The Magic Bus’ latest box release is a follow up to their successful David Bowie – Time May Change Me: From Ziggy Stardust To Stardom box set that explored his 1972 to 1974 period. This box spans a larger period of time in Bowie live performances and like its predecessor, the box gives an accurate portrayal of the artist’s “Changes”. The packaging is the long box used on previous box sets and boasts 4 complete concerts not previous available on CD, the concerts are individually housed in mini LP style covers and each concert also features bonus tracks. The 36 page booklet features detailed information on each tour and is packed with a plethora of pictures and there are two promo postcards thrown in for good measure. While ultimately it is the music that matters, when a release can expand on it with great packaging, it is even more appealing.
Boston Gardens Arena, Boston, MA, USA – March 17, 1976
Disc 1 (58:28) Station To Station, Suffragette City, Fame, Word On A Wing, Stay, Waiting For The Man, Queen Bitch, Life On Mars?, Five Years, Panic In Detroit
Disc 2 (43:21) Band Introductions, Changes, TVC 15, Diamond Dogs, Rebel Rebel, The Jean Genie. Bonus Tracks: Sister Midnight (rehearsal) (Live In Vancouver February 2, 1976), Sister Midnight (Live in Seattle February 3, 1976)
After Bowie’s foray into R & B and Soul that culminated with the Young Americans record, he would proceed to morph once again, this time taking on the guise of The Thin White Duke. Visually the look of stark white shirt and black trousers and vest on David’s incredible thin frame was striking. The record that would bridge the slick sounds of the previous years Soul tendencies to the later 70’s electronic music trilogy would be one of his most endearing works, Station To Station. With a healthy diet of cocaine and taking direct inspiration from Aleister Crowley and Friedrich Nietzsche, Bowie would careful craft this album and persona and release it upon the public in January 1976 and immediacy followed by a tour dubbed Isolar to support the record.
The Duke Of Boston features the groups stop in Boston about midway through the American tour. The audience recording is very good, the equipment cannot handle the volume and does suffer from distortion, yet surprisingly is very clear and well detailed. There is little bottom end and the recording favors the mid and upper frequencies, yet the hiss level is very low and while the audience is typical for Boston, there are no crowd interference near the taper. If I could describe the sound I would call it sterile, in the best way. Bowie would also revamp his band and dub the five musician group as Raw Moon (it would feature Tony Kaye of Yes Fame) and the stage set would be as stark as his visual image, white lights against black backdrops.
The set list features a nice piece of Station To Station, the title track is an excellent opening song with Stacey Heydon providing some electrifying leads, the song is quickly followed by Suffragette City and Fame making for a rousing opening and based upon the crowds reaction, quite effective. Waiting for The Man gets a make over with a much different tempo. Kaye does an admiral job on Life On Mars?, the song that is known for Rick Wakeman’s incredible playing, the song flows into Five Years and both songs work beautifully together. I do like Diamond Dogs without the female back up singers, the band brings it to a rousing conclusion that brings the house down. Rebel Rebel and Jean Genie are the sole encores and finish the evening’s performance. The tour would hit a few snags after the Boston show, the next performance in Buffalo NY would find Bowie struggling with the flu and he and Iggy Pop would get raided by the authorities following an after party in Rochester, NY and the two would be charges with Marijuana possession.
The bonus tracks are quite interesting, Bowie was collaborating with former Stooges singer Iggy Pop on what would become his first solo record, The Idiot. The first track on the record was Sister Midnight, we are treated to two rare versions of Bowie performing the song from the first two dates in the Isolar tour. The first version comes from a rehearsal in Vancouver February 2, 1976, the sound quality is excellent soundboard. This version is wonderful, the contrast between the funk of Alomar and bassist Dave Murray to Heydon’s almost metallic lead playing is superb. The second version is a live performance from the following night in Seattle. The audience recording is very good, more distant and thin than the Boston show, it is clear and very well defined and is almost a twin of the rehearsal.
