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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

David Bowie "Live Santa Monica '72" review

David Bowie
"Live Santa Monica '72" (Virgin)
DC Larson

An unexpected visitor turned up in my Monday mail.

Due for July 8 issuance (as a limited edition CD and double vinyl LP, including show photos and a related Robert Hilburn/Los Angeles Times review), this release presents David Bowie's first live US radio appearance: a broadcast of his Ziggy Stardust tour's Santa Monica Civic Auditorium show.

Bowie was never severely innovative (which would necessarily have been counterproductive to making cash registers ring out); only enough so to seem swirled when most around was vanilla. If anything, his knack was the hallowed one of the shrewd vendor, intuiting market tolerances.

More narratively ambitious and stylistically diverse works were to issue from the under-appreciated Sensational Alex Harvey Band ("Vambo," "Next," "Cheek to Cheek," "Tale of the Giant Stone-Eater," "Tomahawk Kid"). And the proposition of theatrics on the rock'n'roll stage would in short order be given the boot by the rip-and-stitch punk rock class of '77. (Though the phenomena did endure -- witness KISS and GWAR.)

Such naysaying having been committed to the page, though, there is cause to recommend this work. "Hang On To Yourself" and "Suffragette City" compel as much now as then by validating the conceit that rock'n'roll's veteran fires can indeed singe Now listeners. The songs are brash and they rocket in headlong extreme.

"Ziggy Stardust" illustrates why even preening narcissism couldn't strangle dominative riffing and the power of the bar chord. "Width of a Circle" merits notice for its wise accomodation of guitar master Mick Ronson's sparks-shooting exploits. In an extended bit of leg-stretching, he articulates intelligently and in soaring spectacle. His efforts unfurl and extend the geography of the electrified six string within the era's rock'n'roll.

It is, in point of fact, Ronson whose resources most raise these proceedings from the dustbin of pop culture history, there being no statute of limitations on unstilted instrumental fervor.

And in turn, much contributive reason for his own triumphs can be laid at the doorsteps of band mates Trevor Bolder (bass), Mick Woodmansey (drums) and Mike Garson (piano). An agile and vigorous company, they and Ronson made Bowie the affected-show biz-construct palatable to 1972 concert-goers more attuned to rocking out than posturing up.

All of which is, on reflection, quite a bit to find in the mailbox.


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