Remember bootlegs? In the 70s and 80s at record conventions, rock fans could buy these illicit guerilla-pressed slabs of vinyl sealed in white sleeves with homemade artwork. From Beatles' Let It Be session outtakes to Springsteen Live at Cobo Arena, these albums were collectors' prizes (and a thorn in the side of record companies and artists).
One of the most sought-after boots back then was David Bowie Live in Santa Monica 1972. This was Bowie on the cusp of glam rock fame. Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, the Martian messiah with the "screwed down hairdo." Bowie the man of a thousand voices. The Bowie that seems likely to outlast all his other musical incarnations.
All these years later, in an era when commercial releases are regularly bootlegged, the Live Santa Monica '72 bootleg gets an official commercial release.
What's immediately noticeable is how raw it sounds. But raw in a good, hair in the face, sneering kind of way. Bowie's band, the Spiders From Mars, race through favorites like "Hang On To Yourself," "Ziggy Stardust," "Queen Bitch," and "Jean Genie" with adrenaline-fueled fury. Drummer Woody Woodmansey and bassist Trevor Bolder lock together like Siamese twin cavemen, while the chronically underappreciated guitarist Mick Ronson blasts out nasally power chords and double note bends. And pianist Mike Garson lends cocktail swank to "Changes" and baroque grandeur to "Life On Mars?"
Bowie's vocals sound positively possessed throughout, whether he's warbling like Anthony Newley on "The Supermen," crowing on "Moonage Daydream," or reaching out to the audience with the screams of "You're not alone!" at the climax of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." The same can't be said for his slightly awkward between-song patter. An attempt at an Andy Warhol impersonation before the song about the painter falls charmingly flat. And you can only wonder what stage mishap is going on when Bowie repeatedly asks for "a pair of pliers or a strong hand."
While this handsomely packaged disc isn't likely to win many new converts, for longtime Bowie lovers, it's a must-own and a reminder of what it meant to be a rock fan in the 70s. • Bill DeMain
vast Bowie fansite: bowiewonderworld.com