Talk From The Rock Room

Friday, May 14, 2021

David Bowie - Live Santa Monica 72 - 'Ziggy Played Guitar'

For a David Bowie fan in the 1970’s if you owned a recording of the KMET-FM broadcast of ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ live performance of the Santa Monica auditorium on October 20, 1972 you flaunted it like a badge of honor. This famed concert was played on the radio in soundboard quality while featuring an expansive and well played set list from Bowie’s early discography. The band features Bowie in all of his decadent ‘Ziggy’ glory, while backed by the ‘Spiders From Mars’ made up of: guitarist Mick Ronson, drummer Mick Woodmansey, bass guitar Trevor Bolder, and long time Bowie pianist Mike Garson who joined the lineup for this 2 night appearance. The concert also holds the distinction of being a favorite of Bowie himself.

As previously stated Bowie and the Spiders played at the Santa Monica on October 20th and 21st with the first night the focus of this Talk from the Rock Room rant. These shows took place during Bowie’s first United States tour and found Bowie on the precipice of super stardom. The concert circulated in varying quality from the first broadcast, even being released in a semi-official boxset capacity but without Bowie’s approval. This is peak Bowie, straddling the fence between ‘Ziggy’ and Aladdin Sane and in total creative bliss. The set list features a cross-section of cuts from The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory and Ziggy while also exposing the audience to one new song, ‘The Jean Jeanie’. The rest of the concert is filled out with a plethora of Bowie standards.

When the concert was finally officially released in 2008 on CD and LP after almost 40 years of being bootlegged. Bowie had the following to say, ‘I can tell that I’m totally into being Ziggy by this stage of our touring. It’s no longer an act; I am him. This would be around the tenth American show for us and you can hear that we are all pretty high on ourselves. We train wreck a couple of things, I miss some words and sometimes you wouldn’t know that pianist Mike Garson was onstage with us but overall I really treasure this bootleg. Mick Ronson is at his blistering best.’

The concert and recording contains a kinetic energy with the band jamming on a knife’s edge. The sound quality is a line recording from the soundboard. The 2008 official release which I am jamming does miss some of David’s onstage remarks but offers quality sonics. The performance oozes attitude and you can feel the band puffing out their chest to the American audience. Taking the stage to ‘Ode to Joy’ (typical for the era) the concert is already dangling from the edge with a blistering version of ‘Hang on to Yourself’. ‘Hang on to Yourself’ would end of on the flip side of Bowie’s September 1972 single, ‘John. I’m Only Dancing’ which would also get a work out at this concert. Shades of rock and roll past ring around the stage with the ‘Spider’s weighty riffing.

‘Ziggy’ immediately follows with it’s recognizable ringing ‘D’ chord while Ronson’s guitar moans a thick Les Paul tone. The song is perfection in its positioning in the concert’s second slot. Bowie sounds great and I’m sure at this point looks even better! ‘Changes’ brings things to manageable levels for a moment, with the intro highlighted by Mike Garson and Trevor Bolder’s respective instruments weaving under Bowie’s vocal melody. What an opening trio!

If the sonic temperature was any higher the arena would combust so Bowie dons his twelve string for a dynamic and dramatic version of ‘The Supermen’.  Alternating between the airy verses and chunky chorus the song has a tangible fire that may be lacking on the studio recording. The following ‘Life On Mars’ and ‘Five Years’ spotlight the evening’s crisp bombastic vocals. ‘Life on Mars’ again lends it beauty to Mike Garson’s nimble fingers. Decades on from this evening’s concert these songs would be inseparable from Bowie. By that time they will have been road tested by a number of different Bowie touring bands and played for an uncountable amount of Bowie fans throughout the world. Here, they have an early morning freshness and scent of spring as Bowie is learning to weave their melodies into the fabrics of his discography and into the hearts of his admirers.

What feels like an acoustic segment begins with ‘Space Oddity’ in an sparse guise. This is the only song played during the concert from Bowie’s 1969 LP. Electric bass and meshing acoustic guitars highlight a version sung almost as a duo with Ronson who lends some wobbly and endearing backing vocals. Additionally, some cool video of this performance circulates which the 'rock room' has included here.

‘Andy Warhol’ continues the ‘unplugged’ feel of this portion of the concert. Bowie is again on twelve string with Ronson lending the song’s signature ascending lick with a clean tone and later on, bell like harmonics and twinkling trills. A favorite of the rock room and an excellent highlight of this famed recording.

