In late December 2015 a new David Bowie box set was announced that would be focused on his rise to rock stardom in the early 70’s. With the dawning of the new year, news that the music world feared came true, that Bowie had been seriously ill for years and had passed away. Like when most celebrities pass away, interest and demand for their output rises and it took me a bit of work to secure a copy of this box, in anticipation of its arrival I used the time to pour back over David’s back catalog of this era, from The Man Who Sold The World through Aladdin Sane as well as the few official live records, the brilliant Santa Monica 72 show, the Ziggy soundtrack, and the David Live were all in steady rotation. Well the box finally made it, let’s take a look at it in a bit more detail. This new box set from the Magic Bus label provides an overview of Bowie’s early career focusing on the years 1972-1974, a time that saw Bowie adopt the alien rock star of Ziggy Stardust only to have him “return to space” and find David ditching the Spiders and taking on soul and funk combining it with the Orwellian theme of 1984. If one word was used to describe Bowie’s career it would have to be changes, no other artist has continually evolved his art like him, from music, live production, and acting. The box is broken into three phases, “Ziggy Rises” consists of two concerts from 1972, “Ziggy Rocks The World” tackles two concerts from 1973, and finally “Ziggy Turns To Soul” looks at his Diamond Dogs period. Each phase is in a mini LP style jacket with the CD sleeves all tied in together with time period photos as well as set lists, date and venue information, and the CD’s themselves have different pictures on each one. The three individual sets are housed in the long box and there is a 36 page booklet filled with wonderful pictures as well as a brief overview of each period, there is as “promo” postcard as well.
Hemel Pavillion, Hempstead, UK – May 7, 1972
Disc 1 (75:00) Hang On To Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, The Supermen, Queen Bitch, Song For Bob Dylan, Changes, Starman, Five Years, Space Oddity, Andy Warhol, Amsterdam, I Feel Free, The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud, Moonage Daydream, White Light White Heat, Gotta Get A Job, Suffragette City, Waiting For The Man
The recording from Hempstead was a long hoarded show that finally saw its release in 2014, the audience source has sound is good and clear, if I was to describe its sound I would use Luis Rey’s description of Led Zeppelins January 10, 1969 concert being like a “yellowed manuscript”. Bowie’s voice and the drums are clear in the mix, the guitars are just a tad lower, the taper paused his machine during the songs so much of the banter or tuning is cut. That being said this is one of the best recordings of the early Ziggy concerts, there has been one prior release, Ziggy In Hemel Hempstead 1972 (Delden DEN-25).
Hang On To Yourself and Ziggy Stardust make for great openers, the two songs would stay in this spot for all the Ziggy concerts. The Superman is quite powerful, the acoustic verse sections are in direct contrast to the electric chorus, Mick Ronson’s guitar playing is superb. Song for Bob Dylan finds Bowie singing more in his own voice versus the album version where he seems to emulate Dylan’s vocal style. Changes is greeted with a nice round of applause, but the real highlight of this recording is a rare live version of Starman. Curious as to why the song did not have a longer life in the set, it is great live and the band play a great version of the song, again Mick Ronson’s guitar playing is excellent.
Space Oddity is the acoustic version, for me just as effective as the full band versions thanks to David’s wonderful vocals that harken back to his early folk influences. The backing vocals are perfect, Ronson accentuates the choruses and one of the Spiders can be heard early on in the back doing the “countdown”. Trevor Bolder’s bass runs later in the song take the place of the guitar solo, great version of the beloved classic. Andy Warhol is greeted by polite applause, what a great song and the rarity Amsterdam round off a mini acoustic set, Bowie does an excellent vocal on the latter. To take the concert back in an electric phase, they tackle Cream’s I Feel Free, Ronson’s leads throughout the song are superlative, the group gets into a jam like they would later expand upon during Width Of A Circle, a bit of flexing the chops. Another deep cut in this recording is Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud from his self titled second record, the last bit of eclectic folk musing before the rock and roll finale.
