Sunday, 10 July 2016
When Bowie passed away, various experts came out of the woodwork to talk about how he was more than just a great singer, but also a great actor, a great painter, and also, a supreme stage performer. But in all honesty, Bowie was never a regular touring act, spending several periods of his career in a state of gig-less inactivity. There were no tours during the late 70s or early 80s, whilst live performances between 1991 and early 1995 were virtually non existent.
In addition to this, there were some tours that were nothing more than trawls around the festival circuit (2002’s “Heathen” shows), and other tours where getting tickets was a bit of a lottery as Bowie hit the clubs instead of the arenas (1997’s shows in support of “Earthling”). Technically, the only ’proper’ tour Bowie did after the shows for 1995’s “Outside” were the “Reality” shows in 2003/2004 - which turned out to be his last.
As such, the gaps between one tour and the next means that looking at Bowie’s gig life, post-”Space Oddity”, is not quite as daunting as you might think. This was not a man who played shows every year, unlike Dylan has post-1987. So I thought it would be fun to look at Bowie’s tours from the “Ziggy” days onwards, looking at what was officially released from each, and when. The early years haven’t really spawned anything official at all, the best you will get is the “In Concert” stuff on the “Bowie At The Beeb” album, so we are looking here at what happened after Arnold Corns had been abandoned, and “Hunky Dory” had started to prick up people’s ears. This is part 1, looking at the period from 1972 to 1988. There are a few releases in here not previously documented on earlier Bowie blogs I have done, so it’s not completely pointless, but I hope you enjoy it. Part 2, from 1995 to 2004 will appear early next year I think.
1972 - 1973
The Ziggy Stardust tour was, in reality, a series of smaller tours sort of “clumped” together, but were all presented as a showcase for Ziggy and the Spiders From Mars. The first handful of shows were now legendary, under attended, gigs in Aylesbury and at the Toby Jug pub in London, but by the time “Aladdin Sane” was out, Bowie was able to fill venues like Earls Court. For some years, there were no official releases of any of these shows, and by the time they finally did start to appear, they sort of appeared in ‘reverse’ chronological order.
In 1979, a film documenting the final gig of the tour, the now famous (second) show at Hammersmith Odeon on 3rd July 1973, was released, and generally became known as “Ziggy Stardust”. It had been filmed by D A Pennebaker, who had been asked to film about 20 minutes worth of footage on RCA’s behalf, but after seeing the previous night’s show, Pennebaker was so impressed, he decided to film it all. The film was, for the most part, a fully fledged document of the show, interspersed with bits of backstage footage, and some great “pre gig” scenes filmed outside the venue of the fans, which captured the whole Ziggy phenomenon. RCA also recorded the entire show, ostensibly because it was the last gig of that part of the tour, although it sometimes seems a bit of a coincidence that it would turn out to be the show during which Bowie killed Ziggy - Pennebaker has, in one interview, claimed that he was approached by RCA specifically because they thought ‘it might be the last show he will play’.
Eventually, Pennebaker’s film was given a proper theatrical release, and emerged in 1983, before making it onto home video soon after. RCA decided to issue a “soundtrack” album to coincide with the cinema release. Bowie, having moved away from music in the early 80s to concentrate more on his acting career, thus incurred the wrath of RCA who decided to fill the market with Bowie product whenever things went quiet. By 1981, Bowie was so convinced that RCA would dig the tapes out of the archives, that he made the decision to try and produce a decent sounding mix of the show himself with help from long time producer Tony Visconti. “Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture” was thus issued, initially on LP and Cassette, in October 83, although it was later given a (now deleted) CD release (EMI CDEMD 1037) in 1992.
