The Young American
US Tour V Reviews
Los Angeles Times - 4 September 1974: David Bowie at Ampitheater “… if I could only make you care.” -Lyrics by David Bowie We had been told, both by advance press releases and newspaper/magazine accounts, that David Bowie’s new show was perhaps the most spectacular ever staged in rock. We were informed about the huge, futuristic Hunger City set, the movable platforms and cranes, dancers, special lighting and more. Well, there was all of that and, indeed, more when Bowie opened Monday night at the Universal Ampitheater, but the most spectacular thing about the evening, beyond question, was Bowie himself. The effects – particularly a crane that lowered Bowie from a 30-foot space capsule at the rear of the stage to a spot just above the front of the stage – were often marvellously entertaining, but none of them came even close to the impact of Bowie’s charisma and talent. Despite many problems during the evening (from an occasionally uneven pace to an improper sound balance that caused Earl Slick’s guitar often to smother Bowie’s vocals), Bowie was stunning – a performer of immense style and ability. There is, quite simply, no one in rock today with as much range and dynamics. And it may be too limiting to suggest Bowie’s supremacy is confined to rock. While there was always a sense of the theatre in his movements and concert approach, the 27-year old English singer-songwriter has grown enormously as a performer since he made his local debut in 1972 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. At that time, he was convincing in the role of an imaginary rock star (Ziggy Stardust), but it remained a question whether he could move from that role to the broad, multi-directional, cabaret stance that he sought. He ended that uncertainty Monday. He continues to attract a glitter cult, but has successfully moved to a broader, more general base. Aside from Eddie Floyd’s old rhythm and blues hit, “Knock on Wood,” all the material Monday was written by Bowie and most of it was from his “Ziggy Stardust,” “Aladdin Sane” and “Diamond Dogs” albums. But many of the songs had been redesigned, both vocally and instrumentally. It was Bowie’s vocal work, in fact, that was one of the concert’s chief musical strengths. During this tour (his most extensive yet in the United Sates), Bowie has gained enormous confidence as a singer, thus permitting far greater shading and texture to his vocals. In his music, Bowie combines the beat, urgency and sensuality of rock music with the compassion, sentimentality and gentleness that has been associated with the best of mainstream pop. But he also finds room for some of the horrors of modern life and the uncertainty of the future.   Loss of Emotions His themes generally center around the inevitability of change, the accelerated rate of that change, the loneliness of the individual in an increasingly depersonalized world, the loss of emotion in a frightfully mechanized society and the need to rely on one’s own judgement rather than place faith in the hands of would-be political saviours. As with most significant entertainers, he’s trying to liberate emotions. The show began with a flood of spotlights across the darkened, eerie Hunger City set. The musicians – a four-piece rhythm section later augmented by saxophonist Dave Sanborn – were visible on stage, but the lights continued to search the stage for Bowie, thus building tension. He finally appeared at the rear of the stage and received an expectedly huge ovation. Wearing a stylish blue suit and an open-collar sport shirt, Bowie opened with “1984.” Almost shockingly thin in the manner of those lean models that often grace fashion magazine covers, Bowie had, as before, enormous body control, able to establish a striking emotional image with just a twist of the hip or sudden glance. Two male dancers assisted him with varying effectiveness, establishing the mood of various songs. Special Effect The first special effect was during “Sweet Thing” when Bowie, wearing a trenchcoat, appeared on a deserted street set that had been constructed on a huge platform high above the rear of the stage. In the second half, the effects included the “Space Oddity” crane, a huge, mirrored space capsule and a minimovie set where Bowie, as a disillusioned, aging actor, sat and caressed and was caressed by the skull of a skeleton. But in the end it was Bowie, not the effects that mattered. The effects in various forms, have been part of our film/concert experience, but Bowie has not. When he drops the elaborate staging (as he plans to do soon), he’ll be just as important an attraction. Bowie is, by far, the most arresting figure to enter pop music in the 1970s and, I have a suspicion, he still is a long way from his peak. Production supervision and lighting for the Ampitheater show, which runs through Sunday, was by Jules Fisher. The choreography was by Toni Basil and Mike Garson was music director. ROBERT HILBURN   