Montreux Jazz Festival 2002
Something changed for Bowie circa 2000. Where he’s resisted being a legacy act in the 90s, his first concert of the new millennium, headlining the Glastonbury festival (another former bootleg made official,) was a glorious greatest hits set. In the 2000s, Bowie was finally embracing his legendary back catalogue.
Two years after Glastonbury, Bowie had a new album of songs to mix in with the greatest hits. While Bowie’s 90s output was confrontingly chaotic, Heathen had a stateliness to it that befitted an elder statesman of rock. It was the sound of Bowie no longer raging against the passing of time, achieving the rare balance of looking back while still moving forward.
So the set was split between classic hits, and cuts from Heathen. But the real headline is that for a second encore (!), he plays the 1977 album Low in its entirety. Low is the favourite of die-hard fans, a difficult album with dark lyrics and a number of instrumentals.
Reading between the lines, one gets the feeling that playing Low is a big experiment. Two cuts from Low, “Breaking Glass” and “Always Crashing In The Same Car” were a part of his 90s setlist, but with radically different arrangements. This was an exercise in accessing the past, to prove that he could, after turning his back on it for so long.
As faithful as the Low songs were, they benefitted from Bowie’s then-current band. Again, it was bassist Gail Ann Dorsey’s vocals that really elevated the whole thing to the sublime.