Great version of Moonage Daydream, sounds as if Mick has not yet settled on his solo as he starts off a bit tentatively then unleashes his full fury. David introduces White Light, White Heat as being from the American composer Lou Reed. Bowie meeting him as well as Andy Warhol would have a significant impact on him and would solidify future projects with the avant guard styling of Reed. The Spiders would always do great versions of Lou’s songs, this song and Waiting For The Man are perfect examples. One of the first samples of this concert would be the improvisational piece Gotta Get A Job, it sounds like an early attempt at funk and soul music and in true James Brown fashion he includes a snippet of Hot Pants. Suffragette City brings the set to a rousing conclusion, and the band come back for “some more rock and roll” and finish the show with Lou Reed’s Waiting For The Man. Well played and energetic early Ziggy concert.
Public Hall, Cleveland, OH, USA – November 25, 1972
Disc 2 (74;01) Hang On To Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, Changes, The Supermen, Life On Mars, Five Years, Space Oddity, Andy Warhol, Drive In Saturday, The Width Of A Circle, John I’m Only Dancing, Moonage Daydream, Band Intro, Waiting For The Man, The Jean Jeanie, Suffragette City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide
The second show of the Ziggy Rises portion is from the first of two concerts in Cleveland in November 1972. The audience recording is very good and was done close to the stage picking up the vocals and instruments nicely and gives us, the listeners, a wonderfully ambient recording with the atmosphere perfectly captured. There have been a few prior releases of this material, Va Va Va Voom (Savage Hippo SH-120), Ziggy’s Invasion Of America (Stardust 721125), and Cleveland Music Hall (Gold Standard). While the Heampstead recording finds the band in the formative stages of the Ziggy character and stage presentation, a mere five months later the set and performances are pure rock and roll theater The confidence in the group, especially Bowie, is blatantly obvious and the space alien persona is certainly “on” for this concert.
Hang On and Ziggy Stardust get the audience warmed up, Changes is moved up making for a real rock and roll extravaganza to begin the show. Gone is the deep tracks found earlier in the UK tour, Life On Mars is added to the set with Mike Garson faithfully reproducing Rick Wakeman’s beautiful piano so wonderfully melodic. A semi acoustic interlude is played consisting of Space Oddity, Andy Warhol and a new song. While on tour in the USA, Bowie would begin writing much of the material that would be found on Aladdin Sane, Drive In Saturday is one of those songs that was premiered in November 1972, in fact in introducing the song Bowie asks anyone recording the concert to turn off the recorder for the song! The audience listens intently to the music and is respectfully quiet throughout the song, The Width Of A Circle is the audiences reward. The band gets a couple extra minutes to flex their muscle during the song, The Spiders were a great unit and this song is a perfect vehicle for their improv amid one hell of a riff. The Cleveland audience is treated to a song most had probably not heard prior, John, I’m Only Dancing was a single deemed too risque to be released in the US and is very much the version from earlier in the tour on the now official Santa Monica concert.
Moonage Daydream is starting to become a real show stopper, Ronson’s guitar playing in superb and the aforementioned Mike Garson adds some great spacey type effects to accentuate the music. There is a tape cut after David introduces the band and the first minute or so on Waiting For The Man is missing, the ending is real rock and roll, curiously David had just recently produced Lou Reeds famous Transformer record. Bowie tells the audience that Jean Jeanie is something that’s been out for a couple weeks, a somewhat lackluster to a song that would be a major hit for him. Suffragette City finishes the set in a rollicking mood, the sole encore is introduced by David as being “one of Ziggy’s songs” Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide is excellent, Ronson’s driving guitar, together with David’s cries of “Your not alone” propels the concert (and the first Ziggy phase) to a dramatic ending.
Long Beach Arena, Long Beach, CA, USA – March 10, 1973
Disc 3 (59:45) Ode To Joy, Hang On To Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, Changes, Moonage Daydream, Watch That Man, Panic In Detroit, Aladdin Sane, My Death, The Width Of A Circle, Time, Five Years, Suffragette City
Bowie’s show on March 10, 1973 at the Long Beach Arena came towards the end of the second tour in support of Ziggy Stardust, a full recording has never surfaced and what we have here is what is known to circulate thanks to two old vinyl bootlegs, The All American Bowie (TMOQ 71074) and My Radio Sweetheart (Dragonfly Records), typical with old vinyl boots, someone hacked the hell out of the source tape so this is a composite of both LP’s with someone taking a hell of a lot of time to clean it up and move the songs to their original running order. Needless to say most of the between song chatter is also missing, the positives are the edits and seams are well handled. The recording is a good audience source, while it is the same source the Ode To Joy intro, Hang On To Yourself, Moonage Daydream and Watch That Man all sound brighter and are close to being very good. The mix favors the vocals and guitars while the drums can be heard they are just a tad lower, the recording does a perfect job of picking up the ambience and energy of the show. The missing songs are John, I’m Only Dancing, Space Oddity, The Jean Jeanie, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Starman, and Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide.