Milwaukee Sentinel - 14 October 1974: Bowie Goes All Out in Grand Style Up close, David Bowie can only be described as having that embalmed look as he begins a show. But as the British heir apparent to rock showman Mick Jagger, Bowie demonstrated to a capacity crowd at the Arena Sunday night that he is very, very much alive. In a modified zoot coat with iridescent slacks, Bowie displayed a stare that could melt titanium, a moody set of postures that that sometimes were remindful of a kung fu position and at other times of a page out of a mail order catalog, and a creative tension that grew as the concert moved on. His face was nearly the color of his flaming hair by show’s end, and at one point, his legs trembled as he belted a number from a stool.   Probably that is because Bowie’s theatrics are more reserved these days, though he still does a considerable amount of leaping about. Thanks to a well oiled, 13 piece back up group, ably directed by pianist Michael Garson, Bowie’s program is as iridescent as his pants. His songs were about time, particularly the future. Bowie sang about 1984, about ray guns and astronauts trapped in tin cans beyond the moon. The material suited Bowie well, for his physical appearance and mannerisms remind one of a kind of marionette who has burst free of his strings. RON LEGRO   Milwaukee Journal - 14 October 1974: Bowie Fans Imitate Their Hero Campy English rock star David Bowie made his Milwaukee debut to a sellout crowd of 12,000 at the Arena Sunday, and all the local glitter-kinder were out and on display – scores of unisex figures in makeup and costume paraded about in frantic imitation of their painted hero. Bowie, having discarded the elaborate Broadway style stage show of the early part of his tour, acted out one more fantasy by fronting a nearly all- black band and chorus in his ‘40s jive white hipster’s zoot suit, hennaed hair and hysterical manner. Milwaukee’s hard core Bowieites, mostly bourgeois boppers in their own idea of daring drag, unwittingly affected a New York style of chic decadence that’s already passé in the East. Their rouged roué of a pied piper must find all the unisex war paint in the provinces rather amusing. Indeed, the sight of a young moll with hair dyed to match her skunk fur outfit or a purse-wearing dandy tapping his umbrella in time to the music was straight out of Zap comic books.   A nonsinger of the Lou Reed school, kewpie doll Bowie worked through soul versions of “Rebel Rebel,” “Changes,” “Diamond Dogs” and the rest unhampered by a distorted sound system – for the focus of the Britisher’s show is on his mincing mimery rather than vocal ability, anyway, Bowie, live, proved to be a terrible musician, but an incredibly good impostor. Pulling out a raunchy harmonica on “Jean Genie,” Bowie began to succumb to hoarseness, and on a slow soul ballad, revealed how lightweight his parody-impersonation of a soul singer really was. Then it was into some well done rockers like “Suffragette City” and “Rock and Roll Suicide,” and the circus was over. This was David Bowie’s first and probably last appearance in Milwaukee, part of a final American tour that will climax Bowie’s rock career and finance a fling at movie stardom. Judging by the desperate way his fans were trying to touch their lipsticked hero by the end of his show, he should make it. STEPHEN WIEST   Chicago Tribune - 23 October 1974: A theatrical trim shows a better side of Bowie It was “Ch-ch-changes” David Bowie was signing about shortly after he took the stage Tuesday night at Arie Crown, and his have been of the rather heavy and hyped variety. Early on in his career, some of you may recall, he ran around dressed like Lauren Bacall, but that didn’t go over so hot. Then he took on the astral glitter trappings of a character called “Ziggy Stardust,” singing of blasting off for planets unknown, and that went over a little better. Now Bowie has changed again, with his current approach leaning heavily toward a late ‘40s and early ‘50s look accompanied by a soul sextet and a band that calls on rock, soul, and jazz. And of Bowie’s many incarnations, I like the current one best of all, tho some of his most frantic devotees from the “Ziggy” days probably wouldn’t agree. Tuesday night’s show, to be repeated Wednesday night, had a couple of things going for it – primarily the soul sextet of singers and fast-steppers led by Luther Vandross and buoyed up by the energy of a skinny black woman with a blond natural. They opened the show with an entertaining set, then returned again with Bowie. And without them, he wouldn’t have been all that much.   