Neither the film nor the LP featured the full gig - the encore had included performances of “Jean Genie” and “Round And Round”, with Jeff Beck guesting on guitar - and even though these songs were shown in an hour long US TV special which documented the show in 1974 (available on Youtube), Beck refused to allow for either the LP or movie to include these songs when the “official“ release was being put together. Restrictions due to the logistics of vinyl saw “Changes” moved towards the end of the record, appearing at the start of side 4, whilst “Width Of A Circle” was heavily edited. “Cracked Actor” was actually longer than the version in the film, as Pennebaker declined to show the intro to the song in the movie.
In 2003, a 30th anniversary reissue was conducted. Not only did the film reappear on DVD in remixed form, but so did the soundtrack. The running order was revamped so that the songs appeared in the same order as the film, whilst “Width Of A Circle” was included in unedited form - with a running time some five minutes longer than the 1983 version. According to my notes, the version in the film is still slightly edited, but I could be wrong. The Beck tracks were still missing. The 2003 version was slightly retitled, appearing as “Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars - The Motion Picture Soundtrack”, and appeared on both CD and Double Red Vinyl (EMI ZIGGYRIP 3773). 2014’s “Five Years” boxset includes not only albums originally issued in the 1969-1973 period, but live albums taped during the same time frame. The box thus includes the 2003 version of the LP. The box has been issued on both vinyl and a slightly more affordable CD set (Parlophone DBXL 1), and the LP itself is now available as a stand alone vinyl release for about £20.
Some of the songs have appeared on other occasions. “White Light White Heat” was issued as a 7” by RCA to promote the album (RCA 372), with the live version of “Cracked Actor” on the b-side, using the same front cover image as that on the album. The 1989 “Sound + Vision” boxset (technically only ever available in the UK on import) included three songs from the album - “Ziggy Stardust”, “White Light” and “Rock N Roll Suicide”, the latter minus it’s ’farewell speech’ ending. This track got yet another lease of life in 2014, when it appeared on the flip of a Record Store Day 7” picture disc reissue of the studio mix of “Rock N Roll Suicide“ itself (Parlophone DBROCK 40).
It was the CD edition of the “Sound + Vision” box which also provided the next bundle of official recordings from the Ziggy tour. The boxset came with a bonus disc, which included three previously unissued live recordings of “John I’m Only Dancing”, “Changes” and “The Supermen”, all taped at a show at Boston Music Hall on 1st October 1972 (Rykodisc RCS 90120). In 2003, an expanded 2-CD 30th anniversary edition of “Aladdin Sane” included all three tracks on the second disc of the package (in a different order) along with a previously unheard take of “Life On Mars” from the same show (EMI 583 0122). Then, in 2013, a 40th anniversary picture disc reissue of the “Life On Mars” 7” was issued, which included the live version of “Mars” from the Boston gig again on the flip (Parlophone DBMARS 40). So, four tracks, and a multitude of ways to get them. The “Aladdin Sane” reissue is probably the easiest approach.
The 2 disc “Aladdin Sane” also included two other live recordings from the tour. There was a “lo fi” recording of “Drive In Saturday” from the Cleveland Public Auditorium, taped on 25th November 1972. It must have been lifted straight from an audience recording, but no other songs from the same show have appeared officially yet. And there was also a recording of “Jean Genie” from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20th October 1972.
The Santa Monica gig had done the rounds on bootleg for years, having been originally taped for US radio. In 1994, Bowie’s former management company, Mainman, re-emerged with a new label entitled Golden Years. They would release three Bowie related releases over the next couple of years, all of which were issued without Bowie’s consent. “Santa Monica 72” (Golden Years GY 002) was the first such release, a good quality reissue of the full gig, complete with DJ introductions. The UK release looked good, and came with a free reproduction of the original ticket, although some of the overseas releases look more like bootlegs. The Mainman pressing eventually went out of print, and Bowie issued an official release in 2008, slightly retitled “Live Santa Monica 72”, which was more or less the same as the 1994 version. Of interest is that the front cover, whilst different from the Mainman one, includes as part of it’s artwork, a reprint of the ticket (again). It was almost as if Bowie and his team acknowledged the importance of the original release, and were simply retooling it to meet their own approval. The “Five Years” boxset includes this version of the album.
