David Live is David Bowie’s first official live album, originally released by RCA Records in 1974. The album is recorded on the initial leg of Bowie’s US Diamond Dogs Tour in July of that year (the second leg, a more soul-oriented affair following recording sessions for the bulk of Young Americans, would be renamed 'Philly Dogs').
The album catches Bowie in transition from the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane glam-rock era of his career to the 'plastic soul' of Young Americans. While the cover featured a picture Bowie in his latest soul threads – baggy trouser suit complete with shoulder pads and suspenders from October 1974 – the music was recorded in July of that year when he was showcasing his two most recent studio albums of original material, Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane, as well as selected favourites from Ziggy Stardust and earlier.
The tour was Bowie’s most ambitious to date, featuring a giant set designed to evoke "Hunger City", the post-apocalyptic setting for Diamond Dogs, and his largest band, led by Michael Kamen. For "Space Oddity" (recorded at the time but not released until the album’s 2005 reissue) Bowie sang using a radio microphone disguised as a telephone whilst being raised and lowered above the stage by a cherry picker crane. The tour was documented in Alan Yentob’s Cracked Actor (1975).
The Thin White One's reissue program progresses onward with these two '70s live artefacts. Often dismissed by Bowie critics, they remain his only contemporaneous official live solo albums to date. With these releases, the pair are, at last, done full justice; original set orders are restored, the sound is given pin-drop clarity and the picture-stuffed packaging is a joy.
Recorded over four nights in Philadelphia on 1974's US Diamond Dogs tour, David Live has come in for criticism from Bowie himself, who later famously called the record 'David Bowie is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory', while adding that the cover shot made him look like he'd 'just stepped out of the grave'.
Given that sort of support, it's little wonder it's had such bad press. Divorcing the music from the spectacle of the shows was hard for critics all those years ago, but 31 years on we are left with a perfect snapshot of the moment where Bowie was absorbing inner city Americana.
"Sweet Thing" is full of emotional punch, "Knock On Wood" is tremendous fun, as are the louche "Jean Genie" and the nads-out Latino-rock of "Rebel Rebel". The addition of the previously unreleased "Space Oddity" - with Bowie singing into a telephone on a cherry picker - highlights the mania of the whole era; the cheer when he appears above the crowd still has the ability to send a shiver.
From a mere four years later, Stage is also a revelation, and the strange alienation of the old vinyl edition has vanished. Touring the big venues again after releasing Low and Heroes, all eyes were on how this new ambient work would be incorporated into his set. The original Stage isolated that material, but with the songs now back in their rightful place, there's an easy flow between the songs and the instrumentals.
Although the original album always sounded cold, here producer Tony Visconti adds considerable warmth; it swaggers away with verve and clarity. Hearing Bowie perform the Ziggy Stardust material straight still offers the wow factor that it must have done in 1978. The tracks from Low and Heroes are attacked with élan and "Station To Station" still totters along with wobbly majesty. "Alabama Song", "Stay" and "Be My Wife" are also restored to their rightful places.
And, oh, the band...The great overlooked rhythm section of Dennis Davis and George Murray offer a platform for Carlos Alomar's sturdy rhythm guitar and Adrian Belew's stunt guitar work.
Visconti has done a great job polishing up the silverware with David Live and Stage, and Bowie's voice is truly stunning throughout. If you're a newcomer, I wouldn't suggest that these reissues are at the top of your Thin White priority list. As a complement to the studio albums, however, they are absolutely invaluable. User Comments