The Young American
West Coast Shows Concert Reviews
Los Angeles Times 4 September 1974 - David Bowie at Ampitheatre “… 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.   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. 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 Los Angeles Independent 4 September 1974 – Audience out-glitters David Bowie The absurd became the norm. The norm became the absurd. It’s to be expected when David Bowie is in town. Opening to a glitter-sequined audience, it was a toned-down Bowie who bowed at the Universal Amphitheater Monday night to begin a week-long stand. Bowie—the darling of glitter rock. Bowie—the daring young man flaunting a bisexual image. Bowie wore a suit. His audience wore mite-high wooden wedgies and adorned their clothes with sprinkles of glitter. Bowie stepped out of the revved-up. Ziggy Stardust persona - the mask he wore during his last tour -and into a quiet fatalistic "Diamond Dogs" psyche. He made one serious error. During his Ziggy tour, he was Ziggy Stardust. He became his own creation and immersed himself in his concept of total theater. The 1974 "Dogs" tour finds Bowie bowing in and out of the prophecy of Diamond Dogs - that of the heroic and sad mutants who have inherited the earth. His mistake...he didn't carry the theme across. He deviated from the story and tossed in bits and scraps of "Ziggy Stardust," "Hunky Dory" and "Aladdin Sane." He borrowed from previous recordings because it was clear that "Diamond Dogs" could not stand alone as a viable work. There were gaping lapses in the usual excitement Bowie radiates. The middle of the show dragged sorely. By the time intermission came around, the rumor was out that Bowie - the great showman that he is was obviously saving the best for last. He wasn't. We were deceived by our own expectations. He had began the show with two big rockers from "Diamond Dogs"- "1984" and "Rebel, Rebel." The two set a blasting pace with Bowie's hip undulations punctuating the lyrics. His new medium-length hair was tossed from side to side in a wild dance. From the top it looked like a good concert. Looking back at it, it was disappointing. "Changes" from "Hunky Dory" provided more of a theme for the show than "Diamond Dogs." Bowie was definitely into changes. He slinked around stage in a light gray suit—a marked change from the tear-away costumes and sequined jumpsuits he made famous. The only costume change Monday night was a trench coat he wore for the delivery of "Sweet Thing," which he sang from a catwalk spanning a set decoration of two melting buildings. "Suffragette City,” from "Ziggy Stardust," provided the phoenix of the show. One of the melting buildings suddenly lit up with a giant neon "Z" for Ziggy. The audience went wild. It was the closest Bowie was going to come to whipping them into the frenetic mood that usually is an intricate part of the show. It was clearly Ziggy they had come to see … although they still stood and stared at the heroic Bowie-the-legend, the magic was missing. The Ziggy image is a few years old. And there's nothing more boring than two-year-old sequins. DENISE KUSEL The San Diego Union 12 September 1974 – Bowie Displays Fine Showmanship David Bowie finally made it to San Diego last night for a Sports Arena concert and rarely have rock and stage-craft been so in harmony. Bowie’s image as lead flash in the glitter rock field seems to have melted into a tougher, more self-assured performing presence in which questions of masculinity seem unimportant. And his attention to theatricality is frequently stunning. The show unfolded amidst the hulking grey skyscrapers of Mark Ravitz' set and the masterful light plot of Broadway's Jules Fisher with Bowie and two associates — a pair of mime-dancer-singer-actors named Warren Peace and Gui Andrisan constantly embroiled in Tony Basil’s choreography. Ravitz, Fisher and Basil were not involved in subtleties here but each contributed crude tricks and winning cliches most appropriate in context and totally enthralling to the near-capacity crowd which provided a great amount of glitter, flash and goodwill itself. The audience, in fact, was one of the happiest, most sharing. And sweet-natured rock crowds of recent memory. Even the waifs charging the stage did so in style. But style was concentrated in the star, a lithe young man who is not so much a dancer as he is a virtuoso poser. Clad in a gray zoot suit, print shirt, scarlet braces and matching scarlet mary-janes over yellow socks, he spent the entire evening on stage, singing with an impressive new rhythm-blues style several selected songs from his seven albums. The sound system was enough of a problem that few of his words emerged intelligibly, so the visual elements dominated the show. But a backup band and singing group supplied solid, driving support —especially lead guitarist Eric Slick and pianist Mike Garson --and Bowie did enough for the rest, words or no words. For "Sweet Thing," he crooned from an elevator bridge upstage. For "Diamond Dogs” he duelled with Peace and Andrisan at ends of the same rope. For "Big Brother," he entered atop a giant, octagonal mirror-prism which he later entered only to have it open with a blue neon, pink-lit, mirrored interior holding Bowie as Buddha. And, for "Space Oddity," he soared above the front row in a cherry-picker, singing deadpan into a red telephone. From the opening "1984" to the closing "Rock and Roll Suicide,” the show was an exhilarating succession of right choices. Bowie himself, who once seemed ready to replace rock and roll with priss and pout, just to make a point, now seems prepared just to express himself with singing from croon to the shout and theater sense that makes him one of the more canny showmen of our time. WELTON JONES Los Angeles Free Press 13 September 1974 ...as music David Bowie's Monday evening concert at the Universal Amphitheatre was a musically transcending experience; it borrowed from rock, classical, and even jazz to comprise a show which went one step further than an average pop event. The concert was based on his newest album, titled Diamond Dogs, though there were large doses of his other works (including Alladin Sane and Ziggy Stardust). David has changed his essential approach to music, abandoning his slick English outfit for a funkier American ensemble, composed of Doug Rauch (bass; earlier played with Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin), Earl Slick (guitar; a New Yorker who recently finished sessions with the re-formed Righteous Brothers), Greg Enrico (drums), and Mike Garson (keyboards and musical director). The band proved to be an abysmally weak vehicle for David's superb vocal work, and detracted immensely from the impact of the material. The show opened with "1984" (from Diamond Dogs), and from the outset it was obvious the band