Several of the Santa Monica songs resurfaced on other Mainman releases. Aside from a slightly pointless reappearance for “Ziggy” on the next Golden Years Bowie release, 1995’s “RarestOneBowie” - more on this one in a bit - three tracks from the gig turned up on a CD EP at the same time, the first time “Ziggy Stardust” had appeared as a UK single (Golden Years GYCDS 002). The extra tracks were “Waiting For The Man” and “Jean Genie”. Meanwhile, the newspaper freebie album “iSelect” (EMI UPDB 001), a joint release between EMI and the Mail On Sunday, included “Hang On To Yourself”, as part of an attempt to promote the reissued 2008 version.
As for “RarestOneBowie” (Golden Years GY 014), this hotch potch of odds and sods also included other recordings from the Ziggy tour which, again, remain the only ‘official’ releases from these shows. The final two tracks on the album were a version of “My Death” taped at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 28.9.1972, and the album concluded with another lo-fi recording, “I Feel Free”, from the Kingston Polytechnic on 6.5.1972. Bowie had finally recorded a studio version of the track for 1993’s “Black Tie White Noise”, and it was obvious that this live version had again been snaffled from a bootleg, and included for it’s historical importance.
Bowie’s 1974 tour of America, often referred to somewhat generically as the “Diamond Dogs” tour, not only showed that Bowie was far from being ’retired’, but was a showcase of his new love of soul music. It has been claimed by some that this was the tour in which Bowie changed musical direction halfway through, but this is not strictly true. Yes, the final leg of the tour was dubbed “The Soul Tour”, which boasted a new stage lineup, altered setlist and simplified stage production, but even before the “Diamond Dogs” album had been completed, the first strains of Bowie’s “Plastic Soul” period were already in situ. Just watch the late ‘73 “1980 Floor Show”, a US TV special filmed - strangely - in London, where the likes of “1984” were given their first airing, and you can hear that the seeds were already being sown.
Bowie’s management had been lining up a US tour for the fall of 1973 after the Hammersmith shows, but the killing of Ziggy put a kibosh on that idea. That may or may not explain why “Diamond Dogs” was only promoted on the other side of the Atlantic - what is known is that at first, the tour was designed as a big, theatrical extravaganza, which would have made it difficult, logistically and financially, to cart around the globe. Seen as one of the earliest examples of the modern day ’stadium rock’ spectacle, the stage design saw Bowie inhabiting a place known as “Hunger City” - an idea floated early on was that the show would play for multiple nights in each city, thus giving the “Hunger City” backdrop a sort of home for the week, but this idea was never followed through. In certain cities, Bowie did play what were almost mini residencies, presumably due to healthy ticket sales, and this did at least give the road crew a rest, as the elaborate stage design reportedly took 36 hours to build.
As expected, the new album featured heavily in the setlists - but from day one, the “Plastic Soul” vibe was evident. “Rebel Rebel”, a glam, Ziggy-esque stomper on the LP, was retooled as a loose, funky, sax driven groove. It would take years before Bowie would ever get round to playing a version that sounded relatively faithful to the original. Songs from the Ziggy era remained in place, with the Hammersmith closer “Rock N Roll Suicide” routinely used to close the shows, but by now, had been redesigned as a slow and swaying piece of minimalist R&B, as opposed to the anthemic, rocking, call to arms it had been on the “Ziggy” tour.
Bowie used the tour to try out new material, including performances of a revamped “John I’m Only Dancing” and “It’s Gonna Be Me”, neither of which made it onto the next record. But by the time the tour had been rechristened for it’s final leg, songs from the forthcoming “Young Americans” album were being performed on stage, Bowie quite possibly having decided by this point exactly what was going to appear on the LP, and what was being put into the archives.
