboration (In Germany, this didn’t make any impact at all.).
I guess the collaboration made a LOT of sense for both Reznor and Bowie. But it did not make sense for the fans. NIN fans were the young and juvenile, the depressed and wanna-be depressed, and goths. Bowie, whose Outside was a novelty at that time, was a fading superstar, known primarily for commercial music with an exotic twist. These two fandoms didn’t fit together and I think the tour is regarded as a failure.
Today, Bowie is an elder statesman and Reznor is an Oscar winner. “Low” is Reznor’s favorite album and Bowie realized Reznor’s hidden qualities that make it clear why his career has lasted for decades now.
By the way, a NIN fan is a little hurt making “Hurt” more about Johnny Cash than about Reznor, or at least Bowie.
I seem to recall an industrial version of “Scary Monsters”, was it a duet with Reznor? I’m not sure, but it sounded very muscular, very good. The other versions are pretty much what you expect nowadays. Because TODAY, Bowie is an icon. His sonic adventures of the years 1976-1980 had a huge impact on the next generations, especially on Reznor. TODAY, the Berlin years have eclipsed the glam rock years (certainly in the minds of a younger generation) and that’s why we appreciate these songs now. If things had been a little different, we might have thought of these as desperate failures. And the press did think so back then.
“It’s fair to say that posterity backed Bowie’s play: the Outside tour was a marvel, with Bowie at his most alive and shameless.” — I couldn’t have said this better.
I have long felt that the entirety of the Leon/Outside/NIN Tour Era to be disregarded without reason. Perhaps it is because most people have their own opinion on what/who Bowie is and what he should be playing/doing. The Outside Era continues to bear interesting fruit when picked apart, in part because Bowie was following his muse to where he felt the ground to be most fertile, and 20 years down the line, it is only fair to admit—he was right. In truth, the Outside Era has become for me at least, one of the two most intriguing periods of Bowie’s entire career—the other being Berlin. I’m very glad to read you feel the same way.
Seconded. Having just sat through the ‘complete’ transition clip I can only say – it’s wonderful. Why did the critics have a problem at the time? Maybe critics, like generals, and fans, are always fighting the last war. At this time Glass Spider and Tin Machine had not been forgiven, so anything involving heavy rock and a concept was going to get a rough reception.
Much of the difficulty was that hardly anyone had heard Buddha of Suburbia, and no-one outside the Bowie camp had heard Leon, so there was no understanding of the process by which Bowie had reached this point. BTWN to Outside could look like someone casting wildly around for a new direction. Working with NIN could be taken as parasitic bandwagon jumping. So ears were closed.
Do you ever get tired of being so meticulous, definitive and passionate an exploration of such an unwieldy, misunderstood and intense subject?
Likely a great tour, though as mentioned by others, it was perhaps not the best merging of fan demographics. If only artists like Tricky were more sociable, Bowie could have played with an upcoming artist who didn’t risk making him look like he was amping up his midlife crisis from the “Oy Vey, Baby” days (possible titles for a 96 tour album: “Fucked-Up Steel Machine” or “Bring Me the Industrial King.”)
I think at the time a lot of NIN fans werent ready for Bowie and vice versa. I know that today many NIN fans (at least if you have to believe the various NIN boards) look back at that tour very fondly.
Anyone seen this? A recent interview with Reznor. He really is a huge Bowie fan: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2013/04/29/trent-reznor-on-success-artistic-integrity-and-david-bowie/ apperently he invited Bowie to guest at the NIN farewell shows in 2011. Sadly Bowie declined. But we did get NIN and Garson live:)
Oh nice, thanks for sharing. You know in ’96, I wasn’t a fan of NIN, but I’ve come to like Trent’s work a lot, particularly his arrangements and production. I especially admire the man he’s become. Quite far from the opportunistic sell-out that industrial scenesters painted him to be. He continually proves to be someone who follows his muse and respects his fans, fame and profit be damned.
I will say though that he seemed a bit reserved in his praise for The Next Day. I wonder if he wasn’t really feeling the new material, or maybe he just hadn’t had the time to give it a proper listen.
I guess Trent prefers the more experimental Bowie. Had it been a more sonic experiment I think he’d loved it… I understand his reaction I feel a bit the same.. Its great to have a new Bowie album and I like it, but I wouldve been much more excited had it been a more experimental one like Outside or Low
It’s true that Outside makes The Next Day sound downright conservative, to say nothing of his boldest experiments in the 70’s.
