What does it sound like?:
In the year 2000, David Bowie headlined Glastonbury and played 21 of his best known songs to a crowd of at least 250,000 people. So many entered the site without a ticket, the following year’s festival was cancelled because of safety fears and by 2002 they built a fence. Those that were there described the performance as bliss. No less an authority than Emily Eavis rates it as the finest Glastonbury set in the festival’s history. It is regarded as a triumphant return by an artist whose album sales had diminished during the nineties and hadn’t played a greatest hits package for well over a decade. This release consists of two CDs, a DVD of the entire performance, nicely wrapped up in a Jonathan Barnbrook cover and notes written by Caitlin Moran, who was at the concert.
The band oozes class. Mike Garson is, by some distance, the best Bowie pianist (Rick Wakeman’s contribution to Hunky Dory was as a session musician). Earl Slick vies with Mick Ronson for the number one axeman slot. Gail Ann Dorsey and Sterling Campbell are an excellent rhythm section, second only in the Bowie parthenon to George Murray and Dennis Davis. Holly Palmer and Emm Gryner provide backing vocals with Emm also contributing some keyboards. However, Mark Plati is the magic ingredient in this set, his gentle, flowing acoustic guitar lines adding a whimsical flavour to the mix, especially when it arm wrestles with Garson’s florid piano. The tone set in the instrumental introduction of Greensleeves, worming its way to Wild Is The Wind and ending with the transformation of the first couple of minutes of Let’s Dance into a trembling ballad. This is a band that likes to take its time and explore some of the byways of these crowd-pleasing songs so that the audience can admire the view from a different perspective.
The best way to experience the event is to watch the DVD. Bowie is resplendent in a Steve McQueen three quarter length frock coat with a design similar to the bipperty-bopperty Queen Bitch hat he wore the first time he played Glastonbury in 1971. With his long wavy hair, he does look as though he has walked off the cover of Hunky Dory almost thirty years later. He seems calm and assured, keeping the crowd enthralled with his poise. Listening to the CDs without the visuals, however, a touch of tension can be detected. Bowie’s voice is recovering from laryngitis and sounds dry and tight. The band’s fingers don’t flow so freely, at least not at first. Garson and Plati settle in immediately but Slick needs the familiar flaying of Stay, four songs in, to come alive and Bowie, himself takes a little longer. As the concert progresses, and one great song is followed by another, then another, and Bowie charms them with his nostalgic stories, the crowd audibly lift the whole band.
The TV audience fared poorly only witnessing snippets on the night, on Bowie’s insistence. He allowed the BBC to broadcast just half a dozen songs in total. There was little else going on during the live show and the TV audience were treated to Michael Eavis impersonating Elvis. The presenters foolishly read out a mouth-watering set list that viewers couldn’t actually see.
Two days later, the very same band played at The BBC Radio Theatre, capacity 2,500. A shortened set, down to fifteen songs with four curve balls thrown in, was broadcast and issued as part of Bowie At The Beeb later that year. It’s more relaxed and confident from the start, the band setting off brilliantly with Wild Is The Wind. Bowie’s voice has recovered more from his laryngitis and he sounds much better. It’s as though after the big gig, Glastonbury, they could all simply enjoy themselves. It’s a wonderful performance, probably Bowie’s best live recording.
Glastonbury 2000 was the springboard to a busy and productive early Noughties for David Bowie. It was a day that will live long in the memory and now it’s all nicely documented for posterity.
What does it all *mean*?
This is Bowie’s thirteenth officially released live album and the third this year, if you include Serious Moonlight in the Loving The Alien box. The fact the crowd was so large, the gig so legendary, there is a DVD to enjoy and Bowie At The BBC Theatre is no longer available, make it a possible unit-shifter. It will certainly sell more than Welcome To The Blackout.
Goes well with…
A DVD player and a large TV screen.
Might suit people who like…
It does beg the question, how many live albums does a Bowie fan need?