Bowie played in Philadelphia during both the first and third sections of the tour, and first time around, played six shows at the Tower Theater on the edge of the city. By all accounts, all of the shows were recorded for what would be Bowie’s first live album, the late 1974 release “David Live”. Initial copies in some countries cited that the album had been recorded over two nights, but with the wrong dates shown (Bowie had left Philadelphia before the first show was alleged to have occurred), and later editions listed two alternate dates, which did actually match the dates of gigs Bowie played there. But experts have stated that the album features material from at least three of the shows.
It was issued as a double album, and as such, was a reasonable document of a typical gig. Space constraints prevented every song that the band played on those nights from being included, but there was space for Bowie’s cover of “Knock On Wood”, which was issued as a 7” single to help promote the album. On the flipside was an outtake from the “David Live” tapes, a magnificently trumped up recording of “Panic In Detroit”, taking the one time Bo Diddley shuffle of a tune, and reinventing it as a piece of epic, thrilling, funk (RCA 2466).
“David Live” had it’s detractors. Be it the ghostly looking Bowie on the cover, or the ‘stilted’ performances, some critics had the knives out. But I have always thought it was a fascinating, and dare I say it, IMPORTANT album - rather than offer up facsimile versions of the studio recordings, Bowie here offered up an album of well known material, but presented it entirely in a form you wouldn’t have heard it in before. Not even The Beatles ever did that. It’s one of my favourite live albums ever.
In the late 70s, long before albums were pressed in the EU and then distributed across the whole of the European Union (that might be over post-Brexit), most countries had their own pressing plants, and this would result in selected European nations issuing albums for distribution exclusively within that country. And so, an edited highlights version of the album surfaced as “Rock Concert” in certain overseas locations. Dismissed as pointless by some, I think it is an essential release. Mainly because there are some unique mixes on it. Bowie and his band would often finish one song and race straight into another, but the “RC” album simply picks whatever it fancied, meaning that you get to hear the opening strains of the next song in the show just as that particular tracks fades out. Well, you might not be excited by that at all, but I love it for that reason. I know - you could just get the same effect by turning the volume down in the right places whilst playing your normal “David Live”. In 1982, this ’shortened’ album was reissued on LP in Holland as “At The Tower Philadelphia” (RCA PL 42993), which used a healthy looking image of Bowie on stage on the cover. They did this by using a picture from the 1978 tour. Still, I was thrilled when I bought this album as a kid, and still cherish it to this day. I was always intrigued as to why no effort was made to put either Bowie’s name nor the album title on the front cover though.
In 1990, as part of the EMI/Rykodisc reissue campaign, “David Live” got the expanded reissue treatment. For some reason, there was no place for the live “Panic In Detroit”. It had had a few second leases of life, appearing on the “Bowie Rare” LP in 1982 (RCA PL 45406), and on the B-side of the RCA Lifetimes picture sleeved 7” reissue of “Knock On Wood” the following year (RCA BOW 505), but not this time around. The expanded “David Live” was issued on vinyl, tape and CD (EMI CDDBLD 1) with previously unheard versions of “Time” and The Ohio Players’ “Here Today Gone Tomorrow” (thus providing you with further evidence that Bowie had already ‘gone soul’ long before the third leg of the tour). They were added at the end of the album, so you could sort of pretend they were the encores, but both would normally be performed midway through the show.