Still, it’s wonderful not only have Bowie back this year, but also to have the darker/loonier side of Bowie back. Ever since Hours, David had stuck with a simpler, more “earnest” approach (in that stereotypical singer-songwriter sense) to his work, a few appreciated exceptions aside. TND’s songs are fairly straightforward in construction, and in no way sonically experimental, but man is it good to hear this 66 year old David gleefully spitting venom again, using bizarre voices and effects, and finally tapping into his theatrical side after all these years.
I’ll probably always rank Outside a bit above this new one, but I’m still positively joyous that Bowie sounds hungry again.
Quick chime in to note that, at least in LA, the opening act was Prick, a project of longtime Cleveland artist Kevin McMahon and one of Reznor’s own local inspirations — he’s been doing music since the mid-seventies under the Lucky Pierre band name — who he ended up signing to Nothing Records. Given McMahon’s own clear Bowie fetish that made for an interesting addition to the bill in terms of echoing inspiration, almost as if McMahon himself was the real transitional figure between the two bands even though that wasn’t his role in the tour (and there’s no way it could have worked).
yes—i think Prick had replaced the weary solo Gabrels (poor Reeves had a solo LP out & his only promotion was to play songs to indifferent DB/NIN fans) as 1st opener by that point
Definitely agree with you; McMahon’s records betray the amalgamation of influence of Bowie’s glammier, tuneful pop side with a superficial layer of NIN-lite industrial sheen (the latter applying almost exclusively to the first Prick record).
I had the pleasure of seeing a reformed Lucky Pierre play in a small club several years ago, and they put on a wonderful show. It’s a shame that his music continues to receive so little recognition.
glad someone brought this up. really enjoyed prick’s performance, but in detroit they left the lights on for his whole show and only “animal” had gotten and local radio play that year. I still think “make believe” is a better outro then “hurt” to this day.
This is coming late, but just wanted to say that I’m a big fan of your music write-ups, Ned.
Is it inappropriate for me to complain about the AMG Bowie content though? I don’t even know if you write for allmusic anymore, but I think you or Dave Thompson could do a much better job on the Bowie albums than STE. Most of the reviews are disappointingly superficial, but some are downright ludicrous. Diamond Dogs deserves better!
Excellent post as always. Sounds like a very inspired performance to me! The merging of the sets was a great idea. I can’t say I enjoy NIN as much Bowie in general, but ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ is pretty solid and ‘The Downward Spiral’ is pretty good IMO (a 8/10 album for me). The only other release of theirs I own is the ‘Broken’ EP which I don’t really care for despite a standout moment or two. I my knowledge of their stuff sorta peters out after the mid ’90s actually.
Reptile is one of my fav NIN tracks so hearing it done in this way is very enjoyable! I think it is also worth noting that these were the first live performances of ‘Subterraneans!’ That is if I am not mistaken, either way I’m sure it was overdo at the time!
Saw this tour at Shoreline near SF. Watching the NIN fans walk away as Bowie’s set began was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever experienced at a live show. So glad that Bowie has finally, ahem, reclaimed the respect he is entitled to with the Next Day. And I’m happy the Outside era is being given a second look as well.
Looking forward to the Earthling posts coming up. That album was unfairly trashed for “trying too hard” as well. Can’t wait to read what the Hell “Battle For Britain” is about. My favorite track and I have no idea what was going on!
This tour would have been brilliant to see, but alas he didn’t come to Australia (not until 2004 it turned out). Bowie the brave – you just have to admire him for it.
This notion of Bowie not letting a hungrier band support him reminds me of an anecdote recalled in the liner notes of a collection of Comus’ work: Bowie had invited the band to open for him, but then quickly called it off when Comus got a better reception at the 1969 Free Festival than he did. So perhaps he became a bit less canny with age, but at least he came off during this time as a generous, open minded elder statesmen (the same could not be said of Morrissey, unfortunately).
David Bowie, the older man, having his song “taken” by the younger man, Kurt Cobain. Trent Reznor, the younger man, having his song “taken” by the older man, Johnny Cash. Wonder if they ever had a discussion about that between themselves.
Great point. I wonder too…
I remember at high school I had a very geeky presentation on Bowie in our music class & one of my schoolmates who was really into Nirvana at that point came up to me and was all…I had no idea The Man Who Sold… was not a Nirvana song!
