mon 08/08/2022

The Man Who Sold the World, O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

The Man Who Sold the World, O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

The Man Who Sold the World, O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

Tony Visconti, Woody Woodmansey and friends play the David Bowie classic

Forty five years is a long time to queue for a gig

Normally, if an album as good as The Man Who Sold the World had itself sold the sum total of sod all on release, it would have been lost, then found, before becoming a fêted rarity, exchanging hands for hundreds while bootleggers had a field day.

The fact that it was a David Bowie album meant that, despite the initial indifferent shrug from the buying public, it’s shifted more than a million and a half copies. It remains, however, overlooked and underrated by many.

Having never toured the album at the time, last year saw Spiders from Mars drummer Woody Woodmansey and producer Tony Visconti put a band together to right that wrong. Now they’ve returned with a repertoire of Bowie songs that extends all the way up to 1973 and are stomping their way through these tunes with a celebratory tone that kicks cynicism to the floor while welcoming goodwill and high spirits like old friends.

Old hands, but with young hearts, ran freely through one of the best back catalogues you could hope to hear

The first half of the show was an "as is" run through of the album, opening with the blues-rock prog of “The Width of a Circle”. Both it and “Black Country Rock” are possessed of the kind of sought-after groove that graces the best – and most expensive – KPM library records and were played here with exactly the power and verve that you might expect from a band who were touring an album for the first time – even if it had been released nearly 45 years ago. Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, who took front of stage duties for the most part, made the songs his own without ever trying to eclipse the author. It would have been very easy to slip into lazy pastiche, but he’s a much better singer than that – as is Marc Almond, who brought a wonderful sense of chanson to “After All” and reappeared at various points throughout the night with similar impact.

Though it’s hard to pick highlights from a show that was, by its nature, made up of highlights, Paul Cuddeford’s guitar playing was jaw-dropping in touch, tone and pure, devastating force. During “She Shook Me Cold”, he and Woody duelled so ferociously that it was like the sprawling, unhinged attack of Mudhoney at their most uncompromising – now that’s a comparison I certainly didn’t expect to find myself making going into the gig. Meanwhile, as Woodmansey proceeded to put his foot down, Tony Visconti steered, the pair of them playing together in perfectly pocketed harmony.

The title track heralded the first singalong of the night and, by this stage, the room that had been tense with expectation was undergoing a tangible release. There were smiles on faces, hands in air. No one was worried that this wouldn’t work, everyone knew they were in safe hands. Assured, old hands, but with young hearts, running freely through one of the best back catalogues you could hope to hear. As “Five Years” began, the familiar drum pattern received a cheer all of its own, before beginning a dizzying waltz through cameos, medleys and old favourites which ended with a rendition of “Suffragette City” so big it sounded like they were trying to land a plane on the stage.

As Visconti and Woodmansey spoke about the project from the stage (this was the last of the UK shows), it struck me that it was only the second point of the night I’d thought specifically about David Bowie himself. Perhaps it’s down to the strength of the songs that they can still build an atmosphere as good as this in the absence of the chief architect, but it certainly helps when they’re played this well by performers who take such obvious joy and delight in entertaining a crowd.

There's a celebratory tone that kicks cynicism to the floor while welcoming goodwill and high spirits like old friends

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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