Next, following some unique banter with the audience, Bowie plays a cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘My Death’ on his acoustic guitar, Bowie had revealed this addition to his setlist in August at his two nights at the Rainbow Theatre. He had previously been coving another Brel song, ‘Amsterdam’, but Bowie seemed more attracted to this particular song. It’s lyric more in touch with the dramatic theatre intensity of the ‘Spiders’ concerts. Bowie moves between dictation, swooping singing, whispers, and sinister inquiry, all in six minutes and centrally located in the middle of the evening.

                                                            Photographer Unknown

In contrast to the music that preceded it, Bowie and the Spider’s enter into an extended and explosive version of ‘The Width of a Circle’. I’m digging the off mic shout that precedes the band kicking the song off. A consistent highlight of an evening with Bowie, the syncopated slamming around the song’s changes reveal themselves in a book written by Bowie and read by ‘Black Sabbath’. After disposing  of the verses at a bit after two minutes, the ‘Spiders’ drop in from a dark corner, weaving a hearty strand of variations. Ronson lends a sticky drone that lays on top of Woodmansey’s hunky thump.  This portion of the evening allows the ‘Spiders’ to stretch their respective legs and do some straight up jamming.

At four and a half minutes the jam turns into angles and sharp edges, Ronson and Woodsmansey aggressively try to jam a key into a strange lock and after a crushing stab fall back into another round of high tempo soling and the song’s final set of changes. Bowie and the band return to the dramatic set of concluding verses before completing the musical sphere.

Bowie and the Spiders now set their phasers to stun and enter into a molten series of punky renditions of Bowie gold. Starting things off with ‘Queen Bitch’, the band knobs up the intensity with each number until giving it all to the crowd with a concluding and symbolic ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. The ‘Spiders’ are deadly and Bowie is sinister in his vocal approach. Following a groovy ‘Queen Bitch’, an aggressively funky ‘Moonage Daydream’ follows with a viscous Ronson guitar solo where he kicks on the wah-wah for the first time in the show. Bowie’s vocals just destroy me here, sensual and scary all wrapped into one. Classic.

‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ follows next in an arrangement that borders on country. Bowie’s vocals are anything but. The song has a strange history and would be released as a Bowie single in  September of 1972, again in 1973 with a saxophone added and then finally in 1974 in a disco aesthetic as ‘John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)’.

Bowie introduces the band prior to his cover of the Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For the Man’. I mainstay of Bowie concerts, this version starts out laid back but ends nice and proper. Bowie is true to form and gives his best Lou Reed impersonation with well-timed vibrato. Spacious and loose, the band turns in a dynamic performance that with each turn around the roundabout ends up picking up speed.

The double whammy of ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Suffragette City’ whip the crowd into a writhing mass of glamorous rockers and chicks. Road tested burners played here with the original disseminators in clear fidelity. ‘The Jean Genie’ stomps with both Bowie and Ronson scratching along during the verses. With just a pause the band slams head on in ‘Suffragette City’ high speed, no breaking. This is the stuff that influenced an entire decade. ‘Queen Bitch’ through ‘Suffragette City’ is a ‘Rock 101’ course that must be taken by all rockers. Everything one could ask for in a rock and roll show and performance is included within. David replies, ‘good night’ and the concert has concluded to a standing ovation.

The concert and recording closes with Bowie on a slightly out of tune acoustic guitar playing ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. Garson joins David during the second verse and the drums and electric guitar enter for verse three. There can be no other concluding song for Bowie or his fans, and the rough and ready reading only makes it the more fitting.

David Bowie, live in Santa Monica is a ‘must have’ aural capture of an era of Bowie that acted as the compass bearing for the rest of his career. Bowie’s plentiful personas were blended colors on an artist’s pallet throughout Bowie’s career. Pales and pinks, fluorescents and day glo each identify Bowie as a recording artist as well as a human….or peoploid. On this, musical recording ‘Ziggy’ is finding his feet and his way just like his creator. Like the tale of Frankenstein the beast would soon take over the creator therefore eventually forcing the death of said beast. But for a special snapshot in time, one luckly captured on this recording, ‘Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and the Spiders from Mars’ and by doing so became a star, man.