The show’s top ticket cost $10, which is pretty steep, and a price like that leads to expectations that would be pretty hard for any performer to live up to. Bowie tried, and his performance was more enjoyable to me than his past ones have been, even minus the glitter and theatrics he once brought with him. This time, with the expectation of one song on which he played guitar and a few more on which he played harmonica, it was all Bowie the singer – or crooner, since he’s taken to more ballads and a lot of getting down on his knees in bursts of emotion. Bowie’s set, which ran nearly 90 minutes, included some new songs he’s yet to release and some of his older staples – “Changes,” “1984,” “Diamond Dogs,” from his last album, and his “Rock and Roll Suicide.” The “new” Bowie has cut out a lot of the theatrical schlock and come out somewhat the better for it, and his choice of accompanists is a good one. But his appeal still remains somewhat of a puzzle. And judging from his postshow mutterings of the disappointed hordes who’d come expecting some real flash and gotten little, his new style may be a rock and roll suicide move indeed. LYNN VAN  MATRE   New York Times - 2 November 1974: David Bowie show gets a reshaping It must be said for David Bowie, who opened a five-day run at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday night, that he keeps on plugging, restlessly unwilling to rest on whatever laurels he has accrued. Last July he brought his most lavish stage production to date to Madison Square Garden for two shows. Touring almost continually ever since, he has now dropped most of the overt theatrics, written a clutch of new songs and retooled his whole show. The result, on Wednesday, was disappointing. Mr. Bowie's theatrics last summer may have had their problems - shapelessness, erratic pacing, pretension. But, at least there were some striking moments, and everything snapped along crisply, both dramatically and musically.   On Wednesday, the proceedings led off with a lame half-hour by Mr. Bowie's band and mostly black back-up singers. When the star finally appeared, he seemed to be attempting to humanize his previous space-mutant image. But he looked self-consciously uncomfortable without routines to act out, and he was in hoarse voice indeed. The old songs were mostly unsuccessful, mannered and erratically distorted in phrasing. The four new songs appeared to be attempts at something a bit more conventional and direct, although the sound system and Mr. Bowie's vocal estate made a real judgment of them impossible. JOHN ROCKWELL   Washington Post - 12 November 1974: Bowie: Blending Drama And Rock David Bowie, the British rocker who out-flashed the snakes, surrealism and implicit transvestism of Alice Cooper and firmly ensconsed the flare of dress-up glamor in rock, had his Washington debut before 8,500 fans at the Capital Centre last night. It was a mixture of the old and the new Bowie. Remaining are the same concern for theatricality and dress and essentially the same songs he performed on his tour this summer, with their themes of alienation and rebellion. What's new is his band, in appearance a soul outfit, including a six-person vocal chorus, all but one of them black, and seven musicians with only the lead guitarist, saxophonist and pianist white. The group's opening half hour, without Bowie on stage, was decidedly rhythm 'n' blues: T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday" blues, a King Pleasure vocalised duet that included "I'm in the Mood for Love"; The Supremes "You Keep Me Hanging On" and the O'Jays "Love Train." But when Bowie strutted on stage, the tenor of the music shifted markedly. What had been soul quickly became rock and the strong, spirited though simple r 'n' b yielded to 75 slickly choreographed minutes when even the music seemed carved to fit with the stage image being projected. There's no denying Bowie's brilliance as a performer. His stage - pianos, drums, amplifiers, even floorboards - was totally white except for a six-foot, red lightning bolt embossed on the floor. His dress was smartly chic - gray tweed waist-length double-breasted jacket with heavily padded shoulders, a blue shirt with a blue and white polka dot tie, white pleated slacks with a small black scarf delicately tucked into a pocket, his blond hair swept back in a neat page boy. Every moment seemed precisely orchestrated, coming to a climax, perhaps, during the song "1984." The mammoth concrete sports palace darkened only to have four powerful beams of white light shot out into the audience. The band sounded a steamroller rhythm akin to the theme from the film "Shaft" and a bright foot-light projected Bowie's shadow - aping an advancing robot - on a 50-foot screen towering over the stage.   