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David Mallet
David Bowie
Writing Credits:
David Bowie

Taped live during the 1983 Serious Moonlight Tour that shattered box office records in every city, David Bowie gives one of the most dramatic and charismatic live performances of his career. The Serious Moonlight Tour has been called the most important rock event in the history of the music genre and his Vancouver show was designed specifically to ensure that the live excitement was captured on tape. It includes such hits as: "Let's Dance", "China Girl", "Heroes", "Rebel", "Young Americans", "Space Oddity", and "Golden Years", among others.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 87 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 3/21/2006

• “Ricochet” Documentary
• Photo Gallery


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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David Bowie: Serious Moonlight (2006 Re-Issue) (1983)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 4, 2006)

In regard to David Bowie’s Serious Moonlight Tour DVD, I'm not even going to feign any sort of objectivity as far as the quality of this program goes. I'm about as serious a devotee of Bowie as they come. Over the last 20+ years, I've seen him live more than 70 times and I've amassed a collection of CDs, records and videos that includes well over 200 different items. I think I can be objective about Bowie, but not about the Serious Moonlight video, simply because it's the program that initially got me interested in his work.

Back in 1983, Bowie embarked on his “Serious Moonlight” tour in support of the then-current and extremely popular Let's Dance album. The title of the tour was taken from a line in that album's title song. This was his first trek in five years, and it did smashingly well.

Also back in 1983, I was 16 and I had just started to attend rock concerts over the previous year or so. Before then I never much cared for Bowie, but I got a bit caught up in the hype. It sounded like an interesting show, so I decided to go. At the time, I thought it was a decent performance, but nothing mind-blowing.

During the summer of 1984, the concert video - taken from an HBO broadcast - came out and I picked up a copy. Boy, did I like that tape! I watched it repeatedly and really loved what I heard and saw. I soon developed an interest in Bowie's work and the rest, as they say, is history. For the past 15 years or so, Bowie has definitively been The Man to me, and that attitude doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon.

As such, you can probably understand why it may be difficult for me to critique Moonlight objectively. Had I not gotten that tape, would I still have come to embrace Bowie's music? Probably, but who knows? As it stands, I feel I owe the program a debt of gratitude because it started me on a musical course that has meant so much to me over the last 20 years.

Among die-hard Bowie fans, very little warm regard for his work during the 1980s exists. This was his period of greatest financial success with hits like "China Girl" and "Blue Jean," but most Bowie fans see it as the era in which he produced his weakest material. Truth to tell, they're right. Bowie's three mid-'80s albums - Let's Dance, 1984’s Tonight and 1987’s Never Let Me Down - include some of his lesser songs and they marked a period in which Bowie clearly got caught up in the business of being a "pop star". He has often acknowledged that in his remarks that indicate he now feels he had really lost his way during that time.

I feel that Let's Dance and its successors inspire much too much knee-jerk negativity from the serious Bowie-philes. No, none of those albums would accompany me to the proverbial desert island, but in truth, they simply aren't that bad. Many of the songs are fairly insubstantial fluff, but that's really only in comparison to Bowie's other work. Compared to the vast majority of the music popular at the time, these albums come across in a better light.

Also, it should not be forgotten just how many converts Bowie's 1980s popular success brought to the table. Like the experiences Prince and Springsteen had with Purple Rain and Born in the USA, respectively, a ton of new folks jumped on their trains. Most of them got off at the first station, but some people - people who might never otherwise have developed any interest in those artists - stuck around and continue their rides. Let's Dance and the 1983 tour may have brought me on board, but more substantial work like Scary Monsters and Heathen have kept me there.

As such, the Moonlight video serves as a pretty nice primer of the Bowie songbook. Moonlight includes a substantial portion of the concert – 20 songs in all - but five songs are omitted from this September, 1983 performance in Vancouver: "TVC 15", "Stay", "The Jean Genie", "Star," and "Modern Love." In addition, the version of "Station to Station" included here mainly lacks the song's intro; when we first hear it, the band's already been playing for about three minutes. For the record, it should be noted that contrary to popular belief, this DVD does not feature the same concert as the oft-broadcast radio show from the 1983 tour; that performance came from a Montreal stop two months prior to this occasion.

