David Bowie – Live Santa Monica 72 – ‘Ziggy Played Guitar’

by | May 14, 2021 | 2 comments

For a David Bowie fan in the 1970’s if you owned a recording
of the KMET-FM broadcast of ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ live performance of the Santa Monica auditorium on October 20, 1972 you flaunted it like a badge
of honor. This famed concert was played on the radio in soundboard quality while
featuring an expansive and well played set list from Bowie’s early discography.
The band features Bowie in all of his decadent ‘Ziggy’ glory, while backed by
the ‘Spiders From Mars’ made up of: guitarist Mick Ronson, drummer Mick
Woodmansey, bass guitar Trevor Bolder, and long time Bowie pianist Mike Garson
who joined the lineup for this 2 night appearance. The concert also holds the distinction of being a favorite of Bowie himself.

As previously stated Bowie and the Spiders played at the
Santa Monica on October 20th and 21st with the first night
the focus of this Talk from the Rock Room
rant. These shows took place during Bowie’s first United States tour and
found Bowie on the precipice of super stardom. The concert circulated in
varying quality from the first broadcast, even being released in a
semi-official boxset capacity but without Bowie’s approval. This is peak Bowie,
straddling the fence between ‘Ziggy’ and Aladdin
Sane
and in total creative bliss. The set list features a cross-section of
cuts from The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory and Ziggy while also exposing the
audience to one new song, ‘The Jean Jeanie’. The rest of the concert is filled
out with a plethora of Bowie standards.

When the concert was finally officially released in 2008 on CD and LP after almost 40 years of being bootlegged. Bowie had the following
to say, ‘I can tell that I’m totally into being Ziggy by this stage of our touring. It’s no longer an act; I am him. This would be around the tenth American show for us and you can hear that we are all pretty high on ourselves. We train wreck a couple of things, I miss some words and sometimes you wouldn’t know that pianist Mike Garson was onstage with us but overall I really treasure this bootleg. Mick Ronson is at his blistering best.’

The concert and recording contains a kinetic energy with the
band jamming on a knife’s edge. The sound quality is a line recording from the
soundboard. The 2008 official release which I am jamming does miss some of
David’s onstage remarks but offers quality sonics. The performance oozes attitude
and you can feel the band puffing out their chest to the American audience. Taking
the stage to ‘Ode to Joy’ (typical for the era) the concert is already dangling
from the edge with a blistering version of ‘Hang on to Yourself’. ‘Hang on to
Yourself’ would end of on the flip side of Bowie’s September 1972 single,
‘John. I’m Only Dancing’ which would also get a work out at this concert.
Shades of rock and roll past ring around the stage with the ‘Spider’s weighty
riffing.

‘Ziggy’ immediately follows with it’s recognizable ringing
‘D’ chord while Ronson’s guitar moans a thick Les Paul tone. The song is
perfection in its positioning in the concert’s second slot. Bowie sounds great
and I’m sure at this point looks even better! ‘Changes’ brings things to
manageable levels for a moment, with the intro highlighted by Mike Garson and
Trevor Bolder’s respective instruments weaving under Bowie’s vocal melody. What
an opening trio!

If the sonic temperature was any higher the arena would
combust so Bowie dons his twelve string for a dynamic and dramatic version of
‘The Supermen’.  Alternating between the
airy verses and chunky chorus the song has a tangible fire that may be lacking
on the studio recording. The following ‘Life On Mars’ and ‘Five Years’ spotlight the
evening’s crisp bombastic vocals. ‘Life on Mars’ again lends it beauty to Mike
Garson’s nimble fingers. Decades on from this evening’s concert these songs
would be inseparable from Bowie. By that time they will have been road tested
by a number of different Bowie touring bands and played for an uncountable
amount of Bowie fans throughout the world. Here, they have an early morning
freshness and scent of spring as Bowie is learning to weave their melodies into
the fabrics of his discography and into the hearts of his admirers.

What feels like an acoustic segment begins with ‘Space
Oddity’ in an sparse guise. This is the only song played during the concert
from Bowie’s 1969 LP. Electric bass and meshing acoustic guitars highlight a
version sung almost as a duo with Ronson who lends some wobbly and endearing
backing vocals. Additionally, some cool video of this performance circulates which the ‘rock room’ has included here.

‘Andy Warhol’ continues the ‘unplugged’ feel of this portion
of the concert. Bowie is again on twelve string with Ronson lending the song’s
signature ascending lick with a clean tone and later on, bell like harmonics
and twinkling trills. A favorite of the rock room and an excellent highlight of
this famed recording.

