David Bowie

Live at Santa Monica '72

David Bowie – Live at Santa Monica ’72 is one of those very rare live albums that actually achieves the purpose of making you sick as a parrot that you weren’t there to witness the gig in question. It beats the official Ziggy Stardust release (Ziggy Stardust – The Motion Picture, recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon) into a cocked hat, then defecates on it… from a starship. Okay, so the tracks cut off early in places, the sound wobbles in and out at times and the guitar is a bit loud, but that only adds to its awesome majesty and romance.

Those responsible for recording this show were almost certainly not aware it’d become one of the most sought after bootlegs in rock ‘n’roll history. Santa Monica…, until its full release in the nineties, was the zenith of illegally recorded aural, sensory overload, a performance so otherworldly that the band truly had a right to claim to be from Mars. And if they wanted to be arachnids, then who had a right to argue?

Live at Santa Monica ’72 shows Bowie and cohorts the absolute peak of their powers, and no audio equipment no matter how archaic would surely fail to capture the sheer release of perfection from fingertips and larynx. While musically Bowie would perhaps trump this period, as a band this is recorded proof of him hitting the pinnacle, the greatest he’d ever be.

To argue that Low is better than The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars or vice versa is counterintuitive, and irrelevant at this moment. Though Ziggy Stardust flew in from another planet as a fully formed rock messiah, David Bowie didn’t. After all, he’d floundered spectacularly during the sixties, toiling to become a superstar, largely ignored for long periods before achieving success and then losing momentum. This is the sound of triumph, of musical freedom, of sweet relief. It is the culmination of everything that should be great in music but so often falls short.

And while we prattle on about Bowie, we should probably note that it’s Mick Ronson’s record too. It’s impossible to listen to ‘Moonage Daydream’ without imagining Ronson gurning like a hammerhead with its tail caught in a speedboat propeller, spitting unholy devil’s spaff from his Gibson Les Paul. His distinctive guitar bleeds everywhere, and while indulgent at times it’s a guiltless pleasure, nay a privilege to hear him unleashed and completely unstoppable.

Give or take a Jacques Brel cover or a version of the Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For My Man’ these tracks are of course familiar, but you may not yet have experienced them like this. Special mention goes to an insurmountable and pulverising version of ‘The Supermen’ and a runout of ‘Space Oddity’ that you suspect Flight of the Conchords have paid close attention to. And like the best nights at former superclub Trash, it ends with a rowdy and rollicking version of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’. Live at Santa Monica ’72 may have nowt to do with Santa, but if you’ve not heard this before then Christmas has just come early.

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