The '68 - '72 sessions (discs 1 and 2):
The first disc kicks off with a set canvassing the silly portfolio D. Jones Esq. dished up before he went down to the crossroads - or what ever it was he did - and transformed himself from silly Anthony Newley rip-off to Global Phenomenon and Curious Living Work of Art that we all know, love and are periodically bamboozled by. Fundamentally, the "Jones" material is lousy - don't let revisionists convince you otherwise - but oddly is produced and delivered here with a lot more flourish (look mum! a string section!) than the famous material which follows it.
Of the famous stuff, there is a disappointing inverse relationship between the quality of raw material and its presentation on this particular record. The Ziggy Stardust cuts sound horrible - shrill, poorly executed and mixed badly, paling in comparison with the album versions. By and large, there are better versions of all songs to be found elsewhere: Amsterdam, for example, can't hold a match, let alone a candle to the stunning B-side to Sorrow which appeared a couple of years later (available as a bonus track on the (now deleted) Rykodisc presing of Pin Ups), and while the acoustic take of the Supermen beats the album version, there is a better demo of this arrangement available (also on Rykodisc). There are a couple of pretty tough VU covers here, though.
To cut a long story short - this double is great for completists, and Bowieheads like me will find much of fascination, but if you're a beginner, go buy The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust (preferably on Rykodisc if you can find them) and come back to this in six months when it's in the bargain bins if you still aren't satisfied.
At the Radio Theatre, 27 June 2000 (disc 3)
If this July 2000 live album were released by itself, it would be worth ten stars. It is staggering, and will please young and old alike. To my immense excitement it undermines a truism about David Bowie: viz., he is disappointing live. He has always tended to shout, and has frequently made dreadful mistakes in personnel - Peter Frampton, Thomas Dolby, for very good example - and has emphasised visual over aural impact. Er, remember Glass Spider? No? Good.
But the news is all good here - he's in fantastic voice throughout and by no means pulls his punches - kicking off the set with Wild is the Wind, for example, is not for the faint of larynx, but it sounds magnificent, and it sets the tone for the remainder of the set. The band is first rate: Station to Station (and, er, Serious Moonlight)-era guitarist Earl Slick, the pianist who MADE Aladdin Sane what it was, Mike Garson, together with a band which has everything but cold fire (ahem).
And the choice and arrangement of songs will delight all. Yes, he does Fame, Ashes to Ashes and Let's Dance for the top 40 punters, but check this out - Always Crashing In The Same Car? Hallo Spaceboy? Stay? Cracked Actor? WOW! Wheeling out such hidden gems sure warm the cockles of this old Bowie-nut's heart, especially when they sound so choice. So, A good new album (...Hours) and a great live band? What ever next? The critics will be saying David Bowie's got good again... No, don't even GO there.