 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Peter Tosh- All Rise Up - Long Island 1979 - 'We Will Love Each Other’

On the evening of a solar eclipse, August 22, 1979, Peter Tosh in his band played the Calderone Concert Hall in Hempstead, Long Island. Recently (at the end of 2020) on the official Peter Tosh You Tube channel a FM Soundboard performance has been published. After some sleuthing the 'rock room' found there are lossless digital files around on the web, but as far as I could find no physical product. The concert is only titled as Peter Tosh: All Rise Up Long Island, NY 79,WLIR Broadcast, but after some additional internet searches the ‘rock room’ has matched the set list of the performance with the set provided by the fantastic Peter Tosh: Children of the Ghetto website. The ‘rock room’ asserts this concert hails from the end of the 1979 Mystic Man tour. The ‘rock room’ believes the circulating soundboard may have been misdated due to Tosh and band also hitting the metropolitan NY area in March of 1979. If you have any additional information regarding this show feel free to reach out to the 'rock room'. If you follow Talk from the Rock Room, you understand our passion for physical media and the hope is that the Tosh Estate makes this available for us rockers on beautiful vinyl or in a boxset sooner or later.

What’s fantastic about this set is that is spotlights a number of road practiced songs from the current Mystic Man album as well as a number of classics. The streaming soundboard begins with a swirling slow roach introduction before the band slides into the patient groove of ‘400 Years’. The song, an in concert standard of Tosh, this version is hearty like the stickiest field herb. Tosh’s syrupy rhythm guitar is out in front building a strong foundation.  A deliberate and steady version follows. Without a pause the band segues as seamlessly as smoke into ‘Steppin Razor’.  One of Tosh’s most famed tracks the double hit to open the show sets the table for a musical feast yet to come. ‘Razor’ moves with the same patient groove as the opener but soon sprouts with alternating percussion and kinetic instrumentation.

Tosh is singing beautifully and the band is screwed down tight. Per usual Peter’s band is comprised of pros of the reggae scene. The muscular rhythm section is made up of the legendary duo of Robbie Shakespeare on bass and Sly Dunbar on drums. Coloring the riddim for Tosh’s collective is also Darryl Thompson on guitar, Mikey Chung on guitar, Robert Lynn on keyboards and Keith Sterling and the Tamlin’s on backing vocals. Tosh referred to this collaborative as Words, Sound and Power.

Cuts, new for the time and like all of Tosh’s catalog, completely relevant songs for even today follow with, ‘The Day the Dollar Die’, and ‘Recruiting Soldiers’.  ‘The Day the Dollar Die’ examines the power that currency has over us all and how its demise would be cause for celebration. A mournful and descending Tosh melody contrasts with the hopeful anticipation of the chorus. In the ‘rock room’s’ opinion one of Tosh’s finest hybrids of lyric and melody. Seamlessly the song falls into the militant drum introduction to ‘Recruiting Soldiers’ another recently released song on the 1979 LP Mystic Man. An album brimming with Tosh’s serious attitude yet comforting melodies, ‘Recruiting Soldiers’ is Tosh’s mission statement as a militant, musical missionary disseminating the gospel of JAH.  The song concludes with its percussive march heading toward the horizon as it began the song.

‘African’ is another standard of Tosh’s performances during this era due to its collaborative message of bringing all descendants of African heritage together and encouraging them to be aware as well as proud of their history. The tune is squishy, driven by a funky reggae keyboard bubble and phased dressings over the groove. When the song reaches its conclusion it cracks open an extended and syncopated percussion jam in which Tosh joins in on a hand drum.  A tough and funky beginning to the concert to which the crowd responds in kind.

A double banger from 1978’s Mystic Man comes next with “I’m the Toughest’, and ‘Bush Doctor’. The first track, ‘I’m the Toughest’ is a light and airy song propelled across glass ocean waters by a straight forward 4/4 groove. ‘Bush Doctor’, is played next, the title track from Tosh’s third 1978 LP. The cut is a multifaceted piece with a substantial introduction, major guitar work, and a plethora of flashing keyboard coloring. Tosh’s viscous guitar work holds it all together with his unique polyrhythmic strumming. This song is the centerpiece of the performance with multifarious percussion and rhythmic interplay that increases the intensity. The song concludes with a soaring aggressive guitar and percussion battle that falls back into the song’s prelude. The crowd explodes in kind when the song ends.