What makes this recording so valuable to a collection like this is the inclusion of material from the as of yet unreleased Aladdin Sane material. Panic In Detroit is excellent, the band sounds much fuller thanks to the ‘spiders being augmented by a backing singer, another guitarist, and a sax section. These other musicians also made it so David would be free of his guitar and further incorporate the Ziggy character to the stage. Sadly the first part of Aladdin Sane is missing, the recording picks up with Mike Garson leading the band on piano led improvisation set to the beat of the song, the melody is so close that David easily starts singing “On Broadway” lyrics, at the time probably inspired by The Drifters. Other stand out songs are an almost metallic Moonage Daydream and a wonderful Time and Five Years. From what I’ve read the guy who taped this show was close to the stage and sold the tape for $100.00, I am guessing he did not make a copy, what a shame as this is as great show.
Shinjuku Koseinenkin Kaikan Hall, Tokyo, Japan – April 10, 1973
Disc 4 (68:45) Ode To Joy, Hang On To Yourself, Ziggy Stardust, Changes, Moonage Daydream, John I’m Only Dancing, Watch That Man, The Width Of A Circle, Space Oddity, The Jean Jeanie, Five Years, Let’s Spend The Night Together, Suffragette City, Rock ‘N” Roll Suicide
David Bowie took Ziggy to Japan for a 9 date tour in mid April of 1973, this recording comes from the second of five concerts he would play in Tokyo. There are a couple other releases of this concert, The Ziggy Stardust Tour (Masterport Records MR 206) and recently as part of the Truth Value Of Moment (Helden DEN 40/41/42), an interesting looking release as it features recordings of the first three Tokyo dates. The source for this concert is a wonderful audience source, the audience is very respectful, almost too much and are barely heard except between songs when they politely applaud. It is just slightly distant but very clear and detailed with no real hiss to be heard, there is a nice frequency range. A great recording does not always mean great performance, this one comes in as a solid performance it lacks some of the energy of the others in this set. There is a mistake on the covers and in the booklet, Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide is listed as My Death.
The set list is standard, no real surprises, the Ode To Joy intro is complete, the band plow through the first five songs before David speaks, giving a short introduction “A song from an album called Aladdin Sane, this song is called Watch That Man”. The song picks up the concerts energy a bit, the band jam in the middle of Width Of A Circle shows Ronson flexing his muscles a bit with Trevor pushing him with his bass playing and for me the song is the highlight of this concert. Space Oddity is the full version that is very nice, while I enjoy the acoustic versions, to hear a nice, lush sounding version is special. Mick’s guitar just prior to the chorus is superb as he adds some outer space ala Hendrix leads. Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide comes from a different source, it is far more distant yet very clear, the difference in the atmosphere sounds different, while the rest of the recording sounds sterile this has lots of cheering and whistling and is more lively, makes me wonder if it’s from this show or another uncredited concert.
Boston Music Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, USA – July 16, 1974
Disc 5 (45:24) 1984, Rebel Rebel, Moonage Daydream, Sweet Thing, Changes, Suffragette City, Aladdin Sane, All The Young Dudes, Cracked Actor, Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me
Disc 6 (58:19) Watch That Man, Knock On Wood, Space Oddity, Future Legend, Diamond Dogs, Panic In Detroit, Big Brother, Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family, Time, Width Of A Circle, The Jean Jeanie, Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide
A year after ditching the Spiders, Bowie emerged with a new album, Diamond Dogs, and a spectacular stage presentation featuring futuristic themes inspired by the album cover. This presentation would push the boundaries of theatrical visual presentation set to rock music. The staging was so elaborated and difficult to maintain that there were constant issues with the props and since the group was behind the curtains for much of the performances, it was David who had to be “on” every night. The concert featured here comes right after Bowie’s multi night engagement at The Tower Theater in Philadelphia that was the source for the David Live LP. The recording comes from the archives of the famous East coast taper, Joe Maloney. There is an alternate and lesser recording that was the source for an old vinyl title, Subway (FLAT 8211) that was a 10 song bootleg LP. The Music Hall had excellent acoustics and Joe’s tape captures the atmosphere and excitement of the performance perfectly. The recording is a bit distant and picks up a great balance of music to audience. The instruments are clear and well defined, and while it’s a tad distant it sounds better at loud volumes.
