Oldies But Goldies: My Big Time Pan Of David Bowie At Giants Stadium In 1987
David Bowie, Squeeze: Giants Stadium, E. Rutherford, NJ
Iman Lababedi, Creem, December 1987
“I DON’T LIKE SPIDERS & SNAKES…”
“THE PAST is another country,” J.B. Priestly once wrote. In the world of pop music, it’s a statement as true about the immediate past as it is about the far past. And it’s the kiss of death for a stylist like David Bowie, a man who has spent his career cheating passion in the name of style to achieve nothing more than celebrityhood.
The romance between Bowie and I broke up in 1983, with the release of his most commercially successful LP to date, the dire Let’s Dance — an album about pretending to be an AOR/CHR performer. By now, with his latest LP, Never Let Me Down, Bowie’s got the same pretense going, only he isn’t making money with it this time. Maybe he isn’t even pretending anymore. This great style synthesist — who was once as important to the evolution of pop as the Sex Pistols were in their own way — is currently out of style, out of fashion — out of order.
None of which means Bowie shouldn’t be able to perform a credible live show. After all, when all’s said and done, he has a tremendous back catalogue of songs. So how to describe him at Giants Stadium? Oh, I know that Bowie has always been a bit wooden on stage; I can live with that and, yes, the show was top heavy on the newer material — I can even admire him a bit for that. Of course, a chilly chameleon has problems warming up a stadium, but he always has had similar problems. He’s never had a consistent back-up band, and this year’s model features simpering guitarist/”star” Peter Frampton. The new theatrics were simply pathetic off-Broadway mime and dance, though it was fun watching Bowie getting gang-raped during the song ‘Fashion’.
Any single one of the above would have made his “Glass Spiders” concert tour less than perfect, but together, you’ve got a pretty lousy show. The — loosely speaking — storyline of this spectacle had a comic booklike Dark Knight setting with post-apocalypse orphans praying for a savior, and then killing the savior once they’ve got him. The savior is later resurrected. If this sounds like the most popular book ever written — well, all I can say is, the book is better.
Held together by some poor prose-poetry, what we’re really discussing here is a framework whereby Bowie can rethink (unthink?) the past several LPs, while destroying some superb songs from Scary Monsters. With Frampton on hand, Bowie apparently decided that pop-metal is back in style, and that songs like ‘Fashion’ or ‘Scary Monsters’ (the latter being perhaps my fave Bowie — how can anyone sing such a great lyric and still manage to look so bad?) needed some help. Why’s he doing this? I don’t understand. Why bother resurrecting your past if you’re going to dump all over it? And when he did resurrect it, he seemed to get it all wrong. Bowie trashed perfect pseudo-soul like ‘Young Americans’, perfect disco like ‘Fame’, perfect pop like ‘Rebel Rebel’. He treated these pearls with such a heavy hand that it came across as almost vaudeville. There was no sense of proportion. ‘Heroes’ has always been explicitly theatrical, but watching Bowie tied up in rope and kneeling at the end of the stage while being molested by some nubile girl totally rids the song of meaning. Watching Bowie felt like watching a bad movie.
And the worst part is, the band couldn’t save the theatrics while the theatrics couldn’t save the band. It was embarrassing. Where was Station To Station? Hunky Dory? Low? Back home, I played all three LPs in a row: had to convince myself I wasn’t wrong to have once loved David Bowie.
Squeeze, who opened, didn’t even have short-circuit video, and they connected better with the audience than Bowie did. The set was tighter than the set they performed at the Ritz in NYC last April. The new songs were sharper and better focused, and the attitude more diffident, less obtrusive and snotty. They were great. Squeeze may never be in style again, but they’ve got enough style not to abuse someone else’s audience.
And then there was Bowie, wearing a silver jumpsuit and singing ‘Young Americans’. It’s been an hour and a half and I haven’t enjoyed one minute. He’s passé. My God, he’s boring. Bowie should take some time off, five, 10 years. Quick. Cease and desist.