LA Forum Los Angeles (Inglewood), CA, USA – April 4, 1978
Disc 3 (40:24) Heroes, What In The World, Be My Wife, The Jean Genie, Blackout, Sense Of Doubt, Speed Of Life, Breaking Glass, Beauty And The Beast, Fame
Disc 4 (58:31) Five Years, Soul Love, Star, Hang On To Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, Art Decade, Station To Station, Stay, TVC 15, Rebel Rebel. Bonus Tracks; Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (live in Baton Rouge April 11, 1978), Sound and Vision (live in London July 1, 1978)
The Station To Station project would further interest Bowie in electronic music, a path that lead him to Brian Eno, who’s work with Roxy Music and his subsequent solo records would relate to David’s latest musical leanings. The results would become what would be known as The Berlin Trilogy, a three record run (consisting of Low, Heroes, and Lodger) where the two would make cutting edge music away from the ever prying eyes of the American and UK music papers. The Trilogy would again feature Bowie taking a music genre and infusing it with his own unique style, and turning it to something new and exciting.
The recording featured here comes from the LA Forum, it is a very good incomplete (missing the opening song Warszawa) audience recording. Clear and well defined with all instruments being heard clearly, this recording captures the ambience and atmosphere of the performance, only drawback if one would get picky is you do here some comments from the audience from time to time. The concert was released on vinyl soon after the concert as Slaughter In The Air (Ruthless Rhymes DB 1978) and soon copied with the same title (GLC Great Live Concerts DUKE 001) and finally as No Ziggy or Iggy…Just A Gigolo? (Omega Records OMEGA 912).
The 1978 tour was Bowie’s longest to date, dubbed Isolar II, it would include dates in the USA, Europe, UK, Australia, and Japan and feature music from both Low and Heroes primarily in the first half of the concert and a nice chuck of Ziggy era material in the second half. The West Coast dates were early on in the tour and the rhythm section from the previous tour was back, Carlos Alomar on guitar, George Murray on bass, and drummer Dennis Davis were joined by Adrian Below on lead guitar, Roger Powell and Sean Mayes on keyboards, piano, vocals and Simon House on electric violin.
Both Low and Heroes are represented by four songs each with Fame and The Jean Genie thrown in to keep things going, the latter sounds a bit disjointed at times as Simon House’ electric violin does not mesh well and sounds like Gary Dell’ Abate is playing at times. While well played and enjoyable, I have always found the first half of the 1978 recordings ponderous to listen too, much of the music flows together and sounds like the group are playing isolated from the audience. The second half is more of a crowd pleaser, David almost acknowledges this by saying “we like to play some songs you may or may not remember” and the audience comes alive as he starts singing Five Years. The Ziggy material is well received and the band sound as energetic as they did in the first set, for some reason it seems again like House’ violin cuts through the other instruments and gives the material an unusual feel to it.
There are a couple of bonus tracks, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide from Baton Rouge is great, the recording is near excellent albeit a bit thin sounding yet has wonderful ambience and is quite dynamic. I was wondering if this could be the work of the late, great Mr. Freezer. The second is from the European leg of the tour, specifically from Earls Court. Sound and Vision was previously released as part of Drifting Into My Solitude (The Godfatherecords G.R. 965). The sound is excellent and where the Godfather sounds a bit compressed, this version has better dynamics that could only come with a better tape generation.
Festhalle, Frankfurt, Germany – May 20, 1983
Disc 5 (51:43) Intro / Star, Heroes, What In The World, Wild Is The Wind, Golden Years, Fashion, Let’s Dance, Breaking Glass, Life On Mars?, Sorrow, Cat People, China Girl, Scary Monsters, Rebel Rebel
Disc 6 (63:43) White Light White Heat, Station To Station, Cracked Actor, Ashes To Ashes, Space Oddity, Band Intro, Young Americans, Hang On To Yourself, Fame, TVC 15, The Jean Genie, Modern Love. Bonus Tracks; Joe The Lion, Soul Love, Hang On To Yourself (rehearsal Live In Dallas April 27, 1983), Imagine (unreleased longer track live in Hong Kong December 8, 1983)
David Bowie began the new decade of the 1980’s with the brilliant Scary Monsters record, the video of Ashes To Ashes was a mainstay on the new television channel devoted to music videos, MTV. Bowie’s art has always included music coupled with a fashion presentation, a duo that would perfectly fit in this new medium. His 1983 follow up would be Bowie’s most successful record in his career, Let’s Dance would go on to sell more than 10 million copies and spawn four memorable singles (and videos). The subsequent tour, dubbed Serious Moonlight, would also be his largest and most successful.