The set list is strong and Bowie’s new 10 person band creates a full musical backdrop to recreate the new music as well as offer new interpretations of his back catalog. 1984 serves as opener and is based on the famous Orwell novel yet it is the pop of Rebel Rebel that gets the audience up on their feet. Moonage Daydream telling the audience defiantly “I Was The Space Invader” in homage to his former alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Sweet Thing features the band at their best, the interaction between the guitars and the sax section is powerful. Changes has the vaudeville intro, but the highlight of this tour was the Aladdin Sane material, while the band routinely did much of the album. The title song features the Lights On Broadway reference, Cracked Actor even borders on swing, save for Earl Slick playing some blistering leads. The soul inspired Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me would resonate deep within Bowie, so much the style would change the direction of the later part of the tour.
Bowie does an admiral job on Eddie Floyd’s Knock On Wood, so enamored with the song Bowie would actually release it as a single from the David Live record. Space Oddity is excellent, the warp speed sounds as the ship lifts off are excellent and the version of the song makes for a really nice one. There are a couple of deep tracks on this recording, Future Legend and Chant of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family are nice to have, since neither were found on the David Live disc. Width Of A Circle is almost completely unrecognizable in its new arrangement, but is strangely compelling, the percussive Jean Jeanie is quite nice also and after the obligatory Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide, the audience cheer loudly and the announcer comes out a couple times to tell them that “David Bowie Has Left The Theater” to a round of boos, shades of Elvis! This is a great companion piece to those of us who love the David Live LP as it gives you a feeling of what it was like to “be there”.
Boston Music Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, USA – November 15, 1974
Disc 7 (77:46) Memory Of A Free Festival (Mike Garson band), Rebel Rebel, John I’m Only Dancing, Sorrow, Changes, Young Americans, 1984, Footstompin’, Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me, The Jean Jeanie (Love Me Do), Moonage Daydream, Band Intro, Can You Hear Me, Somebody Up There Likes Me, Suffragette City, Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide, Diamond Dogs
After the second leg of the Diamond Dogs tour, Bowie scraps much of the elaborate staging of the previous dates and adds a full regiment of black backing singers (including the legendary Luther Vandross) and moves the tour into its “Plastic Soul” stage, of course Bowie was also working on the Young Americans record and was fully immersed into the Philly sound. In the Five Years documentary they look at this phase of his career and while the soul sound is not my favorite period of his music it does give you an interesting glimpse to Bowie’s diverse creations.
For this final disc in the set, we finish with another Joe Maloney audience recording from the Boston Music Hall a scant four months after the previous set. The recording is similar to the July show, very good, and a bit distant that captures the atmosphere well. There are times where the upper frequencies distort and the recording gets slightly muddy at times when the band is jamming and the voices are wailing. If anything the audience’s energy level is up a notch and one could imagine dancing in the isles as they seem very into the concert. Memory Of A Free Festival is like the calling to the congregation to come on down, the ceremony is about to begin. The set list is slightly shorter, it is well documented that David was quite “medicated” on this tour. John, I’m Only Dancing gets a workout that gets the audience on their feet clapping along, yet the highlight of this tape is the pre release versions of songs from 1975’s Young Americans record. Footstompin’ was originally written by The Flairs, Carlos Alomar transformed it into Fame, as soon as they break into it the audience reacts by clapping perfectly in time. David gets a harmonica out as the band get into a soul rendition of The Beatles’ Love Me Do as an intro to The Jean Jeannie much to the delight of the audience. The versions of Can You Hear Me and Somebody Up There Likes Me sound similar to the record versions and one could surmise that the material had been recently recorded. The audiences rapturous applause brings the house down when the band encore with Diamond Dogs, a well paid and most interesting second” in Bowie’s career.
Final Word? Yes, a couple. With Bowie’s passing the collectors market has been flooded with a myriad of releases. This is a wonderful comprehensive view of the early genius of David Bowie, from his rise as a mod looking singer from London to Rock and Roll chameleon ala the avant garde. Excellent subject matter, great sound quality and excellent presentation make this new box set from Magic Bus recommended.