The best period of David Bowie’s illustrious career was his “Ziggy Stardust” incarnation, which featured his most rocking and inventive band and concept albums (remember them?) that explored themes of space , androgyny and urban decay. “Live at Santa Monica,” previously available as a bootleg, but re-released this past July, is a live tour de force, that is particularly relevant, considering Bowie’s recent heart health woes.
Unlike “David Live” and other live efforts, this concert combines Bowie (in his “Ziggy Stardust” persona), in great voice, with his band, the “Spiders from Mars.” Mick Ronson’s searing guitar work, Trevor Bolder’s inventive bass playing, Mick Woodmansey’s rock solid drumming and Mike Garson’s — who was not a member of the band — expert keyboard work make this release a must for Bowie aficionados. This show is far superior to watching and listening to the “Ziggy Stardust” motion picture with its dark, grainy look and Bowie and the band not at their peak performance level.
The set list is a tour through Bowie’s salad years, when he and the band were in their most creative, shocking and musically proficient period. From underrated gems like: “Hang On To Yourself,” “Queen Bitch,” “Life on Mars” and the Velvet Underground classic, “Waiting for the Man,” to classics like “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” “Changes and Jean Genie,” Bowie and the band are rocking and relentless in front of a crowd that paid $5.50 for their tickets [as displayed on the cover of the CD].
While the aforementioned song list is amazing, the CD also features the rarely heard “Width of A Circle,” which has to be the best axe work that the late Mick Ronson ever bestowed upon an audience. It features a solo that rivals any classic rock guitarist’s shredding or Eddie Van Halenesque finger-tapping technique. Bowie himself is in excellent voice and his banter with the audience clearly demonstrates the fact that he is drinking in the audience’s adoration and attention and becoming more energized as the concert wears on.
Originally a radio broadcast from Oct. 20,1972, possessing this often bootlegged effort was always a sign that someone was a true Bowie fan. From the introduction of the band by radio great B. Mitchell Reed to the closing strains of Rock and Roll Suicide, the CD doesn’t let up for a moment. It has wonderful dynamics with the introspective “My Death” and the ballady “Andy Warhol” to rockers like “Moonage Daydream” and “Five Years.” Bowie ’s interpretations of “Ziggy Stardust” and “Space Oddity” are faithful to the original versions, while adding an original spin that is quite effective and inspiring.
Do yourself a favor: if you’ve got some extra cash and want to rock your socks off and recall the wonderful glam rock era of the seventies with a singer and a band at their peak, buy this testament to rock and roll greatness. Bowie is in perfect voice, the band is a rock and roll machine and the lyrics are evocative and thought provoking. Isn’t this what classic rock is all about? “Ziggy played guitar.” He sure did — at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in the Fall of 1972.