There are other releases of note. In 2005, “David Live” was reissued again (EMI 311 2482). This time around, the two bonus tracks were moved to their correct place in the running order, and “Panic In Detroit” was also restored. This left one song that had been played at the Philly gigs missing, “Space Oddity” - and so this too was included in the reissue. The whole gig was remixed to boot. Meanwhile, the title track of the “Young Americans” album was issued as a 7” in 1975, which included the live version of “Suffragette City” from the “DL” album on the flip (RCA 2523). There was also a Lifetimes reissue of this single as well in 83 (RCA BOW 506). The 40th anniversary picture disc reissue series has also seen mixes from the 2005 version appear on vinyl for the first time, with the reissue of “Diamond Dogs” including the live take of the same song from the LP on the flip (Parlophone DBDOGS 40), whilst the 2014 reissue of “Knock On Wood” was issued as a AA with the live recording of “Rock N Roll With Me” (Parlophone DBKOW 40). The “Sound + Vision” box included three selections from the album, namely “Suffragette City”, “Watch That Man” and “Cracked Actor”. An expanded 4-CD version of the boxset issued in 2003 was the first ‘official’ release in the UK for the set, and is now available in a more compact edition, courtesy of a charming 2014 reissue (Parlophone DBSAVX 1).
Any other recordings you might hear from the tour are boots. There is, in Australia, a release called “A Portrait in Flesh” which has been described by some as being semi-legal, as some state it’s source is from a radio broadcast, where copyright issues outside of the US for such releases can get quite “fuzzy“. More later. Taped at the Los Angeles Universal Ampitheatre, it has done the rounds on bootlegs for years, if it was me, I would just try and locate “a” copy of it, rather than pay through the nose for a release that, despite having a barcode, is still considered by some as a bootleg, rather than a “RarestOneBowie” style unauthorised release. My version is on a 2-CD release called “Strange Fascination” from 1990, and it does the job just fine.
Bowie’s 1976 tour, later named the “Isolar” tour after the moniker that appeared on the tour programme, remains one of Bowie’s most famous tours, and yet one of the least well documented in terms of audio material. From the surrealist imagery that appeared on film just before Bowie took to the stage, to the black and white lighting, and Bowie’s monochrome “Thin White Duke” stage character, the photos from the tour range from stylish to impossibly cool. And yet, only one live album officially exists - and even that is buried away as part of a boxset.
The tour was to promote 1976’s sublime “Station To Station”, and four of the six songs from the album were regularly performed. Most recent single “Golden Years” was rumoured to have been played at least once, but no more. In some respects, just as the 1974 tour had kept chunks of “Ziggy” material, the 1976 tour was not too far removed from the “Diamond Dogs” one, with “Panic In Detroit” once again appearing as a reworked piece of funk, whilst the cover of “Waiting For The Man” was back in the set, and re-invented as a piece of soul music. The shows would open, as the LP did, with “Station” and there was still some “Ziggy” era songs floating about, with “Suffragette City” usually being played second, and “Jean Genie” providing the climax to the encore. After declining to tour the UK in 74, Bowie returned to his homeland, playing six nights at the Empire Pool in London in May 76. They were his only shows in Britain.
Bowie once stated that he was disappointed that no official film was made, given that the shows had a very striking visual element - but footage of the gigs do exist in part, courtesy of at least one TV show, and parts of it were shown (in the background) during the lengthy rolling Sky News reports that were aired on the day of Bowie’s death. Rehearsal footage of complete songs also exist on Youtube.
In 1991, the EMI/Rykodisc reissue of “Station To Station” added two live recordings from a gig that Bowie had played in New York at the Nassau Coliseum on 23rd March. I picked this up on a US Cassette copy, which used a ’cut down’ front cover (Ryko RACS 0141-2), that differed not only to the vinyl and CD editions, but also slightly to the original UK tape edition as well. The two songs were both versions of songs from the original “STS” LP, “Word On A Wing” and “Stay”. In 1995, the “RarestOneBowie” set included a version of “Queen Bitch” from the same gig. Bowie had split from the Mainman management company in 1975, so it is interesting to see both a Bowie authorised release and an unauthorised one using the same gig as source material - achievable it seems because the recordings were conducted independently by RCA. The New York gig had been taped for broadcast on American radio, and had done the rounds as a bootleg for some time. Originally issued as “The Thin White Duke”, original bootlegs concluded with two songs Bowie performed on the Cher show in 1975.