I found it cute though, that she at least knew one of Bowie’s songs thanks to that cover.
Cash stealing songs by people his kids’ generation or younger is much more interesting though. You literally cannot get more badass as an artist. It’s easy to come up with something new or reinterpreting something old when you’re young but by the age Cash was when he started doing those, those who are still successful are in Elton mode, or a Macca mode, if they’re lucky. And heck, even Bowie who’s proven he still got it with TND is not exactly reinterpreting anything, not even himself, really. So yeah, do not think Cash is overrated.
For quite a while I’ve wanted to make a comment about the tension between rock and pop in Bowie’s career, which is also the tension between the US and the UK, or the distinction between touring with NIN and touring with Morrissey.
For me, David Bowie is a variety artist, as in the French word variété. Even when he’s using rock idioms, DB is a variety artist using rock. Rock is just one of a huge range of styles he can, as a variety artist, use, because variety is a showbiz genre in which anything goes. Whatever works. Whatever dazzles and amuses.
A variety artist has roots in Music Hall and Vaudeville. Beyond that, variety goes back to Commedia dell’Arte, with its cast of stock characters. It might also touch satirical cabaret, or poetry (Brecht, Brel). It embraces irony and camp and comedy. Variety songs tell stories, but also involve dance, interesting or absurd costumes, acting. By and large, variety is European, whereas rock is American. Variety prizes artificiality, whereas rock prizes authenticity.
Bowie may have got on better with Trent Reznor than Morrissey, but he’s far closer as an artist to Morrissey than to Reznor. Bowie can write The Laughing Gnome, Morrissey can write You’re The One For Me, Fatty, and it’s not much of a stretch to imagine them performing these songs a century ago on a London Music Hall stage with a ukelele. Reznor would be completely incapable of making music like that, because he’s a rock artist whose work is posited on “authenticity” and “pain” and “experience” and “nihilism” and so on. George Formby could sing about a Chinese laundryman’s eyes wobbling as he ironed ladies’ underwear, but, let’s face it, he absolutely wasn’t ever going to sing “I want to fuck you like an animal”.
I find the variety side of David Bowie very charming. I think it comes to the fore more on Earthling than it does on 1.Outside, and I think it comes to the fore more when DB is being British than when he’s being American, and Earthling is his response to two specifically British pop phenomena, one white, one black: Britpop and Drum’n’Bass, and, more generally, to the phenomenon of “Cool Britannia”, London’s 1990s return to its 1960s pre-eminence as a “swinging” city.
I just want to frame things this way as we swing into the Earthling era, and I think it’s worth keeping in mind (because we’re sure to get into debates about the “opportunism” of jumping on various bandwagons) the paradox that for a British variety-pop artist, you’re never more “real” or “true to yourself” (big philosophical scare quotes) than when you’re “the actor” and “the faker”.
Superbly expressed. I haven’t contributed to the comments on this excellent blog before, but I feel quite strongly about this element of Bowie’s work.
I’ve never felt comfortable with some of Bowie’s campier performances being dismissed as merely “cabaret” or “music hall”, with these terms being used to suggest something embarrassingly light-weight. Or at least, I’d value these strands in Bowie’s work because an artist should be able to use the textures of embarrassment, shame, shyness, awkwardness, which I guess is what you’re getting at with the Morrissey comparison. And those textures can be very rich indeed.
The Formby comparison is delightful, because his act (and maybe it is just an “act”) connects transgression with shyness and embarrassment — shy about being transgressive, or transgressive about making shyness the premise of his showmanship — in his songs he’s always blushing, knowing what to do, being generally found out as sexually or socially incapable, but he still always ends up waving his todger around in those series of not-sly innuendos involving little sticks of rock and little ukuleles in his hand, and so on. Showy shyness.
Interesting points being raised. Can’t agree more that Morrissey seems like a more intuitive fit for Bowie than Trent. As good as they sounded together, Trent whipping his hair and slamming around the stage just seems completely anathema to Bowie’s own stage presence–a more poised and and obviously theatrical type of menace.
