INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
San Francisco Chronicle OCTOBER 23, 1995 - by Joshua Kosman
DAVID BOWIE GETS NAILED
Perennial rock chameleon David Bowie has added yet another entry to his catalog of alter egos, a turn-of-the-millennium detective named Nathan Adler.
But Saturday night's show at the Shoreline Amphitheatre found him playing a stranger and more interesting role, as sideman for Nine Inch Nails.
After a pummelling hour-long set by Trent Reznor's popular industrial-rock outfit, the music suddenly dissolved into a noodling swirl of ambient sound, with just enough saxophone wail to suggest a techno version of some film noir sound track. And in strolled Bowie, baggy white suit and cocky grin in place, to join the proceedings.
ROMP THROUGH REPERTOIRE
Together, the performers made a quick romp through their repertoire, beginning with Bowie's "Scary Monsters" and ending up on Reznor's Hurt, with Bowie contributing some plangent lead vocals.
That brief segue turned out to be the evening's strongest component, driven by the blend of Bowie's glib but often irresistible show biz suavity and Reznor's manic, turbo-charged energy.
But then Reznor and his crew decamped. Bowie's own segment of the show was slick but fairly listless - as though he had trouble even feigning interest in this latest chapter of his theatrical playbook.
The disc, dubbed a "nonlinear Gothic drama hyper-cycle," purports to be drawn from the files of tough-guy shamus Nathan Adler. The case is of a murder and dismemberment of a fourteen-year-old girl; the crime, intended as a piece of performance art, is committed, all too portentously, on December 31, 1999 (so much for Prince's last-minute party).
On disc, that yarn seems kind of stupid (and the pretentious liner notes, citing a history of mutilation-related performance, certainly are). But it didn't seem inconceivable that Bowie could have made something out of it on stage.
On Saturday, though, he didn't even attempt to give the material any kind of theatrical dimension - the only hint in that direction were a few mannequins and body parts barely visible above the performers' heads.
Instead, he made a casual tour through the CD's songs, in a scrambled order that bore out the "nonlinear" tag. Then, after about a dozen numbers, he clutched his stomach, staggered and fell to the stage in a little death tableau; the lights came up and the audience was sent on its way.
Even in Saturday's lackadaisical guise, some of the songs packed a punch. I Have Not Been To Oxford Town is a catchy dance number with some harmonic surprises, and We Prick You redeems its banal lyrics with relentless rhythmic drive.
Bowie also brought out a few surprise extracts from his back catalog, including The Man Who Sold The World and a rhythmically dislocated version of Andy Warhol, with the last words revised to conform to the dismemberment theme.
The audience seemed to respond more volubly to Nine Inch Nails.
Most of Reznor's onstage antics - hurling mike stands, overturning synthesizers, wrestling his bandmates to the floor - seemed pretty small-time. But the music is another story, coating sonic layers of grinding noise over songs of impressive subtlety and directness.