Eventually, the entire Nassau gig was released officially in 2010 as part of the “Station To Station” boxset. Aside from the Super Deluxe box I mentioned in my original Bowie blog(s) from the same year, the gig was available as well in a slightly more affordable triple-disc CD set (EMI BOWSTSX 2010), which included the studio LP and the “LiveNassauColiseum’76” album in their own individual sleeves inside a clam shell box. “Panic In Detroit” was edited, I think, for space constraints - the Super Deluxe Edition included the Nassau gig on double vinyl as well as CD, so it would seem as though this mix was created in order to avoid groove cramming. Anybody wanting to hear the full, 10 minute long version, complete with unedited drum solo, will need to track down a bootleg. You was able to download it officially as well, at some point, but as you might know, downloading is not my forte. And that’s it for official releases.
Bowie didn’t tour as a solo artist in 1977, the year of “Low” and “Heroes”, choosing instead to play keyboards as part of Iggy Pop’s band as he toured the Bowie produced “The Idiot”. But he did end up belatedly promoting these albums the following summer, on the “Isolar 2” tour.
As mentioned, I think, on an earlier blog, it was rumoured that Bowie agreed to this tour to try and recover the “losses” he had incurred during the years when he was signed to the Mainman management group, where the financial deals he had signed up for were rumoured to have left him a bit skint. Even the title of the tour suggests that it was designed as a “second lap” of the original 1976 shows, with the stage design an extension of the original minimalist approach. However, in a now famous interview backstage with Janet Street Porter just before he took to the stage at one of the Earls Court gigs in June, he admitted that he was enjoying touring more, so even if he had agreed to the gigs as an attempt to gain some financial security, then at least he was now actually providing the audience with art that he had total involvement with. This was the polar opposite of what later happened in the 80s.
Just as it had been in 76, Bowie launched the tour in North America, and a number of shows were recorded for a planned live album. The reasoning behind this was to try and counteract the rampant bootlegging that had occurred of the Nassau gig on the last tour. For the first time since 1973, Bowie conducted UK shows outside of London, with gigs in Newcastle, Stafford, Glasgow and the capital. Multiple shows were conducted in each location.
Alongside songs that had (again) survived from the previous tour, including three of the four songs from “Station To Station” that had regularly been played in 76, Bowie played a number of the instrumental numbers that had appeared on “Low” and “Heroes”. On the likes of “Warszawa”, the performances were an almost note for note replication of the studio recordings, almost as if Bowie had brought the original synths with him onto the stage, creating versions that he later referred to as being ’ponderous’.
No attempt was made to try and recreate the atmospheric guitar sounds that Robert Fripp had brought to the studio versions of “Heroes” or “Beauty And The Beast” - instead, Bowie employed a violinist on the tour, and several of the songs featured the instrument quite prominently, meaning several songs found themselves being slightly reworked on stage. I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard a single live take of “Heroes” that comes anywhere near to the avant garde beauty of the original. Bowie also, just for fun, decided to play a big chunk of the “Ziggy” album on stage, and all 11 songs were reportedly rehearsed with many, but not all, being performed at different points on the tour.
Bowie would perform a big chunk of the ‘new’ material during the first half of the show, before hitting the audience with a 20 minute long bit of nostalgia by rattling through five or six “Ziggy” songs halfway through. The three “STS” tracks were usually used as the climax to the show. RCA taped the final gig in London, but despite this, there were seemingly no plans to do anything with those tapes, and when “Stage” appeared in the fall of 78, it was compiled exclusively from the US gigs previously recorded.
“Stage” was, like “David Live” before it, a double album. However, rather than using the format to give the listener a vague idea of what the gigs from the tour sounded like, the album was controversially split into sections, with each side of the LP being devoted to a different part of Bowie’s career. The “Low” and “Heroes” material took up the second half of the record, and the “Station To Station” stuff landed on side 2, alongside a version of 1975‘s “Fame“. Five tracks from the Ziggy days opened proceedings. I could be wrong, but I believe this may well have been done to not only place the songs in more or less chronological order, but also to act as a bit of a retro throwback. The opening numbers on the LP, “Hang Onto Yourself” and “Ziggy Stardust”, had been the routine openers on the 1972 and 1973 gigs.