(One other correction of popular belief: although Stevie Ray Vaughn played on the "Let's Dance" album and indeed rehearsed with the band to go on this tour, he never made it to the stage for any public performances. Vaughn bailed on the Bowie tour before it actually hit the road and was quickly replaced by Station to Station tour veteran Earl Slick. Recordings of Vaughn's rehearsals are pretty readily available as bootlegs, but no actual tour dates included his work.)

Moonlight also includes editing in the form of quick cuts between songs. By that I mean that almost any form of stage banter or pauses are gone. It pretty much just jumps from tune to tune without the usual respite. I don't mind this as much as I miss the omitted songs, but I'd rather have seen the concert progress at a natural rate.

As far as the performance itself goes, it's not one of Bowie's best, but it remains very effective and entertaining. I believe that Bowie is unquestionably the greatest live performer ever. I've seen many different acts, and while a lot of them are good or even great, no one can touch Bowie. The man simply looks more at home on stage than anyone else, and he acts like the master of that particular domain.

People ask me how I can remain entertained by him after attending more than 70 shows. The answer is that Bowie always finds fascinating and compelling ways to make each show unique. His incredibly high level of stage charisma clearly shines through on the Moonlight video. Bowie knows exactly how to combine theatricality and personality to make his shows the best that they can be.

Ironically, although many disparage Moonlight because of its Let's Dance-era origins, little of that album pops up during the show. Of the 21 songs included on the DVD, only three of them - "Let's Dance," "China Girl," and "Cat People" - are from that oft-reviled album. The remainder of the program includes 50 percent older hits such as "Fame", "Rebel Rebel" and "Space Oddity" and 50 percent more obscure fan favorites like "What in the World", "Scary Monsters", and "Cracked Actor".

Yes, I continue to really miss "Stay" and "TVC 15," both of which worked incredibly well in their live incarnations, but I find that this video provides a pretty good balance between the obvious hits and the less known tracks. It definitely helps that many of these versions form what I consider to be the definitive renditions of these songs. "Life of Mars?", "What In the World", "Fame", "Young Americans," "Ashes to Ashes", "White Light, White Heat" - these are just a few of the songs that I think sound better here than they ever did before or since. And I think I am actually being objective about that; enough songs can be found in better versions elsewhere ("Look Back in Anger", "Station to Station", "Space Oddity") that I don't think it's just my clear affection for this program that influences my view. Plain and simple, Bowie had a solid band on the 1983 tour and they produced some truly fantastic versions of some great songs.

Objectively or subjectively, I really think that Moonlight provides arguably the best video document of Bowie's stage prowess that is commercially available. He’s produced better tours and better shows, and the 2003 Reality concert is awfully good. Unfortunately, bad editing mars that one, so I’ll still take Moonlight as the most satisfying Bowie video.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio B/ Bonus C+

David Bowie: Serious Moonlight appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I’ve seen every incarnation of Moonlight: videotape, laserdisc, and 1999 DVD. The program never looked good, and the 2006 DVD didn’t mark any noticeable improvements.

Disclaimer: I don’t currently have access to the 1999 DVD, so I couldn’t make direct comparisons. However, I’ve watched – and listened to – this program many times over the years, so I feel I’d detect any major changes even without A/B-ing the two releases.

None could be found, at least not in regard to the visuals. This was always a fairly ugly videotaped show, and the new DVD didn’t alter its origins. The DVD maintained a pretty soft picture from start to finish. Close-ups demonstrated decent delineation, but even those came across as less than concise. Anything wider tended to be moderately soft. Blooming from the lights didn’t help, as that added a glowing effect to the material. The show often suffered from a gauzy look.

Some jaggies and shimmering occurred, though neither were significant. I did see some blockiness to the production and video artifacting was apparent. Other than this aging videotape look, I didn’t see any prominent source concerns.

Colors were consistently problematic. They tended to be mushy and messy throughout the show. All the lighting was heavy and runny, though clothes tended to seem a bit more concise. The colors just didn’t display much vivacity as they made matters murky. Blacks were passable, but shadows seemed thick. The smattering of low-light shots tended to be tough to discern.

As I mentioned, I couldn’t directly compare this DVD to the prior one, but I’d be shocked if they looked different. The 2006 release offered visuals that seemed remarkably familiar to me. I blame all of this on the source material, frankly. I don’t think the original footage boasted high quality, and we continue to suffer through that decades later. For better or for worse, this is the way Moonlight looks.

The 2006 DVD of Serious Moonlight presented three separate soundtracks, all of which seemed different in various ways. Without question, I preferred the Dolby Stereo 2.0 mix. This was easily the most listenable of the bunch, and it earned the “B” audio grade listed above.