But is this rocker-vs.-entertainer riff really a U.K./U.S. riff? It’s often perceived that way, but I don’t think it has to be. For instance, classic bands I think of in the “serious/authentic rock” vein are overwhelmingly UK bands: the Stones, the Animals, Black Sabbath, Cream, Led Zeppelin, (post Barrett) Floyd, Yes, Van Morrison. Even Hendrix had to go the England first to get some attention. Beyond your Jaggers and your Ronsons, you had Mick Jones and the UK punks who complained that US acts like the Dolls were too much like gimmicky entertainers to count as the pioneers of punk.
Plus, vaudeville and variety entertainment has its place in America musical history as well (not surprising, given our strong European roots). John Jacob Niles, Al Jolson, Cab Calloway, Sinatra & Sammy Davis, Barbra Streisand, Tiny Tim. As for rock ‘n’ roll, at its earliest it was just body music for parties, looked upon with disdain by the serious bebop musicians. The classic “rockism” that was forged in the 60s seems to be more of a transnational hybrid, catalyzed by drugs, Dylan, and Tolkien books.
Maybe rockism in the UK was just a phase that was finally shaken off in the 80s, with the rise of the New Romantics and pure unadulterated pop? Perhaps, but this also a time when US appreciation for pure entertainment was at a high. Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, etc. Oddly enough, Depeche Mode had to come to the States to get the love they’d been dreaming of!
It was really in the ’90s when this UK/US divide seemed strong, first with the Madchester and Britpop artists versus the Grunge and alternative rock bands, and then with the booming drum ‘n’bass/rave scenes with….more US alternative and grunge.
But of course it wasn’t so simple. The earliest grunge groups to get big (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden) fit the stereotype of authentic-centric rockers, but after a few years passed, latent entertainers like Scott Weiland and Perry Farrell started showing their true colors, with rapid shifts of sound and vision. Even Billy Corgan: while his angst remained, it was gilt with glam/goth gloss, with electronic textures and “art-rock” pretension. Like a more garish version of Radiohead. And soon after, the US embraced its own pop wave, starting with UK’s Spice Girls, but exploding with countless boy bands and solo gals. When Madonna did techno-pop (after Earthling was ignored), people ate it up. Perhaps it was more of a time delay than a real divide of identity?
Then again, I wasn’t in the UK then (nor am I now), so I can only speak on the US side of things. It seems that people in the UK did experience some kind of identity awakening int he 90s, and Bowie’s Union Jack coat on the cover of Earthling perhaps speaks to that zeitgeist.
Then again, the slamming industrial guitar fury is arguably stronger on Earthling than it is on Outside, so maybe it’s another case of a US-UK hybrid, this time with Snow White as an inspiration for instead of the Hobbit (at least for Little Wonder)…
Actually, I think I need to revise my comment. Although I agree that Bowie and Trent seemed somewhat ill-fitted, and that Bowie and Morrissey both take from vaudeville and variety, their own significant differences make for another strange pairing.
To his credit, Trent went along with Bowie’s idea for a “transition” bit, which was essentially a variety show move. Authentically angsty he may be, but rocker Trent appreciates spectacle and showmanship. It was Morrissey who balked at this “drama queen” idea. Chalk it up to his tendency of being a walking contradiction (part fact/part fiction), but Moz has always favored a more sober, no-nonsense approach to his admittedly schticky songs. The most visually daring he ever got with his look was rosary beads and gladiolas. And he doesn’t do concepts, really, he just expands upon the larger-than-life banality of his public persona. To me that seems a strange pick to support a tour for Bowie’s ultra-contemporary big budget conceptual nonlinear gothic drama hyper-cycle album. If they hadn’t had a falling out, and if Bowie actually decided to tour for The Next Day, now would be a more appropriate time to pair up. This new album’s “no frills” approach to art rock is perhaps the closest he could get to Morrissey’s aesthetic.
Despite both being from the UK, the two embrace their nationalities in very different ways. Moz has always tried to be quintessentially British, whereas Bowie likes to dwell in the nooks of various categories, flitting from one to the other depending on his mood.
So who would have been an appropriate supporting act for the Outside tour? I had first said Tricky or Portishead, but they are a bit dour—probably not the best material to open a show. I’d like to think that a tour with Bjork would have went over well. She was just starting to get a big buzz, fully embraced electronics and theatricality, and was also different enough to provide a nice contrast to David’s darker material. But, what’s done is done, and I agree with most here that the performances of this tour are far better than how they’re treated in the press’ collective memory.
This is what bothers me about the Outside tour – Reznor is undoubtedly living the nightmare, Bowie is just acting. Bowie is never going to convince playing anything in the punk / post-punk / goth / industrial axis.