The recording used for this box set is an excellent audience source, it is just slightly distant but is clear and atmospheric with an excellent balance, all instruments and voices come through clearly and there is enough of the audience to add to the ambience of the recording, simply a joy to listen too. The recording was released on vinyl years ago as Nothin’ But A Star (Chameleon Records 0041/0042). For this tour Bowie would augment his band with three sax players and two back up singers and long time Axe man Carlos Alomar was band leader. The results are a full lush sound where the band can easily recreate the new music and augment older numbers.
The set list is a variable best of David’s entire career, having not toured for 5 years, once again Bowie reinvented himself and his production for both old and new fans alike. A few of the highlights are (finally) Wild Is The Wind from Station to Station and the new at the time Cat People and Scary Monsters. The band blend Fashion and Let’s Dance together and where they break into the latter the audience respond with approval. Sorrow from the Pin Ups record is also quite interesting as a rock and roll take on White Light, White Heat with Earl Slick playing some very metallic leads. Cracked Actor and Space Oddity are back in the set both after long absences. Sound quality and performance make this the most enjoyable recording in this box set!
The bonus tracks are interesting, the first three tracks are from the Dallas tour rehearsals and feature Stevie Ray Vaughn on guitar. Previously released on vinyl as JR Is Watching You (Scrash SCR 901 A/B) and on compact disc as The Serious Moonlight Rehearsals (Gotham Records DBB-01) and The Serious Moonlight Rehearsals (Musichien 91CD/0301/2). The recording is sound board and is of excellent quality, there is a bit of hiss present but really nice. We get a couple of rarities like Joe The Lion and Soul Love, both feature Stevie Ray’s unmistakable guitar. The last track is a cover of John Lennon’s Imagine performed on the third anniversary of his death. David gives a wonderful introduction to the song that is very moving, sound quality? Soundboard of excellent quality and a perfect ending to this set.
Platz Der Republik, Berlin, Germany – June 6, 1987
Disc 7 (67:42) Intro / Purple Haze, Up The Hill Backwards, Glass Spider, Up The Hill Backwards (reprise), Day In Day Out, Bang Bang, Absolute Beginners, Loving The Alien, China Girl, Fashion, Scary Monsters, All The Madmen, Never Let Me Down, Big Brother
Disc 8 (76:06) 87 and Cry, Heroes, Time Will Crawl, Band Introductions, Beat On Your Drum, Sons Of The Silent Age, New York’s In Love, Dancing With The Big Boys, Zeroes, Let’s Dance, Fame, Time, Blue Jean, Modern Love. Bonus Tracks; Platz Der Republik, Berlin, Germany June 6, 1987 – Sound check: Introduction, All The Madmen, Loving The Alien, Glass Spider
The tour in support of Bowie’s 1987 Never Let Me Down was dubbed The Glass Spider tour taking its name from a song title on the record. The tour was conceived to be a theatrical production that would a troupe of choreographed dancers, spoken word introductions and projection visuals. The grueling rehearsals for the tour would leave Bowie exhausted before the tour even started. The results were a mixed bag with many feeling that the “show” was pretensions and indulgent. Perhaps the most important date on the tour was the concert featured here, from the then West Berlin very close to the wall that separated the city for decades.
The concert was broadcast live on RIAS (Radio In America Sector), from which this recording is taken. Being a broadcast recording, the quality is excellent, well balanced with excellent dynamics. It is very clean with no real signs of “radio static”. The other unique thing about this tour and recording is Peter Frampton provides lead guitars, having no real music to promote he took the position and from all accounts greatly enjoyed being a sideman for a change.
The set list is compromised of almost the entire Never Let Me Down record (only Shinning Star and Too Dizzy), a couple from Tonight and several from Let’s Dance and surprisingly little from his 70’s output. The concert highlight undoubtedly comes mid set when he performs Heroes. Bowie would say in a 2003 interview it would be one of the most emotional performances he’d ever given the historical significance of the end of the Cold War. The new music is cutting edge for the time and is interesting to say the least, and beginning with Let’s Dance the concert ends very strongly. The bonus tracks are from the soundcheck prior to the concert. It is very interesting to hear the interactions of the musicians to the sound people and how David instructs them and you even get Peter Frampton giving a big “Thank youuuu”.
Since Bowie’s passing earlier this year there have been a plethora of releases, for me this box set made it easy to buy one title and get an over view of music I would not know to get and explore. The packaging is excellent and each of his tours from the years of 1976 to 1987 are represented with great sounding and very enjoyable documents that have not been on CD prior. Together with the previous box give a broad over view of Bowie’s success and progression through his art, a very nice box and certainly worth seeking out.