BBC News Online - 9th September 2003

Bowie thrills crowd with cinema gig

The show was seen by thousands of fans around the world

By William Gallagher

Singer David Bowie previewed his latest album Reality with a secret London gig beamed to audiences in cinemas around the world.

The BBC's William Gallagher joined the audience at Birmingham's Odeon New Street cinema.

It did not feel like a concert but it was very much an event: David Bowie's plan to broadcast a gig live to cinemas around the world worked brilliantly.

"Turn it up!" shouted a voice from one side of the Odeon; "Is this Pirates of the Caribbean?" called someone else. Bowie has done something great here and it was invigorating to be part of the audience.

Birmingham has better cinemas than the Odeon on New Street - actually the UK's first-ever Odeon cinema - but it was a famous concert venue in the 1970s.

So there was a muddled sense of history as it vibrated to music again and the audience didn't know whether to clap.

For it was hard to know how to respond to it as you would feel you were there one moment, until tonsil-cam would make you acutely aware of the screen.

The show was filmed extremely well to bring a sense both of being close to the action and remaining part of what seemed a very intimate London stage.

Yet the first half of show could have been pre-recorded and it only felt like a gig when a song would finish and the audience in Birmingham applauded.

Technical troubles

That was an enveloping wave which recreated the atmosphere of a live concert the way the music on screen often didn't, and at that moment this felt more like watching a DVD.

The second half came more alive as Jonathan Ross hosted a question and answer set with Bowie, which suffered enough technical problems to be fun.

It felt truly live then and was helped by the fact that the sound mix that had buried Bowie's vocals in the music was fixed.

Everything was better in the second half except on-screen text messages which were maddeningly cut in two at the bottom of the screen all night.

Bowie has done something great here and it was invigorating to be part of the audience for the event.