Next, following some unique banter with the audience, Bowie
plays a cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘My Death’ on his acoustic guitar, Bowie had revealed
this addition to his setlist in August at his two nights at the Rainbow
Theatre. He had previously been coving another Brel song, ‘Amsterdam’, but
Bowie seemed more attracted to this particular song. It’s lyric more in touch
with the dramatic theatre intensity of the ‘Spiders’ concerts. Bowie moves
between dictation, swooping singing, whispers, and sinister inquiry, all in six
minutes and centrally located in the middle of the evening.

                                                            Photographer Unknown

In contrast to the music that preceded it, Bowie and the
Spider’s enter into an extended and explosive version of ‘The Width of a
Circle’. I’m digging the off mic shout that precedes the band kicking the song
off. A consistent highlight of an evening with Bowie, the syncopated slamming
around the song’s changes reveal themselves in a book written by Bowie and read
by ‘Black Sabbath’. After disposing  of
the verses at a bit after two minutes, the ‘Spiders’ drop in from a dark
corner, weaving a hearty strand of variations. Ronson lends a sticky drone that
lays on top of Woodmansey’s hunky thump.  This portion of the evening allows the
‘Spiders’ to stretch their respective legs and do some straight up jamming.

At four and a half minutes the jam turns into angles and
sharp edges, Ronson and Woodsmansey aggressively try to jam a key into a
strange lock and after a crushing stab fall back into another round of high
tempo soling and the song’s final set of changes. Bowie and the band return to
the dramatic set of concluding verses before completing the musical sphere.

Bowie and the Spiders now set their phasers to stun and
enter into a molten series of punky renditions of Bowie gold. Starting things
off with ‘Queen Bitch’, the band knobs up the intensity with each number until
giving it all to the crowd with a concluding and symbolic ‘Rock and Roll
Suicide’. The ‘Spiders’ are deadly and Bowie is sinister in his vocal approach.
Following a groovy ‘Queen Bitch’, an aggressively funky ‘Moonage Daydream’
follows with a viscous Ronson guitar solo where he kicks on the wah-wah for the
first time in the show. Bowie’s vocals just destroy me here, sensual and scary
all wrapped into one. Classic.

‘John, I’m Only Dancing’ follows next in an arrangement that
borders on country. Bowie’s vocals are anything but. The song has a strange
history and would be released as a Bowie single in  September of 1972, again in 1973 with a
saxophone added and then finally in 1974 in a disco aesthetic as ‘John, I’m
Only Dancing (Again)’.

Bowie introduces the band prior to his cover of the Velvet
Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For the Man’. I mainstay of Bowie concerts, this
version starts out laid back but ends nice and proper. Bowie is true to form
and gives his best Lou Reed impersonation with well-timed vibrato. Spacious and
loose, the band turns in a dynamic performance that with each turn around the
roundabout ends up picking up speed.

The double whammy of ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Suffragette City’
whip the crowd into a writhing mass of glamorous rockers and chicks. Road
tested burners played here with the original disseminators in clear fidelity. ‘The
Jean Genie’ stomps with both Bowie and Ronson scratching along during the verses.
With just a pause the band slams head on in ‘Suffragette City’ high speed, no
breaking. This is the stuff that influenced an entire decade. ‘Queen Bitch’ through
‘Suffragette City’ is a ‘Rock 101’ course that must be taken by all rockers.
Everything one could ask for in a rock and roll show and performance is
included within. David replies, ‘good night’ and the concert has concluded to a
standing ovation.

The concert and recording closes with Bowie on a slightly
out of tune acoustic guitar playing ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’. Garson joins David
during the second verse and the drums and electric guitar enter for verse
three. There can be no other concluding song for Bowie or his fans, and the
rough and ready reading only makes it the more fitting.

David Bowie, live in Santa Monica is a ‘must have’ aural
capture of an era of Bowie that acted as the compass bearing for the rest of
his career. Bowie’s plentiful personas were blended colors on an artist’s
pallet throughout Bowie’s career. Pales and pinks, fluorescents and day glo
each identify Bowie as a recording artist as well as a human….or peoploid. On this,
musical recording ‘Ziggy’ is finding his feet and his way just like his
creator. Like the tale of Frankenstein the beast would soon take over the
creator therefore eventually forcing the death of said beast. But for a special
snapshot in time, one luckly captured on this recording, ‘Ziggy played guitar, jamming
good with Weird and Gilly, and the Spiders from Mars’ and by doing so became a star, man.

 

2 Comments

  1. Unknown

    I was there, excellent, excellent review! Caught Bowie a few months later at the Hollywood Palladium Alladdin Sane tour. (Goodbye Ziggy Tour) 00individual.com

    Reply

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