Blog 2: Stars and Aliens Re-imagined
This is the second in our series of updates about the songs that feature in our current setlist and how they came to be included. The next four songs cover a wide ranging period of time running from 2003 to 1969. At first glance, the first two of these, which we will look at in this blog, do not seem to be at all related. However, they have something in common that highlights another of the features of how we build our interpretations of his songs.
Next up is New Killer Star, one of our absolute favourites. Taken from 2003’s Reality album, this song was rehearsed very early on and has stayed in the set list since. The song employs numerous guitar effects (including delays and echoes) and it’s the first of two songs that features an ebow (Heroes being the other). We like it so much, we named ourselves after it!
When we are deciding how to arrange songs, as already mentioned, our main concern is to make sure that we cover, with the clever use of guitars, any parts of the original album version of the songs that were arranged with the use of keyboard and synths. This means we can keep those essential sounds running through the songs but also have our own live feel to what we do. Often, we look to how Bowie himself used different arrangements in concert, and New Killer Star is a prime example of this.
His version of New Killer Star on the Reality tour was much more rocky and atmospheric than the album version, while still keeping the essential drive from the drums and the absolutely fantastic bassline running through, and yes! He used an ebow! So this live version became our major inspiration for our version of this song. You can see a video of it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlH6UDnjFNE and compare it to the video version (it’s a great video), which is also different to the album version as the lyrics come in almost immediately with only a short synth introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwH1g2fW6Pc.
The vocals, both the mainline and the backing vocals on this song also credit heavily the choices made by Bowie on the live versions of this song.
Loving the Alien is the opening track from the Tonight album and in many ways exemplifies 1980’s synth pop. The original version is, therefore, a far stretch away from what we could hope to deliver in a live setting. It’s also debatable that, like so many of his songs in the 80s, the song itself was done a disservice from being recorded and produced in this era (an argument that rages to this day about many of Bowie’s songs in the 80s).
The raw elements of this song, however, unlike some of the others in this era, are pure genius. The very simple but haunting riff is one of those elements. The lyrics are another. The melody and capacity for spine tingling harmonies are yet another. Lyrically, Jane would go as far as saying it is up there as one of his best, with a universal theme that still rings true today (in the same vein as Fantastic Voyage).
To bring all this out, all it needed was a re-imagined arrangement. We would like to take credit, but it is another of Bowie’s genius moves that brought about the re-configuration of this song. Bowie, with then guitarist Gerry Leonard turned it into a simple guitar/vocal ballad with a recurrent guitar loop. A version of this stripped back version appears on the live album that accompanied the Reality tour, a video of which is found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DBwN2Ve9Mc and it is this version that we wanted to play, primarily to highlight a softer, more melodic aspect of our playing. Allan and Phil added some drum and bass parts and Jane’s emotive vocal performance is complemented by Andrew and Mel on backing vocals.
Here is a little snippet of us playing this live at the Bowie France convention in Paris in January 2019. You can see our version has some other elements added to the stripped back version Bowie did on the Reality tour but still has much more in common with that version than the original. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izBIz4kG5ZQ
In the next blog, we’ll continue back in time with The Man Who Sold the World and Space Oddity.