Coloured vinyl was now also all the rage. Initial copies of the UK LP appeared on yellow vinyl, whilst the “Breaking Glass” 7”, issued late in 78 in an attempt to (re)promote the LP, appeared on blue vinyl when issued in Holland. The UK edition was pressed on black vinyl, and in a different sleeve (RCA BOW 1) and included two other songs from the “Stage” album, “Art Decade” and “Ziggy Stardust”. The 1983 “Lifetimes” reissue (RCA BOW 520) used a totally different picture sleeve as well.
In 1991, as part of the ongoing EMI/Ryko reissue campaign, “Stage” was reissued. It came with an extra track, Bowie’s psychotic take on “Alabama Song”. Despite being one of the more oddball concert choices, Bowie was obviously quite taken with this song - despite the fact that The Doors’ version from their first LP was superior, Bowie later even went into the studio to cut a new version for release as a single, making it one of the more ‘out there’ Bowie 45’s. In the UK, the reissue of "Stage" appeared on CD and Cassette (EMI TCEMD 1030).
In 2005, as with “David Live”, a revamped and remixed version of the album appeared. Overseen by Tony Visconti, the songs were first reordered to appear in the order in which they had originally been performed on stage. “Alabama Song” now thus appeared just before the “Station To Station” material. In addition to this, two songs that had been played at the gigs but never released were also included as bonus tracks (in the correct part of the show as well), “Be My Wife” and “Stay”. Even so, this version of the album was not as ‘complete’ as it could have been, as several songs performed during the gigs that had been recorded were still omitted from the new edition (EMI 7243 863 4362).
As for the Earls Court show, versions of “Be My Wife” and “Sound And Vision” were issued on “RarestOneBowie”. This show marked the first time that Bowie had ever played the latter, and decided to do so as it was the final night of the European tour, hence the shout of “this is all last night stuff folks” during the opening section. The aforementioned “Sound + Vision” boxset also included three songs from the original, unremixed, version of “Stage” - “Station To Station”, “Warszawa” and “Breaking Glass”.
You can count on one hand the amount of officially released (audio) songs - not gigs note, but songs - in the Bowie catalogue that have come from the “Serious Moonlight” tour. By 1983, we were now living in MTV land, and home video land. And so, rather than just record songs for a live album, why not just film a concert for a live video? And so, that’s what happened. We shall look at Bowie on Film in the next blog.
Only two songs seem to have surfaced with Bowie’s blessing. The third single from the album that the tour was promoting, “Let’s Dance”, was “Modern Love”. On the flipside was a live recording of the same song, lifted from a show that was taped for radio broadcast in Montreal on 13th July 1983. Original copies of the 12” (EMI America 12EA 158) came with a free poster, and general consensus is, that a large number of these have either been destroyed, or separated and kept from the single, so copies with one inside will be worth more than those without. One reason as to why this, and nothing else, from the tour was released in audio form is probably because the “Serious Moonlight” video that was released omitted this song entirely, which in itself was probably because footage of Bowie performing the song on stage had been used for the promo video. If you buy either the 2003 or 2014 version of the “Sound + Vision” boxset, this one-time rarity is now available in this expanded set.
The only other song to have been released in audio form is actually one lifted straight from the video. When “Sorrow” was reissued as a 7” 40th anniversary picture disc in 2013, the reissues in that series at that time were using ’alternate’ versions of the A-side as their B-sides, and so the live version of the same track appears on the flip (Parlophone DBSOZ 4030). This performance dates from Vancouver on 12th September 1983.