While the temperature in the Long Island venue is worthy of a Negril beach the band throws down a weighty ‘one drop’ of the Peter Tosh/Bob Marley co-written ‘Get Up Stand Up’. Tosh’s band plays the song like a dictation from above, a shady and sneaky groove is again highlighted by churning percussion. Tosh’s voice reverberates from a smoky shrouded mountain top in Nine Mile, he sings like he is 100 feet tall. This reading passes seven minutes and features another smoking guitar solo spot by Darryl Thompson.

Now that Tosh has the assembled crowd at full attention, feeling irie, and on the edge of their respective seats. The Temptations 1965 song, ‘Don’t Look Back’ is played next, a song originally played by Tosh with the ‘Wailers’ as an early Jamaican cut. Here, Tosh plays the tune to great feedback as the song was a minor reggae hit he had scored with Mick Jagger joining on vocals on the studio version.

The extended and disco influenced ‘Buk-In-Hamm Palace’, another song from Mystic Man, comes next and surpasses ten minutes. Beginning with a firm kick drum stomp, the percussion soon joins in followed by funky cymbal work. Dramatic washes of synth work increase the drama. Tosh enters and extols the importance of Reggae music before reaching the central line, ‘Light up your spliff, light up your chalice, we gonna smoke in Buckingham Palace’. The music shifts underneath Tosh and the vocalists, a departure from the usual Reggae elements. While Sly and Robbie drive the rock beat forward, funk guitar lines and laser shots of keyboards and call and response organ pump up the groove. The song performs like as a mantra. Similarly, to other shows played on the Mystic Man tour, the song lands into a rattling percussion jam. The backing singers, musicians and Tosh all grab something that shakes or bangs and enter into a trance inducing groove.

The instruments begin to percolate and the smoke rises. The song proper begins to reveal itself again as we approach ten minutes. Tosh enters and free forms with the backing vocalists as the jam roaches weightlessly. While the band rolls on, the MC introduces Tosh and band aptly named, Word Sound and Power.  The MC announces ‘Round Two’ and asked the crowd if they are ready for ‘Round Two’. The enthusiasm from the crowd is tangible on the tape. A ‘Word Sound and Power’ chant begins to gain momentum between the stage and the crowd with the percussion driving the message home.

Tosh returns to the stage and the concert concludes with two substantial readings of Tosh classics. The first, ‘Mystic Man’, is the title track of Tosh’s current record and the name of the tour. The second is 'Legalize It', a title track as well and perhaps the song Tosh is most well known for. 'Mystic Man' is steady and sneaky, with Tosh listing in call and response fashion the things that 'I Man' don't deal with. The chorus reply is glorious as it brakes through the dirt of the verses to bask in the resplendent sun of the chorus changes. Cause I'm a man of the past, and I'm living in the present and I'm walking in the future'. The song fades with teletype percussion and Tosh and the vocalists singing out the title. 

The percussion rises as a bed of organ is laid over the top of the drums before falling gently, the crowd is digging it. ‘Legalize It’, is an obviously fitting conclusion of the show. The backing vocals enter over a kinetic bed of drums. Slower than the studio version and some other live versions, this one has a stony end of show vibe that fits like seed in soil. This reading stretches toward nine minutes and concludes with a reciprocal singalong between crowd and artist that illustrates the ideal that 'music is the healing of the nations' as Peter would often say. As the band is introduced the existing tape fades to silence.

There is an abundance of Peter Tosh and his live concert appearances available in both official and unofficial channels. Most if not all have something musically unique to offer the listener. This particular concert comes from a strong tour and with an amazingly stellar band of musicians. I’m content that the Peter Tosh Estate has uploaded this performance for our listening pleasure, though it is unfortunate that the concert is not available on physical media. Hopefully in the future these releases will make it to LP or CD even in a limited state as I wasn’t even aware that this concert existed officially until recently. I understand times are changing but it is still a good idea to immortalize these special musical moments when possible. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Take One: Fairport Convention/Sandy Denny –'Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’ – ‘I Have No Fear of Time’

A song that contemplates the passing of time and was voted by UK listeners in 2007 as their favorite folk song is spinning endlessly on the ‘rock room’s turntable today. ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ is a song composed by Sandy Denny and recorded a number of times by a multifarious collection of musicians. Oddly enough the song’s subject is proven by the song longevity and agelessness. Denny was a great fan of traditional song and she ended up composing one that would nestle comfortably into the folk lexicon. Similarly to other ‘rock’ standards including but not limited to, ‘Without You’, Everybody’s Talkin’, ‘Let It Be’, Denny’s song sprouted new life and like her true love of folk standards started to be passed along from musician to musician.

‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ was composed in 1967 as per a demo recorded at Denny’s home and is available on a rare cassette only compilation called The Attic Tracks Volume 3. Unbelievably, Denny was 17 years old when she composed such a substantial pillar of songwriting. What I find unbelievable is the depth of character and deep understanding of life at this early age, in addition to being able to express it in melody and song. The melody and lyric contain a soaking sense of solitude and melancholy that seems difficult to grasp without a plethora of painful life experience.

Denny recorded an additional version shortly after her early 1967 demonstration recording joining with the band  ‘The Strawbs’ and having guitarist Dave Cousins accompany her on a lacy acoustic based reading. This particular recording has been released officially and his available on the recording Sandy Denny and the Straws-All Our Own Work which was a compilation of the aforementioned 1967 recordings released in 1973.

Denny’s song and her career received a well-deserved acknowledgement and  jolt when famed folkie Judy Collins received one of Denny’s demos of the track in 1968 and decided  to cover it as well as title the name of her record after the song. Collins version which also was released as a ‘B’ side to her single ‘Both Sides Now’, appeared officially well before Denny’s already recorded versions.

Perhaps the definitive version amongst a career of performances  is the first reading of this Denny song to appear on a pressing, ‘Fairport Convention’s third long player, 1969’s Unhalfbricking. The song here emanates a ‘hopeful sadness’ with Denny’s vocals perhaps eliciting a deeper emotion than the songs lyric. Denny’s acoustic and Richard Thompson’s open the tune, revealing a salty horizon where past and future collide in the present quiet contemplation of the author’s thoughts. Thompson’s guitar weaves cleanly through the songs melody, knotting each string perfectly with a tight musical bow hitch.  The arrangement retains its acoustic elements, but with ‘Fairport Convention’ gets as Neil Young would say, a bit of the ‘spook’, taking the song to a new level.

The song sways on its own internal momentum, just the delicate metronome of a high hat. Bass and the snare soon to follow setting the table for Denny’s shimmering and delectable vocals. The chorus soon revealing a beam of scattered sunlight breaking through the foggy verses. Denny’s voice the calm storyteller, perfection in the face of uncertainty. Richard Thompson’s wife and friend of Sandy said of Denny’s vocal acumen, ‘With Sandy, you just believed every word, every syllable, and every heartbeat. It was all relevant. That's a great gift.’

The hardest part for any band is to lay back and to be attentive. Here, the band lays so far back they tip in their rocker, with Thompson’s aforementioned guitar squiggling in shorthand across the chord changes. The main instrument and focus is Sandy. Dynamics and the act of listening are on full display. The blurry collection of lyrics brings to the ‘rock room’ an image of a solitary figure on a forgotten winter shore. The seasons morph in front of them, the weather shifts by the moment and the figure remains, stoic, hidden.

While the ‘rock room’s above focus is on the definitive “Fairport Convention’ studio recording, there is a number of live renditions both with and without ‘Fairport’ that are worthy of your time and attention. A quivering solo acoustic version from September 11, 1973 on the BBC is available officially (if you can find it). Just Sandy and her spectral twelve spring conjoined in sonic dance of perfection. I feel lucky to be able to listen to this magical performance, in a way it sums up Sandy perfectly.

While writing about this song the ‘rock room’ has learned there cannot be only one definitive version of this track! They are all definitive. The substantial strength of the song’s melody and its enduring quality is proven by the long list of stellar artists who covered the song. Along with Judy Collins, Nina Simone, Eva Cassidy, Lonnie Donnegan, Susanna Hoffs, and of course Richard Thompson who pays a moving tribute to his friend every time he performs it in concert.

My hope with this Take One feature is to once again place a firelight glow on a song that in all reality needs no promotion from my humble little ‘rock room’. But as Sandy stated, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’, and with the passage of years Denny’s importance and influence on both the world of folk and rock cannot be understated. The timelessness of the song, its singer and its disseminators will endure.