I can’t for the life of me understand why he chose Morrissey as support for the UK leg. There’s no commonality with the Outside material at all.I think The Young Gods were still touring at the time; they were superb live and would have been a much better bet, Bowie on l’amourir or Eau Rouge would have been great!
I got to see NIN/Bowie in Toronto at the Skydome. Not my best DB live experience. We were in the nosebleed seats, miles from the action, and it was strange hearing the likes of Voyeur and I’m Deranged for the very first time in that context. Still, I appreciated how DB was pushing us, the audience; the whole Outside project (tour + album) was Bowie at his most puposefully alienating – this even extended to the packaging of the original CD, seemingly designed to make it difficult to remove the disc, as a friend pointed out. So, while the lack of enthusiasm in the audience was a bit of a bummer (I still remember the middle-aged parents sat near us with their kids in tow, utterly stone-faced through the whole thing, no doubt thinking “When’s he gonna do Modern Love!?”), a huge part of me enjoyed the palpable tension this created. It hit me, this must have been what it was like seeing him in the 70’s. Adding to the effect was the angry, menacing vibe carried over from the NIN set, with Bowie addressing the audience exactly once with a terse “thank you.” Plus, it was great hearing the likes of Teenage Wildlife and Joe The Lion live.
Kudos, Chris, for another fascinating piece. I must say I love how you branch off from Bowie proper to discuss things like Johnny Cash’s harrowing reading of Hurt: it’s what makes your work unique and fascinating to read (and re-read). Thanks again.
Thanks for linking to the transition video, Chris! I have quite a few bootleg DVDs from the Outside tour but been ages since I watched it. Will have to rewatch them again some time. For Bowie it was a pretty cool era.
I’m not very familiar with NIN’s songs. They do have a signature sound, so whenever I hear something industrial, I call it “it sounds like NIN, but I only know a few of their actual songs and really, it’s overall too aggressive for me. Trent seems like a cool guy though.
I put NIN in the same category as Pink Floyd. A LOT of the artists I listen to have been influenced by them but I personally can’t bring myself to listening to them.
Oh, and just for the record, latter day Johnny Cash rulez. The originals of some of the songs he covered just completely pale in comparison to his reinterpretations. To my ears at least. Hey, even Bowie’s mock Cash Scary Monsters was a pretty cool version (would have been even better if actual Cash sang it instead). 😉
This might seem a bit off-topic, but – I always had a feeling that Outside would benefit greatly from viral marketing on the internet. I don’t know, I can imagine its story being told thru a collection of webpages (Algeria’s shop, Nathan’s blog etc.) and videos. Maybe that is because I always saw Outside as a multimedia project that got cut and I kinda regret that. Mind you, I still think this is an above average album, but there is something about the world Bowie presents in Outside that fascinates me and I want to see more of that world. To connect this off-topic with the topic ( 🙂 ) – I recall that Trent Reznor did the thing I am trying to describe with the last NIN major label release, but I have no idea how much he succeeded.
Yeah Trent did that with Year Zero. That was an interesting campaign. You know the things you mention could still be done for an anniversary edition. I mean the additional material for it is even there… There’s 70 minutes of Leon outtakes which can be used as segues for the various mini websites… Sadly it will never happen because Outside is just too obscure and 90s Bowie isnt highly regarded… at least not by the general public
Thank you for yet again another great article. I’m actually more of a Reznor fan than a Bowie fan – but then I was young and angry in early to mid 90s!
But yes, I caught Bowie later on this tour in London with Morrissey supporting. I hadn’t heard Outside at that point, and in fact only really knew ‘the hits’ along with Low, Heroes and Black Tie White Noise.
It was of course hugely exciting to see such a legend in the flesh (I was actually very close to the front), but I don’t recall enjoying the show a great deal. The venue was cold and quiet and full of grown ups sitting down (Urgh!) and I didn’t really know that many of the songs.
Naturally I’d give my left leg to see it again now. Outside is a strange album but I’m sure gets better and better as the years go by. So good to hear others giving it its due.
Back to that night… I do recall being particularly jealous after seeing a couple of guys wandering around near the bar who were wearing ‘ninedavidinchbowienails’ t-shirts. Hmph. I wished I had one of them.