This kind of precision and vision ultimately makes Bowie interesting to watch. His imagination is wild, images of the city as a jungle and the planet as a huge battleground for science fiction confrontations ("Put your raygun to my head. Put your space mask next to mine..."). And he understands rock as a performing medium well enough to realize that a guitar solo at a concert like this is more important as an element of the drama than a musical statement. When Bowie placed his guitarist centrestage to solo on "Jean Genie" it didn't matter that what came out of his amplifier was a mindless series of loosely connected notes. The power and intensity of what was being played was a visceral attack and the applause that came after it went probably not as a salute to musicianship but rather as a necessary release of tension created by this well-planned machine-gun fire. Bowie knows the nature of the challenge in the battle campaign of rock. Still, it's interesting that Bowie didn't come close to selling out the 18,500-seat arena. What was novelty two years ago, considered by many to express the ultimate decadence of rock in Bowie's ambiguous sexuality, has become somewhat common place. In many ways it's parallel to long hair. The barbers in Bladensburg, who five years ago were threatening to shave heads, soon began styling hair any way their young customers wanted it - at a much higher price. And when you can see an 11-year old girl at the general store in the little Virginia hamlet of Bluemont wearing a David Bowie sweatshirt, you realize that yesterday's horror show is today's daytime television. TOM ZITO   The Boston Globe - 15 November 1974: Bowie is trading on past, sliding into sunset David Bowie, the outrageous rock’n’roller, now a flaming forties fop, now the lead slink in a soul review, ever the calculating showman from last until tomorrow nights at the Music Hall. Okay, so I’ll get right down to what you really want to know, like what the bloke wore (a padded shouldered, tight fitting, gray doublebreasted jacket cut off at the waist: light gray, baggy pants, and sporting a walking stick), who he was with (the Mike Garson Band and singers War and Peace), and what his new bag is this time around (slick latin and r&b tinged soul). But if I wanted to be catty, I could say something on the order of “it didn’t take him too long to run out of ideas,” or something on that line to indicate that perhaps the glamorous Mr. Bowie’s time has come, preened in the spotlight awhile and then slid into a well choreographed sunset. Well, I wouldn't be far wrong. Bowie seems to be trading rather much on past reputations. He'd be hard pressed for an audience if he had emerged into the public's eye in the same manner he exhibited last night. But don't take my word for it, let's take the evening from the top and see what I mean. The Mike Garson Band and War and Peace started things off and (how can I say this without sounding too unkind) received a polite response from the well-groomed audience. Very slick soul with rotating combinations of the six War and Peace singers was their forte, and they touched all the stylistic bases from "Stormy Monday" to a sort of scat duet, to "Keep Me Hanging On" to a repetitive ditty called "Funky Music," but I got the uncomfortable feeling that I was watching the whole thing on the Merv Griffin Show.   After a short break, it was time for, what the off-stage announcer articulated in calculated excitement, David (slight pause). Opening with "Rebel Rebel" after a posturing, posing entrance, he moved along to a repetitive "Dancing," before getting a few ripples out of the placid crowd with the shuttering classic "Changes." "Young American," a new song, was, like all the new material, undistinguished. "1984" was the first echo of the outrageously staged productions of the past, but it was only an echo with merely harsh lights played on the audience and a stage light casting an immense shadow of Bowie on the simple white backdrop to suggest a totalitarian presense. Then back to the mundane with "Foot Stompin'" and the new "When You Rock'n'Roll With Me." It took the exuberant "Jean Genie" to get the unusually sedate audience moving, albeit rather nonchalantly, toward the stage, and some monumental crashing guitar to keep things going, but "Suffragette" and "Rock'n'Roll Suicide" finished things off nicely for the encore of "Diamond Dogs" featuring a wardrobe change to an army fatigue outfit with a red belt and a polo mallet accessory. David Bowie has enormous stage presence and no little amount of talent, but his slickness indicates too basic a superficiality for his influence to last. MICHAEL NICHOLSON   The Boston Herald - 16 November 1974: A New Playing Style for David Bowie David Bowie has plummeted from Mars and crashed somewhere to the left of disco-music. The lash Gordon-styled rock’n’roller traded in his unisex space costume for a double breasted tweed waist coat, baggy pants and – believe it or not – a shillalah. The show at the Music Hall this evening (the last of a three night engagement) is David Bowie along with The Mike Garson Band and though it may have got lonely out in space for David lately, he’s not really an overnight Johhny Raye either. “I guess David has always had a kind of obnoxious aesthetic appeal,” said Garson, the show’s musical director. “The reason for the new show is simply that David began to feel he just couldn’t go much further with that celestial image without risking a lack of communication with the audience.” Three