Tuesday, May 16, 2017

David Bowie's band rocks in 'Live Nassau Coliseum '76' CD; Bowie at his Best

I finally had to break down and rebuy one of my favorite David Bowie concert recordings, his March 23, 1976 performance at the Nassau Coliseum in New York.
My import CD of the same show, SUFFRAGETTE CITY, stopped playing mysteriously one day years and years ago. I had hoped it was just a quirk and would start playing again, but that never happened. And that was more than fifteen years ago.

This is the back cover of the SUFFRAGETTE CITY
import CD released by Great Dane Records.
So I finally pulled the trigger on a new copy when I discovered an official recording released in 2010 and then again this year by Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment Co. (That's Bowie's real last name and a variation of that of his thankfully short-lived band Tin Machine.)

I looked forward to listening to LIVE NASSAU COLISEUM '76 as it had been many years since I'd heard this dynamic show. And it doesn't disappoint.

SUFFRAGETTE CITY is pretty close to a soundboard-level recording, but there's better balance here and the official release includes four songs from the original set not on the bootleg, "Waiting for the Man," "Queen Bitch" and the medley of "Life on Mars?" and "Five Years."

Without further ado, here's a track-by-track review of LIVE NASSAU COLISEUM '76:

Disc No. 1, track 1) "Station to Station": Much like the studio recording, this lengthy tune takes a while to get rolling, but when it does — man, it clicks. What a perfect way for the Thin White Duke to open his 1976 concerts.
This photo is in the interior of the LIVE NASSAU COLISEUM 2-CD set.
2) "Suffragette City": Bowie and his band tear into this ZIGGY STARDUST track, making it one of my favorite live renditions. One of the best performances of one of my three favorite DB songs.

3) "Fame": This is a spot-on take of his first No. 1 hit. And as Bowie once told LET'S DANCE producer Nile Rodgers about "China Girl," it's not possible to make this too funky.
This is the front cover of the 1991 Rykodisc re-release of
David Bowie's 1976 STATION TO STATION album.
The original cover was in black and white.

4) "Word on a Wing": What DB once called his personal hymn could be said for me as well. No matter how many times I hear it, it reaches me *right there.* "Word on a Wing" speaks to my struggle with relating to God, doing His will and certainly my spirituality.

5) "Stay": Bowie follows up one killer performance with another, going straight from a ballad into the one of the funkiest tunes he's written. And by the fifth song of this concert, he's already performed three-quarters of his then-new album STATION TO STATION album and debuted four tunes to an audience.

6) "Waiting for the Man": This arrangement gives a slightly and unnecessary funky edge to the straight-ahead rock tune from The Velvet Underground. Certainly the weakest song selection in this show.

7) "Queen Bitch": Wise listeners will know this HUNKY DORY track is in itself an homage to The Velvet Underground and its lead singer, Lou Reed. Paired with "Waiting for the Man," that becomes even more obvious. Delightful.

David Bowie leans against bassist George Murray during a 1976 show.
Disc 2, track 1) "Life On Mars?": By now it's obvious Bowie is into pairing similar tracks (or contrasting styles with "Word on a Wing" and "Stay") throughout his setlist as this follows another HUNKY DORY tune. But he and the band only perform slightly more than 2:30 of it before making a somewhat awkward transition into …

2) "Five Years": The introduction loses something without Woody Woodmansey's distinctive drum beat — same with the outtro. 

3) "Panic in Detroit": When Bowie and his band aren't pairing songs, they're getting funky. The two-measure instrumental solos near the end show off DB's secret weapon throughout his career — stellar musicians.

This is a great interpretation, but is only slightly overshadowed by the hard-to-find outtake from DAVID LIVE which was released on the 1982 RCA Records compilation BOWIE RARE. (Well named indeed as I've only found it once for sale since the mid-1980s.) So good! Bowie introduces his band at the end, his only time to speak to the audience beyond a brief "thank you" after "Suffragette City."

4) "Changes": Bowie has a definite smile to his voice upon introducing himself (a rarity); I'd love to know what cracks him up briefly (an even bigger rarity) as he sings the opening line. George Murray's bass solo differs from the classic saxophone one from HUNKY DORY, but is well done.

5) "TVC 15": Although the in-song chatter is scripted, the entire band sounds like they're having a load of fun performing this STATION TO STATION track. Bowie's 1978 touring band used the same arrangement, reprising it for his STAGE double album.

6) "Diamond Dogs": A solid rocker and a great way to close the official part of the set.

7) "Rebel Rebel": Judging from the length of the applause, this is the start of Bowie's two-song encore set. Dennis Davis' groovin' drum introduction kicks off one of DB's most recognizable hits. Yet another killer performance among many in this energetic show.

8) "The Jean Genie": In one word: Wow. Similar to the show opener, this rocker has a slow build and kicks into a scorcher. The musical "kicks" exemplify just how tight this band is. Check out Bowie's rapid-fire recitation of the days of the week — starting with Monday — during a one-measure pause, which keeps this tune rolling to the end.

This arrangement is similar to what he used during the 1987 "Glass Spider" world tour, as heard in the solos traded by lead guitarist Stacey Haydon and rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar (who did the same thing 11 years later with Peter Frampton).

Without a doubt, this is a must-have for any Bowiehead's CD collection — even if it's one of the most highly bootlegged concerts. You're not missing anything by most likely not having "Life On Mars?"-"Five Years" on those recordings and while "Waiting for the Man" is an interesting listen, the rest of this concert is pure gold even at a skimpy fifteen songs.

Bowie is in great voice and his 1976 band musically can stand toe-to-toe with any of his other superb touring musicians. (It would be a photo finish to choose the greatest bands among this five-piece ensemble and the bigger bands from 1974, 1983, '87 and 1995-2003.)

LIVE NASSAU COLISEUM '76 is on my short pull-list for a rockin' CD to blast on my car stereo. I dare you not to keep it there yourself.

Grades — Setlist: A-; Musicianship and performances: A+

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