Las Vegas Review-Journal - 30th Jan 2004

Making Some Changes

David Bowie is no longer shying away from performing his classics on tour

By Doug Elfman

David Bowie didn't invent punk rock, glam rock, new wave and electronic music. But he might as well have, judging by his pre-MTV music videos, his stage theatrics, and his British masterwork songs: "Space Oddity," "Changes," "Ziggy Stardust," "Fame," "Golden Years," "Heroes," "Fashion," "Under Pressure" and "Let's Dance."

These weren't even smash hit songs, as Bowie well knows.

"I stay away from saying 'hits,' because I don't have many hits. I have two or three, maybe," Bowie says. "The irony is that things like 'Changes' or 'Heroes' weren't even Top 40 things. They just became very well-known songs."

And as singer-songwriter Jason Falkner figures Bowie's effect: "He mined so much uncharted territory, and made it so that you can't even really become a neighbor of any of those genres without being called Bowie-esque."

Unlike Santana and other stars of yesteryear, Bowie also continues to make new music that is different from the pack. So even though he is performing many of his more famous songs tonight at the Hard Rock Hotel, he also plans to sing songs from his latest album of moody, loungey eclecticism, "Reality."

Bowie and his band have learned 50 songs from which to choose to play each night. About six songs are rotated in and out of each concert set list. And each set list is broken into thirds: music from the past two or three years; obscure songs; and more well-known songs.

Elfman: I know in the past you've said you're not completely thrilled about doing a lot from the catalog.

Bowie: The idea at the beginning of the '90s was to stop doing the old songs, so I could give my new songs a chance. (Back then), I came out of a pretty dulled period, a period of indifference in a way. So it almost felt like I was having to give myself a kick-start somewhere. And it was probably a good thing. It might not have been fun for the audiences, but it was good for me. ... I don't feel inhibited by the old stuff, anymore. It doesn't feel like such a huge thing around my neck.

Elfman: Do you feel satisfied how your music is going to last into the future?

Bowie: Into the future. Ah, I don't really think too much that way. I'm OK today about it all. You know, I'm having a good time on this tour.

Elfman: To me, you and the Beatles are the artists of the 20th century.

Bowie: Good lord, you sound like an Englishman. [He laughs.] That's not the general American opinion, but thank you very much.

Elfman: Without you, there wouldn't have been a large infusion of things you did, like the music videos you made in the '70s -

Bowie: I don't know, I don't think I mean as much here as I do in Europe. Europe has a very different take on me than in the States. I'm still a quaint oddity in the States. The perception in Europe is somewhat different; it may be more like your viewpoint. I do see what's happened with music. ...I can hear odds and sods of what I laid down. And that's great, and I love it, and I kind of think that bands know what I contributed. I still get an awful lot of feedback from young bands, and that's pretty cool.

Elfman: Your influence seems to go through not just new wave and punk but electronica and a variety of different genres.

Bowie: I would take claim in a populist way for people to break down the different genres of music, that they can interrupt each other, that they can hybridize these things. You can use music, per se, as a palet and mix your own thing up. That really was something that I was very happy that came about.

Elfman: It always seemed to me that you were one of the very few people - like you and Prince and maybe a few others - who could balance true art and real commerce at the same time.

Bowie: That sounds like a "Spinal Tap" line if ever there was one. [He laughs. His interviewer laughs.]

Elfman: Were there times in the '70s, the '80s or the '90s or now where you felt like you were balancing more toward art or commerce?

Bowie: I think that in a lot of the '70s, I really got it right. I think a lot of the stage shows were a good mix of very well-known and not-so-well-known things. ...In the '80s, when I went into the "Glass Spider" tour, I think the feeling for that was, "Oh well, let's second-guess the audience and write stuff for them and do stuff for them that they would want." (At that point), there was some good things happening theatrically, but I think it was a very messy stage set-up. I think too many things happened at once at any particular time. ...Toward the more artsy thing, I think around '95, when I did "The Outside Tour," I banished virtually everything we'd done before 1990. ...And so we probably took it too far the other way. ...I just died a death in front of larger audiences, because they hadn't a clue of any of the songs I was doing.

Elfman: Did you get a kick out of that?

Bowie: Oh, yeah, of course, I get a really perverse fulfillment out of doing that kind of thing. But it's not to be taken lightly. And if you keep that up too often, what little audience one has left gets depleted completely.