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The one and only Bowie live album that you really need is actually this soundtrack to the oddly mesmerizing concert film from his Aladdin Sane tour, Ziggy Stardust, which pretty much consists of Bowie, Mick Ronson, and the crowd wearing goofy glam spaceman / Elvis in Honolulu / aerobics outfits and tons of makeup, a bunch of red spotlights, and some of the most gratuitous on-stage simulated sex since Lambada: The Forbidden Dance.

There's no 'alternate version' silliness or any of that jazz - what you hear on the video is what you get on the CD, which is refreshing after buying the soundtrack to Behind the Green Door and getting a thinly disguised copy of Brian Eno's Another Green World instead.

Anyway, Ziggy and the Spiders were on fire this night, as Bowie apparently knew ahead of time that this was the last time he was ever going to climb atop his platform shoes and go onstage in his butt-pirate incarnation. After this show, he 'retired' from touring until 1974, when he returned as a cross between Robert Goulet and a Montgomery Ward department store mannequin, fronting a band full of slick guys named Slick, pissing all of his Ziggy fans off but good.

I'm not sure even the Spiders knew what was going to happen, and the sound of the crowd sobbing after Bowie announces that 'not only is this the last show on the tour, this is the last show we'll ever do' shows that the 13-year-old transvestites didn't have a clue. Was he returning to Mars? Was he retiring to the country to herd goats and read Tolstoy? Was he gonna kill himself like in "Rock and Roll Suicide" that he so appropriately used as his finale?

Well, shit man, it's Bowie, and he'd spent two years with the same poofy orange mullet! You expect him to continue like that forever? He's a trend-setter with oodles of hubris and a limited amount of talent who has to keep ahead of the envelope so people don't have time to figure out that he actually isn't that miraculous. He was a Madonna for the 1970's ... what do you think he's gonna do?

All the hubbub was premature - Ziggy would still be available on record album covers until at least mid-1974, at which time Bowie dropped his hair-dye act until the mid-1990's, when he didn't have a clue what he was doing with himself.

Whether it's because of the film crews or the retirement, Bowie gives it his all throughout, commanding the stage with a cross between 'animal grace' and pure unadulterated punk energy, singing all his tunes with full voice and personality, something you'll never be able to get with either the distracted coked-out David Live or the perfunctory Stage.

On David Live, Bowie's voice started cracking like that cyborg at the end of Terminator 2 once he reached the third or fourth song, but here he keeps it pounding on through the big ol' howls of "Moonage Daydream" and on through the sprinting "Suffragette City" and cover of "White Light/White Heat" that close out before the encore, and he puts everything he can into keeping the energy level at breaking point.

Of course, it may also be that Bowie still felt some respect for his rock'n'roll material, whereas on David Live he sounded like he'd just as soon sing Ashford and Simpson covers for two hours as revisit his metal years. Whatever happens, this is a punk record three years ahead of its time (with the exception of say, "Time" and "Space Oddity" and a few other slow songs that fit in like Boy George at a Daughters of the American Revolution convention), and for the stretches in which they are in full flight on his Ziggy / Aladdin material are positively hammering ...

Ronson plays his massive Les Paul guitar like a man barely controlling a fire hose, and the Spider rhythm section pounds and doo-wops its background vocals like true champs, resulting in a show that - as long as the tempos remain fast and the guitar loud - may have a few mistakes but sure sounds flawless.

For all the apparent Bowie worship going on in this review (it is, as they say, impossible to look away, or in this case plug your earholes), this show puts into great relief how lame some of Bowie's more pretentious early work really is, as "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" brings the opening bit of the show to a screeching halt, and the poison acoustic duo of "Space Oddity" and "My Death" threaten to derail the performance altogether.

But then, as Ronson reattaches his axe to his power outlet with a resounding 'SKREEAAAWWW!!!' at the beginning of "Cracked Actor", all that's washed away and we're home free with classic versions of a finally believable "Time", where Bowie wills his song over the crowd, a wonderfully fucked version of "Width of a Circle", and the breathless closing sequence, until finally pulling into "Rock'n'Roll Suicide", which sounds not only perfectly fitting, but also perfectly sincere when compared to the false Ziggy studio version.

Like the Grateful Dead and Rush, hearing the Spiders-era Bowie albums just doesn't have the creative and energetic charge of hearing them live, making Soundtrack from Ziggy Stardust (or the supposedly superior former bootleg Santa Monica 1972) essential for people disappointed by Ziggy or Aladdin, and absolutely required listening for fans of Bowie and glam. And hell, fans of good ol dirty-ass rock 'n' roll might just dig it too.

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Posted: Saturday 6th Apr 2019 10:05 AM

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album review
Put this on directly after White Light / White Heat and you'll probably crack the laser lens in your CD player, like dropping a hot coffee cup into icy water. No signs of noisy weirdness here!

Avant Garde? No way! This is quiet! It's folky rock, like those chummy, friendly dudes on the cover in their collegiate sweaters came over with their guitars and stuff and want to play you a few of the new songs they just wrote.

These guys aren't weird at all, they just want to sing a bunch of doo wah's like on "Candy Says", and slowly strum their clean warm-sounding electric guitars. Even when they rock it's in a groovy, bopping in your basement / not too loud so the neighbors don't call sort of way.

Even so, I love the crap out of these songs. Their warm and fuzzy quiet atmosphere really helps me focus on the tightness, the hooks, the cool solos, the great songwriting the band at last reveal ... I love "What Goes On" to death - the words, that groovy fast-as-lightning strumming. And that backbeat! No stupid rolls or fills or anything, see if you don't start grooving to that monster after a few minutes. And because Cale has gone, there aren't any weird cellos or anything.

These songs are groovy and moody and - dammit! - expressive. Some are dumb, like "That's the Story of My Life" and "The Murder Mystery" (the most 'avant garde' track here - interesting sure, but stupid). But all the other songs are damn near perfect.

Although "Jesus" is the best 'God' song ever, no one ever mentions how great and sad it is, other than to say 'wow, the Velvets are singing about Jesus and it doesn't even sound like a sick joke!'. Why can't anyone ever accept that this band just never was that weird, or that alternative, or that 'uber cool' ... I mean, the only member that was turned out to be Cale, and after he left they only wanted to write cute little snappy catchy songs, and did it better than damn near everyone else.

So keep this band off your 'cool' list, and leave it to us simple folk who love a great tune and some decent lyrics.

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Posted: Sunday 14th Apr 2019 10:47 AM

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