years ago, Garson, a native of Brooklyn, was a free lance keyboard man for people like Martha Reeves, Woody Herman and the late Bill Chase, when Bowie asked him to join the Spiders From Mars. His musical tastes gravitate toward avante garde jazz, R&B, and soul, and Bowie has cast himself as a singer in Mike's band. After Garson's warm-up show featuring soul standards like "You Keep Me Hangin' On," and a jazzy-latinized version of "Love Train," sung by Luther Vandross and a family of singers, Bowie zipped on stage to front this 13-man show. It was amusing to watch the crowd reacting to the new earth-bound Bowie. People close to the front immediately shot up from their seats with the opener "Rebel Rebel," and just as quickly fell back into place. The only dramatics Bowie employed during following numbers like "John, I'm Only Dancing," "Sorrow," and "Changes," was a kind of prancing back and forth across the stage. He looked like one of the Everly Brothers, with his orange hair swept back in a 1959 do.   But make no mistake about it, David Bowie has not sacrificed the key ingredient of exaggeration in his new stage image. His impression of a night club singer was tailored to an audience of 4,500. His white made-up face and luminous eyes made you think of Joel Grey's caricature in "Cabaret," there was still that glamorized decadence to his swagger. He also kept everyone off guard musically for a while. "Changes" and "Sorrow" took on the new flavor of soulish show tunes, while a new song "Young Americans" sung with a big acoustic guitar slung at his waist, was a chaotic blend of Elvis and Watergate all rolled up in a Cha cha close. It wasn't until the apocalyptic "1984" where Bowie's giant silhouette was cast upon a white backdrop that everyone started to feel comfortable. So comfortable in fact that when he got into "Jean Genie" the fans flocked about the stage. His space-age version of Jan and Dean's "Surf City" - "Suffer Jet City," was done with frantic choreography in a sassy cat-like vocal style. His schizophrenic voice goes from an impersonated baritone, to a gravely blues wail, and on up to a whining sarcastic scream. As a straight band singer, David Bowie is novel, but unfortunately not very mysterious. PETER GELZINIS     Philadelphia Bulletin - 26 November 1974: Bowie's Soul Works But His Voice Is Off DAVID BOWIE AND THE GARSON BAND. Soul-rock revue. At the Spectrum. Repeat performance Nov.25. IN THE RELATIVELY BRIEF SPACE of three years, David Bowie has earned a remarkable reputation as one of Rock's transcendant figures. His incarnations have been varied and sudden - last night as headliner of a self-styled "soul revue" before a nearly-full Spectrum - while each in its own way has set a new standard for rock showmanship and, not incidentally, rock music. When he burst nova-bright upon the pop scene in 1972, the 27-year old Briton hid behind the glittering, androgynous costume and make-up of his song-creation, Ziggy Stardust. As misinterpreted as he was outrageous, Bowie-Ziggy soon found himself the mama-papa of - take your pick - "glitter," "gay" or "drag" rock; indeed, his sensual, severe vocals - brittle, consummately phrased, and edged in a certain teary anguish - did little to allay the image. Nor did his looks: spikey, avant-fashion, orange-dyed hair: pancake, eyeshadow, lipstick, occasional earrings: the cheekbone elegance and down- tugged jawline of a rejuvenated Katherine Hepburn. Yet Bowie's astonishing stage presence and superb role-play - shimmering feminine to masculine in blinks of the eye - asserted something uniquely erogenous rather than merely bisexual.   NOW - after his summer incarnation, having set another standard, this time for theatrical rock, with an immense, choreographed, prop-laden extravaganza - Bowie leads a revue which reflects his evolving interest in Black and Latin pop forms. The show, featuring a revamped crew of musicians led by pianist Mike Garson and five soulful back-up vocalists, is yet another departure for Bowie, marking his transition from Role Player to Pure Entertainer. In general, it works, and last night's audience seemed won over by the fast-paced opening segment, which features the five vocalists (in various combinations) warming up with an affecting program of some new Bowie songs - thoroughly funky vehicles - as well as a powerful version of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and Jeffrey MacCormack's fine solo handling of Bruce Springsteen's "Growin' Up." Unfortunately, Bowie's voice has not been able to withstand so much recent touring, and his edge was considerably blunted by raw, uneven and generally strained singing. His new songs - recorded during an August stopover at 12th Street's Sigma Sound Studios - are somewhat suited to this bluesy rawness since they are in the "soul" vein, but the older material - "Changes," "Rock N' Roll With Me," "Moonage Daydream" - suffered greatly in comparison with past performances. MATT DAMSKER