Let’s party like it’s 1984.
Sometimes you have to wonder at the serendipitous timing of David Bowie’s career. Okay, I can buy that it’s just pure luck that his last performance as Ziggy Stardust was recorded on film, but it’s difficult to choke down the idea that it’s just a coincidence that his 1974 concerts at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia, the very ones where he just about came right out and said that his next album would be a soul record, were recorded for posterity before anyone knew what he was up to.
But don’t worry about the trickery or contrivances. Because, frankly, David Live is a no-shit no-doubts-about-it good live album, the kind that’s hard to find but easy to appreciate. Because unlike most live rock n roll recordings, the songs here aren’t simply louder and faster. Many of them feature new arrangements and all of them have been at least tweaked a little to create a seamless mood and emotion between songs from albums as diverse as The Man Who Sold the World and Aladdin Sane. And while the mood is a more somber than the pervious Ziggy Stardust tour, it’s more nuanced and not without it’s moments of all-out rock. Yes, Diamond Dogs was an elegy for glam, and it’s supporting tour didn’t deviate, but at least it’s a raucous wake.
And it’s not perfect, David sounds a little tired, and he has some trouble building momentum at the start of the performance (just check out the winded sounding ‘Rebel Rebel’) and highlighting a new horn arrangement over the guitar solo of ‘Moonage Daydream’ was just a flat out mistake. But those are just minor blemishes on an otherwise wonderful performance.
Most all of the songs on David Live are wonderful, but ‘Aladdin Sane’ deserves special mention. While the recorded version can be a take-it or leave-it thing, there’s no question that this live version is a definite winner which far surpasses the original. It’s got a new, slightly funkier beat and the horn section really adds a nice kick to the whole thing. In fact, the entire show gets a lot of mileage out of those two new elements that Bowie would explore further on 1975’s Young Americans.
There are some additional songs to pay close attention too, such as ‘Panic in Detroit’ and a wonderfully truncated ‘The Width of a Circle’. ‘The Jean Genie’ undergoes the most radical re-arrangement and comes out just fabulous for it. ‘Cracked Actor’ sounds a little too smooth for its own good but ‘All The Young Dudes’ benefits from it. Don’t miss ‘Watch That Man’ either, as this is a far better live recording than the one found on Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture Soundtrack. And be sure to notice how well David works two old Motown numbers at the start of disc two.
So, overall, David Live sounds just like you’d want your funeral too. Its fun without giving into abandon and somber without falling into melancholy. Bowie’s performance is maybe a hair too spotty, but chalk it up to grief rather than coke. David Live is a 3.5 point album that sums up nicely David Bowie’s career to this point and hints at what’s to come.