David Bowie

Ouvrez Le Chien

A set from the mid-90s finds David Bowie carefully rewriting his own history live onstage, finds Julian Marszalek

The recent outpouring of emotion in the wake of the broadcast of David Bowie’s triumphant headline slot at Glastonbury 2000 served to obscure just how much his star had waned in the years leading up to it. His 80s mainstream success came at the cost of his outsider otherness, and his rehabilitation was certainly a long time coming. Ouvrez Le Chien, the latest in an ongoing series of posthumous live releases, is a marker of that journey.

Recorded at the Starplex Amphitheatre in Dallas in October 1995, Ouvrez Le Chien finds Bowie at an interesting juncture in his career. Promoting the quasi-industrial grind of 1. Outside – his 19th studio album – this is the sound of an artist doing his best to jettison his pop audience whilst trying to find a foothold in a landscape that was altering without him. The setlist is uncompromising and makes no concessions to greatest hits (‘Under Pressure’ excepted), but with the benefit of hindsight, it becomes apparent just how much Bowie was attempting to obliterate his 80s nadir by picking up where he left off with Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).

As evidenced by near brutal readings of ‘The Hearts Filthy Lesson’ and the electro-throb of ‘The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)’, 1. Outside merits some re-appraisal, but this period nonetheless finds Bowie following in the slipstream of Nine Inch Nails, who opened for the Dame on the US leg of this tour, and were themselves influenced by Bowie’s mid to late-70s output, which underpins this set (see ‘Joe The Lion’, ‘Breaking Glass’ and ‘Look Back In Anger’). And while this live recording only tells part of the story thanks to the absence of show-opening joint readings of ‘Subterraneans’, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, ‘Reptile’ and ‘Hurt’, presumably down to licensing issues or maybe even a Stalin-esque re-writing of history, it still becomes impossible not to think of MC Escher’s ‘Drawing Hands’ and ‘Ascending and Descending’.

Backed by a band that featured key players and new faces from across his then-long history – keyboardist Mike Garson and guitarist Carlos Alomar are joined by the six string squalls of Tin Machine’s Reeves Gabrels, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer Zachery Alford among others – Bowie’s on fine, if portentous, form throughout, but placed against the music of the day – witness Tricky’s Maxinquaye, PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love and Goldie’s Timeless for starters – he was always going to come out second best.

So look out you rock’n’rollers, Ouvrez Le Chien makes for an intriguing historical listen if not an entirely pleasurable one, and is more likely of use to Bowie scholars than the fans he lost and then found.

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