Bowie’s “Glass Spider” tour remains probably the most divisive moment of the man’s career. For some, it was the final straw, the sign of a man losing his way completely whilst playing to the biggest crowds of his career underneath the legs of what was apparently a big arthropod. For others, it was seen as a groundbreaking stadium spectacular, setting the way for future pop acts to approach the concert performance in a different way, as opposed to just holding a microphone and singing the hits.
In my opinion, it was flawed from the outset. Bowie’s new album, “Never Let Me Down”, had been written with the sole purpose of Bowie then being able to present most of it’s content on stage, which was a problem when said material was the weakest of the man’s career so far. Thus, Bowie found himself performing large numbers of so-so tracks like “87 And Cry” - had the new album been really good, then it wouldn’t have been a problem wheeling out most of the songs. But it wasn’t, and so it’s difficult to listen to or watch a show from this tour without feeling slightly bemused by it all. It’s Bowie, so you can still get some enjoyment out of it, but at times, as the late 80s gated drum sound hurts your ears, you will find yourself thinking “is this the same guy who was doing ‘Be My Wife’ ten years ago?”
If you accept that Bowie simply got better from this point on, then you can start to look at the more interesting parts of the show, accepting it as a tour which represented the start of the turning point. Bowie, determined to try and shake off the ‘mainstream pop’ tag he had found himself lumbered with post-”Let’s Dance”, dragged some obscure oldies out of the bag for this tour, playing several songs for the first time in years (“Big Brother”, “Time”) whilst others were seemingly being played for the first time ever, despite dating from the previous decade (“Sons Of The Silent Age”, “All The Madmen”). Early on, Bowie too seemed to realise that neither the album nor the tour were quite the return to form he had hoped they would be, and was dropping some of the new material as the tour approached it’s climax.
Like the 83 tour, gigs that Bowie played in Sydney in November were filmed and highlights were used for a video release (two actually, as the first half was on one VHS, and the second on another). Briefly mentioned on an earlier blog was the fact that a label called Immortal later dubbed these recordings, rather pointlessly, into audio form for use on an album simply called “Glass Spider” - they did a similar thing with an early 80s Who release as well.
However, in recent years, there have been some more interesting releases. First up, the two videos were released on DVD in 2007. The missing material was still missing. However, initial copies came with a free bonus album, a gig from Montreal taped on 30th August, spread across two CD’s (EMI 0946 391 00224). This show had previously been recorded for a radio broadcast, and was making it’s first official appearance here. Unlike the DVD, it featured the entire show. Trouble is, this release was done as a limited edition, and last time I looked, copies were selling for wildly inflated prices, so you might have more chance tracking down a bootleg as, being a radio recording, they should be easy to locate.
2015 meanwhile saw the release of an intriguing album on an obscure label called Laser Media, simply called “Day In Day Out”. I have mentioned on other blogs the strange world of the ’unauthorised’ live album, and this is one of those. A double disc set (LM 160), it purports to include a radio broadcast of another show that Bowie played in Sydney on 3rd November, a couple of days before the cameras were brought to the venue to film material for the official VHS. Some experts have stated that the sound suggests it’s a soundboard recording. But, if we assume it’s a radio broadcast, then there is apparently an EU loophole that allows for albums like this to appear in your local HMV or on Amazon. According to one reviewer on the latter, if a concert is recorded outside of the EU, it can then be released within the EU without the artist’s consent. Hence, this release. Not sure how copies are being made available on Amazon in the US though, as last time I looked it wasn’t in the EU.
It’s not perfect - the cover uses a photo of Bowie from the 76 tour, although at least that’s a better look than the mullet he wore in 87 - and the end of disc 1 fades out midway through “Fashion” (and disc 2 fades in midway through “Scary Monsters”) but if you can’t find the Montreal gig, then I’d go for this. Some will state it’s a bootleg, some will argue that being unofficial you should avoid it, but for me, it’s probably the easiest way you will be able to get hold of this show, so if you don’t already own a copy from more dubious sources, I recommend it, despite it’s flaws.