I made do instead with a bright yellow Southpaw Grammar t-shirt. Morrissey did blow me away that night and I’ve been a fan since then. He’s an awkward old sod I know, but I’m certain he loves Bowie as much as anyone.
I think the difficultly is the fans playing nicely with each other rather than the bands themselves.I can’t speak to a UK/US rock divide but the goth/industrial/alternative divide was a bit of a headache at that time. I saw NIN open for Peter Murphy and the fans were polarized. Even though my friends and I played Pretty Hate Machine to death we were on the goth end of the spectrum and wanted to swan arouund in our pretty clothes (male and female alike not be shoved around and moshed in the crowd. The fans who considered themselves industrial first were even more aggresive dancing and stagediving because they thought we were prissy ( they could have been right, but still…)
This tension followed live shows of all kinds for years people who didn’t want to get hurt in the crazy pits that weren’t organized the way slamdancing used to be with a clear demarcation between the ring and the rest of the crowd, and the participants who thought the pit was the only reason to see a show live.Later when I saw NIN in Webster Hall I could stand infront with all the other chancer girls during Marilyn Manson but had to flee for our lives when NIN came on to leave the front that was like a cartoon fight of a dustcloud with swear words fists and booted feet sticking out in all directions.I can imagine the US fans of Morresey would have watched both sets and not left Bowie. The NIN fans were so young in some cases and the fashion for industrial meant a steady diet of hard edged music that could obscure the fact that Bowie had been a progenitor of it before they were alive.
Grunge and “alternative” were bedfellows under duress. The fans were very different even when they enjoyed bands that were the same.the attitude and expectations for live shows were very different.Depeche Mode mopped up the market in the US because they were like a thrid way- not Rcok with a capitial “R” and not Rap.Alot of DM fans in my school were the kids who couldn’t identify with rock or rap because intersections of race and class made things difficult.
This was the period where Bowie really and truly finally steadied the ship. Cool bands and performers started once again rhapsodizing about Bowie in the press. Marylin Mason, then at the peak of his career wanted Bowie to produce his next album. I think it was also around this period that The Red Hot Chili Peppers asked him to produce them too. In 1996 Jean Paul Gautier, again at his peak, raved about Bowie on the MTV Awards – “He is a genius. He is my idol. He is David Bowie” (or something like that!)
this was the best concert i ever went to. it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, but the rendition of scary monsters was really the highlight of the show, even for casual bowie fans. This was were both bands went at it, the dual drummers were the highlight of course and that song more than anything off outside really matches the nin style.
In the detroit show the nin fans were generally younger and were chaperoned by their parents/bowie fans who more interested in hearing ziggy stardust than anything bowie was experimenting with at the time. That awful expectation was captured when between songs you could hear people screaming “play some fucking old shit” it made you feel bad for bowie, and it’s probably why we don’t get tours anymore.
It was surprising how bad nin/ja was in relationship to this. it was like trent didn’t really respect ja the way he did bowie.
If these two ever matched up again for a tour i’d be the first to buy tickets.
I have a friend who talked about how cool it’d be if DB showed up as a guest during some shows on the next NIN tour with the Adrian Belew-Eric Avery lineup. I can’t speak for anyone else but I sort of feel like that’d be the best thing ever.
Seems like Avery has bowed out of the NIN tour. Shame!
Perhaps Bowie’s next duet will be with Chris Hadfield?
“With deference to the genius of David Bowie, here’s Space Oddity, recorded on Station. A last glimpse of the World.”
Good post Momus, all true re ‘variety artist’.
On the other topics, as a charter db fan it seems to me that Morrissey is a talented son of db, but not the icon some would have. Very nearly a self-created rendition of the older artist.
As to the TReznor situation as I recall he was stumbling around the stage and doing some coy back-turning for the fans in the LA show. No doubt stirring for the Nin fans of the day but he did slip and nearly fall over at one point. Quite a lot of drama for what was a two-hit act at the time, with or without buzz.
It appeared at some point that this was a fiasco for db to walk into as the Nin fans left the hall, but in retrospect the overall angst seemed to propel the db unit to a tight and crisply driving show. Intramural conflict and fan rudeness produced a hard professional sound that eventually won the day. As is noted.
(Although sadly too in the duet number there was something of db’s seeming to tell TR, “this stadium singing thing, have a look, here’s how it’s successfully done..” with a lot of TR looking down, looking away, again striking the pose of the ‘authenticity’ he was living .. erk, drugs.)