Talk From The Rock Room: David Bowie - Live Santa Monica 72 - 'Ziggy Played Guitar'

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.

 

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