As with the picture, the limitations of the source material came through with this audio. However, the stereo track minimized them. It offered fairly decent imaging as it spread the instruments pretty well across the front. Bowie’s vocals remained reasonably centered and the rest of the elements blended together well.

Audio quality wasn’t dazzling, but I thought it was the best I’d heard from Moonlight. Vocals demonstrated a little “arena echo” but came across as acceptably concise and natural. Bass response could have been warmer, but the track offered more than adequate low-end. I also felt the mix could have offered greater punch in the high-end, but I didn’t find any reason to complain too much. Again, the source recording had limitations, and this was as good as I’ve heard the songs sound. I wouldn’t call this a great mix, but it seemed more than satisfying to me.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks came across as much more flawed. In most ways, the pair seemed very similar. The DTS mix was louder and more “in your face”, though. That meant that although the Dolby version minimized some of the DTS edition’s flaws, it also came across as tepid in comparison. The DTS version presented a greater punch along with its more aggressive attack.

Both tracks presented similar soundfields. These stayed oriented toward the front and used the surrounds for general reinforcement of the music and crowd noise. Frankly, I only noticed their usage at all when I switched between the stereo mix and the 5.1 tracks; if I’d not done so, I wouldn’t have been aware that the surrounds played any role.

While the stereo track offered pretty solid imaging, both 5.1 mixes tended to be less well-defined. Bowie’s vocals lacked clear centering, and instrumentation also tended to jump around from spot to spot. The elements rarely seemed to reside in one specific spot as they mushed together. This felt like one broad, messy attempt to locate the music much of the time.

Audio quality also faltered. The DTS track accentuated the “arena echo” on Bowie’s vocals and made them seem too loose. Similar problems marred the instruments. Passable low-end appeared, but high-end was pumped excessively. That gave much of the audio a harsh metallic sound. The DTS edition seemed too aggressive and it gave me a bit of a headache.

For the most part, I thought the Dolby mix was similar though less pushy. It didn’t shove itself in my face so severely, though that meant it also was flatter and more tepid. While it didn’t slam against me in the same way, it also lacked much punch or power.

In the end, I thought the two 5.1 mixes deserved “D+” grades. Although I gave the old 1999 DVD a “B-“ mark for its 5.1 track, don’t take that as an indication that it sounded better than either of these. As I noted, I’ve not heard that one in a while, and frankly, I was probably so happy to hear any life from Moonlight that I overestimated the quality. Prior incarnations were dismally thin and flat, so a mix with power of any sort came as a welcome relief.

I also have a lot more reviewing experience under my belt over the last seven years, so my standards have changed. Whatever the case, avoid these 2006 5.1 mixes. Stick with the more than satisfactory stereo track, which I believe offers the best audio ever attached to this program.

While the earlier DVD came with no extras, we get some interesting bits on the 2006 edition. The main attraction comes from a documentary called Ricochet. Named after a song from Let’s Dance, this program got a video release back in the day, but I believe this marks its first DVD incarnation.

Shot during the Serious Moonlight Tour, “Ricochet” takes us to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok in December 1983. The program lasts one hour, 17 minutes and 54 seconds as we see Bowie on the road in these unusual locations. We watch him get to the places, tour the areas, and put on the concerts.

It’s a bit of a stretch to call this a “documentary” just because so much of it appears staged. For instance, the Hong Kong portion looks at a local Bowie cover band who try to get tickets to the show. Still, we find some decent live footage as well as glimpses of Bowie in these areas. It’s a frustrating documentary since I’d like something more natural and less manufactured, but I’m glad to get it.

In addition to the documentary, we get a 20-image Gallery. Presented as a running piece, this lasts three minutes and 45 seconds. That means the program progresses slowly from shot to shot, but it comes with a bonus: a live version of “Modern Love”. I believe this is the same rendition previously available on the “Modern Love” single. With or without the photos, it makes for a nice addition.

Serious Moonlight made me a Bowie fan in 1984, and I continue to enjoy it all these years later. The concert doesn’t show Bowie at the peak of his game, but it offers more than enough highlights to make it worthwhile. We get good stereo audio and a couple of nice extras. However, visual quality remains problematic, and the two 5.1 mixes aren’t good. Despite some flaws, I nonetheless recommend this solid program.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8125 Stars Number of Votes: 16
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