It’s been a couple of months now since I last reviewed a live Bowie bootleg and in light of the Record Store Day release last weekend of Cracked Actor, a triple vinyl pressing of his legendary show in Los Angeles from September 5th 1974, I felt it was time to re-visit the original release from many moons ago. Bowie was booked to play no less than seven consecutive dates at the Forum from September 2nd.
My first contact with this show came all the way back in 1994 when I was in one of my local record stores, Rocking Horse Records and saw a copy of a 2CD set called “A Portrait In Flesh” sitting on the racks. It looked like an official release. Mind, during the early 90’s, there were legal loopholes which allowed bootlegs to be openly sold in record stores. It was a grand era for music fans as thousands of live recordings were available for the every day collector on the street and you didn’t have to pay a small fortune for a copy either. This copy however was classed as an import and the price tag read out at a hefty $60. Way too much for my meek income at the time. Well, I had no real income as I was still in school. For the time being, it remained one of the things I would like but would have to wait for. It was a long wait in fact. Some six years later, I finally got myself a copy of the show in the form of a CD-R copy I received in a trade from a fellow collector from Sweden.
Listening to the show for the first time was a vividly exciting experience. Being a soundboard show, the quality was top shelf on every level. It even included the wonderful ten minute “animal intro” that builds the setting for the impending Orwellian experience of doom and gloom. Sadly, this intro has been edited out in the new “official” release by Bowie’s estate. You see, despite an obviously decent mix by Tony Visconti, the live releases of Bowie’s classic concerts always fall short in some way. And this is a bad start in my humble opinion. It’s up there with the drum solo being edited out of the Nassau 1976 release.
A highlight of this show is the “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)” number. I’m not sure if Bowie ever sounded so spot on vocally in a live performance as he does here. You can feel the raw energy flowing through and matched with an impressive Earl Slick guitar solo, it’s easily one of Bowie’s most valuable recordings captured live. That’s the beauty of a good live bootleg. They are often captured in a “naked” format where there has been no post recording tampering and overdubs. Just think of the original mixes for David Live and Stage, both great live albums but wrecked in part by post concert studio production and editing. It’s like seeing a woman dressed to the nines with a face full of make-up. Sure, she may look amazing though she will only be in a truly beautiful state when the make-up and clothes have been removed, leaving her in her completely naked state. Live concert recordings are very much like this.
The Diamond Dogs Tour only managed to get as far as the halfway point before Bowie took a break in August before returning in September for a second leg of the tour (there were 73 concerts over three legs) and then, much to the surprise of the press and fans, continuing from early October to December with what Bowie called his “Soul Tour”. Gone were the extravagant stage sets and in was a striped back performer and stage where the protagonist would play a selection of tracks from his forthcoming Young Americans album whilst altering the remainder of the set list. Bowie did however increase the size of the band with no less than three new members joining the show.
With the bootleg version of this concert, you get one of Bowie’s most vibrant and audacious performances ever captured on tape. I’m yet to hear the recent official release with my own ears and whilst it may by a fantastic release, it won’t be a patch on the raw energy that is provided by way of the original bootleg recording of this legendary show. I think you would agree that, should a time travelling machine ever become available, you would have to consider heading back to 1974 with a wad load of cash and take on board The Diamond Dogs tour and accompanying Philly Dogs tour.
Animal Intro/1984/Rebel Rebel/Moonage Daydream/Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)/Changes/Suffragette City/Aladdin Sane/All The Young Dudes/Cracked Actor/Rock’n’Roll With Me/Knock On Wood/It’s Gonna Be Me/Space Oddity/Future Legend/Diamond Dogs/Big Brother/Chant of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family/Time/The Jean Genie/Rock’n’Roll Suicide/Band Intro/John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)