Bowie: Bare and Hoarse

by C.C. / Melody Maker

26th October 1974

DAVID BOWIE: “David Live At The Tower Of Philadelphia” (RCA – CPLL” – 0771) Mmmm. . . . . David Bowie’s first live album, a double at that and the nearest thing British fans will get to hearing their hero live this year and probably next as well.

…..First a little preamble about the price. The set I’m listening to at the moment is an imported version bought around the the corner in Fleet Street for 3.50 pounds which is not recommended as the British version should be in the shops by this time next week at 3.78 pounds.

…..This “low” price exists until December 31 when it ups to 4.48 pounds. Thus a considerable saving is available if you buy it before the end of the year, a clever ruse designed to send it right into the album charts and occupy a high placing over the x-mas period and an uncharacteristibly generous gesture on the part of MainMan.

…..High prices Bowie, after all, set some kind of record for high ticket prices on the East coast leg of his US tour, eclipsing Dylan and all the rest of the semi-retired superstars who stepped out on the road again during the busiest rock summer the US has ever known.

…..All that aside, the album will probably sell at any price for it contains almost all the songs from that tour, and regardless of the actual rendering, it represents a “best of” package with few exceptions.

…..Tony Visconti takes the producer’s credit and the whole set is packaged in a fold out sleeve featuring pictures of David in the light grey suit and blue polkadot sweater that he wore through the tour. The pictures, incidentally make him look much older.

But without the elaborate staging, the dancing and the mechanical effects, the music barely stands on its own account, partly because Bowie’s voice is hoarse, throaty and often off-key and partly because the backing seems inexplicably thin as the record wears on.

…..All the tracks have a distinct live feel about them – full marks then for no overdubbing – but the tempo of many tracks seems slow and forced, as if those involved were merely going through their paces instead of putting their all into the show.

…..Mike Garson’s cocktail lounge piano is prominent throughout and occasionally Herbie Flowers‘ bass lines shine through the blot of sound like a funky power drill. Earl Slick gets plenty of opportunity to solo on guitar, but nowhere does he really stand out as anything more then an average heavy metal instrumentalist, a fact which may well have influenced MainMan to hire him in the first place.

…..Dull solos, another Ronno would have been too much for them to handle. Slick takes up much of the fourth side with some of the dullest soloing I’ve heard in a long while, and it comes as a releif when Bowie’s vocals, although more than a little strained, return to the fore.

…..The faster, rocking, numbers are passable but the slower pieces are almost all well inferior to the studio versions.

…..Notable low spots include Garson’s “free form” solo on “Aladdin Sane” (mighty off key, if you ask me), the back-up vocals on “Changes” (and a few others) and the tired, wheezing vocals on “Rock ‘N’ Roll With Me” which has none of the swaying feel of the version on the “Diamond Dogs‘ the album.

…..Two of the best tracks are the openers “1984” and “Rebel Rebel,” while I’ve really got no complaint about “Knock On Wood” on Bowie’s first recorded version of “All The Young Dudes“.

…..Listen to the bass on “Watch That Man” – those bopping high bouncers represent Flowers’ finest moment on the whole set.

…..From what I can remember of the two shows I saw – at Toronto and New York – the music sounded better than this, though it could that the peripheral visual attractions took the accent off the actual playing, deceiving the audience with the theatrics which were, after all, pretty amazing.

…..Either way I don’t think this record represents Bowie at his live best by any means. I’m just curious that Bowie himself was satisfied with this record. I always thought he was a perfectionist.

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