CD Review of Live Santa Monica ‘72 by David Bowie
Recommended if you like
Mott The Hoople, T. Rex, Lou Reed
Label
Virgin
David Bowie:
Live Santa Monica ‘72

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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A
fter years of being bootlegged and “officially” sold by various record labels of questionable repute, Virgin EMI has finally officially (with a capitol “O”) released this show themselves. Hey, why listen to new Bowie when you can have some classic stuff, right? At least it’s not another in the long line of Bowie greatest hits cash-ins. Virgin must have seen the monetary potential with the set, or David just needed some extra income or even possibly wanted to stop the bootleggers for good with this “limited edition” version of the show, which will be available on CD, 180-gram vinyl double LP and mp3. Everyone wins!

Or not. The show was originally broadcast on October 20, 1972 on Los Angeles radio station KMET. This was Bowie’s first live radio gig in the States, and the crowd at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was ready and able to get freaky with the glam master. But like the soundtrack to the Ziggy Stardust film, the performances here are just not as shit-hot as the original studio versions of the songs. It may seem almost blasphemous to say so, but Bowie’s live sound became better, certainly much fuller when the Spiders from Mars were broken up and the cocaine king issued David Live with a more fleshed-out group, and cleaned up later and got even bigger for Stage.

But here we hear Bowie at the cusp of his greatness, having scored dramatically with his Ziggy Stardust album and performing a chunk of songs from it as well as the much better Hunky Dory and a few tracks from The Man Who Sold the World and his first album, which came to be better known as Space Oddity when it was reissued in the wake of the success of Ziggy. The Spiders (with the great Mick Ronson on lead guitar) are fine and all, but the Who they ain’t. There’s something almost garage-rock like in listening to this band live and comparing it to the grandiose trappings Bowie threw over them in the studio. It just didn’t seem as “glam” at this point, although half of it was the visuals. Hence, as Bowie became more assured of his live performances music-wise, the live albums became better without needing to see the costumes, set designs, et cetera.

Even Bowie at the Beeb shows David at his in-studio best, in control of the situation and nailing down some good performances. Live Santa Monica ’72 has the energy, but not the nuance. Still, where else are you going to hear “The Supermen,” “Queen Bitch,” and “Andy Warhol” all thrown into the mix before Aladdin Sane came around and gave Bowie even more glam fodder to push away some of the older material? Of course, Bowie throws in his usual Velvet Underground tribute (“I’m Waiting for the Man”), which is tasty, and tries out a newer number – “The Jean Genie,” which finds David sounding a bit subdued. Then there’s the never-was-really-good “John, I’m Only Dancing” which is another that sounds thunderous on the original single and completely neutered here.

But again, this was Bowie’s big debut as Ziggy in the U.S., and so some things can be forgiven here. Yet the mix on this disc is absolutely maddening at times. For many of the cuts, Bowie’s voice appears mostly on the left channel, as does Ronson’s guitar. Sometimes they shift more to the middle, but not often enough, leaving the rhythm section more to the right area of the stereo spectrum and creating that annoying “early stereo” mix that producers favored so much in the ‘60s when they didn’t really know what the hell to do with the newfangled recording technique.

Perhaps you just had to be there. You probably did. But as big a Bowie fan as I am, there’s just too much amateur hour stuff going on here to make it an essential listen for me. Fans who have always been wanting an official release of this show will have cause to celebrate. The casual fans and perhaps even some diehards like myself may find the whole thing a bit lacking overall, however. But hey, you can look back and remember a time when you could see David Bowie for the insanely cheap price of $5.50, as shown on the album’s cover art. Crazy, man.

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