Serious Moonlight (DVD)
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/29/2006
There has yet to be a perfect David Bowie DVD, but for now this is the closest fans are going to get.
Virgin/EMI took the original 1984 Serious Moonlight concert video, cleaned it up and remastered the sound, releasing the full original show along with the 1985 Ricochet documentary, which is here as a DVD bonus. That documentary is basically 45 minutes of Bowie walking around the Far East and hardly qualifies as interesting, unless you're a big fan.
No, what matters here is how the 1984 Let's Dance tour plays out 22 years after the fact, and the answer is: surprisingly well. Unlike other Bowie concerts (A Reality Tour, Glass Spider), Serious Moonlight captured him at both a commercial and an energetic peak, riding the success of his first hit album in a long while.
With his bleached blond hair, Bowie looks great through the performance, and the oodles of female fans in the audience lap up his voice, his dance moves and his occasional mugging, such as the globe he hoists a là Atlas at the end of "Fame." Noticeably absent is a theater persona -- Bowie is no longer the Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy or whatever he was on Diamond Dogs. This is just regular charismatic crooner/rocker Bowie, and he pours a lot of energy and fun into these songs.
The track selection is strange indeed. Bowie plays three songs from Let's Dance, which is fine (but forgets "Modern Love") and then touches on nearly every album prior. The new bandwagon fans who showed up for "China Girl" probably had never heard of album tracks like "What In The World," "Sorrow," "Life On Mars?" and "Look Back In Anger," yet they cheer just as loudly as they do for the hits. Still, these are not the best ways to introduce new fans to the man's music.
Ignoring the odd lighting and camera glitches that probably couldn't be fixed during remastering, giving this thing a decidedly-80s feel, nothing really grabs the listener until "China Girl" halfway through the show. It's not that the preceding songs are bad, but starting a show with "Look Back In Anger," "Heroes" and "What In The World" drained it of any momentum it could have had, likely because those songs are among the more generic in Bowie's Berlin trilogy.
When the show does get going, though, it's worth the price of admission. Longtime Bowie guitarist Earl Slick tears into a version of "White Light/White Heat," making me sad the guy never got more mainstream attention, since he's one hell of a lead guitarist. Bowie leaves the stage to give Earl his spotlight, and then returns (after primping in a mirror backstage) for the amazing six-song finale.
This includes most of "Station To Station," the mournful "Ashes To Ashes" and its precursor "Space Oddity," where Bowie plays guitar and turns in the most soulful performance of the song he's ever done. My personal favorite is the mini-play of "Cracked Actor," where the keyboard emphasize a little-known riff from the song and play alongside the guitar crunch as Bowie recreates a scene from Hamlet, portraying the washed-up actor of the song. Things wind to a close with "Young Americans" and the somewhat funky "Fame," which becomes an audience participation number.
Throughout the show, the band is firing on all cylinders, especially the backup singers and Earl Slick (who rejoined Bowie in 2002). Bowie himself never misses a note or a chance to slightly tweak the songs, making them sound fresh, and the audience is on a high all night. While it's still not the DVD I would have liked, it's the best on the market so far, and both fans and the curious would do well to start here.