The Wild Mutation (Godfather Records GR 727/728)
Cobo Arena, Detroit, MI – April 21st, 1978
Disc 1 (47:51): Warszawa, “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 2 (62:03): Band Introductions, Five Years, Soul Love, Star, Hang Onto Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, Rock N Roll Suicide, Art Decade, Moon Of Alabama, Station To Station, Stay, TVC-15, Rebel Rebel
David Bowie became the “first rock star of the seventies” through his experiments with various musical styles and images. But on his final tour of the decade which he helped define featured Bowie as Bowie, with “no more costumes, no more masks. This time it’s the real thing.”
The Stage tour was his longest to date with dates in the US, Europe and Japan, and produced a well received live album. About a month after the beginning, Bowie played two nights at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, on April 20th and April 21st. The Wild Mutation is the silver pressed debut of the second show. It is perhaps the best audience recording of the tour (rivaled only by the Baton Rouge tape).
From the JEMS archive, it is an excellent three dimensional stereo audience recording until a tape flip 7:28 in “Station To Station.” After the cut, the sound is more distant from the stage and drops down to being merely good. But the change doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the concert which is one of the better ones.
The live album Stage was recorded the following week in Philadelphia (April 28th and April 29th), Providence (May 5th) and Boston (May 6th) where the arrangements were slowed down to sound more like their studio counterparts.
But Detroit was still at a point in the tour when they played things faster and with much more energy and enthusiasm. Nicholas Pegg mentions these concerts in his book The Complete David Bowie claiming: “The two Detroit concerts in late April were marked by riotous crowds, causing David to stop in the middle of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ on the first night to berate the overzealous bouncers, and necessitating an unscheduled break in ‘Beauty And The Beast’ on the second night while the stage was cleared of a mountain of flowers, frisbees, scarves, toilet rolls and other projectiles (earlier the same night David has altered the words to ‘The Jean Genie’ to ‘smiles like a toilet roll’ as yet another one sailed passed his head” (pg 394-395).
There are no interruptions in this show mentioned in Pegg’s account, but this is quite a spirited audience. Many firecrackers are let off, especially in the latter half, and they give their approval for everything Bowie does. The somber instrumental “Warszawa” holds the audience in rapt attention before the tension is broken with “Heroes.”
After the title track from the latest album, he continues with two more songs from Low. “What In The World” is played in its new live arrangement, lengthened from the two minute and twenty-three second studio cut to twice the length by playing the song first at a slower dance tempo and then repeating it at the same tempo as the studio cut. The former features a nasty Adrian Belew solo, the first of many stand-out performances.
“The Jean Genie” is one of the few older tunes to be played in the first half of the set. Belew replaces Mick Ronson’s heavy metal riffing with his own new wave shrieks and howls.
The mix songs from the latest two albums Low and “Heroes” effectively for most of the rest of the opening set. “Breaking Glass” arouses the audience with the “You’re such a wonderful person / But you got problems” chorus hammered on their heads. The first half of the show ends with “Fame,” the only nod to the Philly soul period.
The heavy drum rhythm of “Five Years” is used as bumper music for the band introduction. In a seeming apology for all of the new music over the past couple of tours, Bowie rewards the patient American audience with a prolonged Ziggy Stardust suite. Ziggy is the persona most associated with Bowie in the seventies and had grown in stature in the intervening six years since its release.
Bowie even sings the album in order, something he didn’t do on the actual Ziggy Stardust tour in 1972 and 1973. All of the album is played except the middle four songs “Moonage Daydream,” “Starman,” “It Ain’t Easy” and “Lady Stardust.” The arrangements sound more “advanced” than before with the synthesizers often taking place of the old guitar riffs. It doesn’t matter to the audience at all, who respond with loud cheers and packs of firecrackers. The interlude ends with “Rock And Roll Suicide,” which would be dropped later in the tour.
The cover of Berthold Brecht’s “Moon Of Alabama” (aka “Whiskey Bar,” “Alabama Song” and “Moon Over Alabama”) was recently added to the set. This is one of the very rare shows where both this and “Rock And Roll Suicide” are played in the same show.
The set ends with “Station To Station,” the title track and name of the previous tour. Three songs, “Stay,” a fun “TVC 15” and the older “Rebel Rebel” close the show.
The Wild Mutation (the title refers to a comment made about Bowie’s transformation for this tour as stated in the liner notes) is an excellent and rare pressing of the US leg of the Stage tour. The somber, muted colors on the front artwork reflect the aesthetic of the tour. With the excellent sound quality and inclusion of two songs that pretty much exchanged for one another make this one of the definitive statements of the era and is worth having.