Hearing Bowie perform the 'Ziggy Stardust' material straight still offers the wow...
Daryl Easlea 2002
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.