had neither the technical abilities or panache of Bowie's earlier Spiders band. Mechanical, stilted, careless and guilty of several mistakes (misplaced drum cues, out-of-tune guitar solos), they seemed to be running through the songs like practice exercises from a book. But the redhead's vocals managed to cover up any weaknesses on the part of his instrumental backup. Like his music, which draws from so many sources, his voice takes on many characteristics. On songs such as "Suffragette City" and "Sean Genie" his vocals have the vitality and strength of a Rod Stewart; on "Cracked Actor" and "Changes" they belie the urgency and sensuality of a Paul Rodgers; and on "Diamond Dogs" and "Knock On Wood" they have the sheer crash and brash of a Mick Jagger. Because of his new backing unit, David seems to be drawing away from the slick Ziggy image to a more earthy figure. On Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood" (the only non-original number) he was backed by several black singers who gave more of a flighty Fifth Dimension sound than a tightly knit R&B backdrop for his voice. His new material is headed in this funky direction, but lacks the vigor of his current and past work. One new song previewed called "The Young Americans" was particularly poor, as David seemed to be experimenting with his new identity and sound. The selection of material was well varied, and documented the singer's career through his last several stages. His voice was intense, comical, brutal, gentle, and emotive. But a new band is in order for Bowie — a musical vehicle of much greater depth and proficiency than that which is provided by his current lineup. With growing confidence and an awareness of the intricacies of his future path, David should certainly grow from the true artist he is to a pure genius. David Bowie is a transcending personality: his stage "act" borrows from vaudeville. cabaret, opera and television soap operas; his songs use elements from Jazz, classical, rock; and his identity embraces male, female; space man, rock "star," mad man, suicidal personality and much more. In his much talked about Universal Amphitheatre opening Monday evening he was and used all the above; but more like a puppet on ropes than universal performer. Even his show (which seemed to be given more publicity than he was) was disappointing. For when one expects to see history being made and is greeted with mere spectacles, somewhere someone has been hyperbolizing. This is not to say that the Diamond Dogs show was not entertaining but then so is the I Love Lucy show. The two-part concert (broken up by an intermission) began with several searchlights roaming the stage, looking for the mysterious voice eminating from the darkness. At once Bowie emerges center stage rear and with legs forming a widespread half-moon hops out into the lights singing "1984." Other special effects which ran through the show were a huge catwalk which lowered and raised (used for "Sweet Things"), a hydraulic crane which cupped Bowie and lowered him for "Space Oddity," and a large mirrored space-type capsule which opened up to show a large black hand (which turned into a small walking plank) and purple flourescent lights. But though the event was not one of the highest calibre, it was most certainly one of the finest productions this city has seen tor some time. Bowie is a master, both in movement and voice. Of the former, he combines the grace and comical qualities of a Rod Stewart, the diabolical and no-shittin' approach of a Mick Jagger, and the seeming floating effect of a Marcel Marceau. The Englishman's voice changes for each song and is truly the outstanding characteristic of any Bowie concert. Powerful and pensive, It can scream about the impersonality and destructive elements of the Big City ("Diamond Dogs") or sound bitterly disillusioned ("Cracked Actor") On stage with Bowie were two male singers who provided backup vocals and helped the red-headed artist with various mood-setting skits. Unfortunately, what could have been an excellent device failed miserably as the two dancers did more to detract from the feeling of each number than to add. Also gone was David's slick English outfit (which previously featured Mick Ronson) and in its place was a group (guitar. bass, drums, keyboards) of crude musicians whose obvious lack of feeling and technique made the songs sound like exercises from a book. The show in its entirety was enjoyable though not monumental, promising yet lacking. What David seems to be searching for is a happy medium somewhere between singer and entertainer and during selected moments of Monday night's opener, this fusion hit home ("Jean Genie"). Still unsure of himself, he continues to look for the missing element which can turn him from great artist to true genius. STEVE ROSEN ...as theatre It happened right where early he-men movie stars made westerns in which none of them ever kissed the girl but was allowed to show a modicum of affection for his horse. The old Universal lot, grown from making movies to mini-metropolitan status, still had room to tuck the huge Universal Amphitheatre into the encircling hills. That's where it happened last week: David Bowie demonstrated that love is a many-gendered thing. But that's not all that England's androgynous contribution to the gaiety of nations demonstrates in his new glitter rock production, which makes the rock concert format almost as drab, in retrospect, as the ambience of a classical song recital. "Bowie and His Music" puts the writer at a loss to find synonyms for "spectacle" and "spectacular." The accouterments of the production, especially the mechanical effects, tend to be so over-powering that they are often in close competition with, rather than complementary to, the music. When the sound level reaches 120 decibels, you can stuff Kleenex in your ears and still have a visual high. But that doesn't help anyone to understand the lyrics, the meaning of the words. And meaning is obviously a vital part of the dynamic and emotional Bowie delivery. Even if the homework, listening to his records, has been done, it would still be pleasurable to hear just a few of his songs sully intelligibly in the theater. (A review of the music, per se, appears elsewhere in these pages.) Bowie has a personality, a style, a charisma which could dominate a simultaneous staging by C.B. de Mille of the parting of the Red Sea and a Roman orgy. David's anything but dwarfed by this Goliath of a production. He's literally on top of it when he sings his first hit, "Space Oddity," while seated on the lip of a stage-high crane, which lets him slowly down to the frontal edge of his mass of young worshippers. He's the deus ex machine of the ancient Greek stage. The machine returns him to "heaven," into which he dis-appears again, as every god is wont to do. Actually, he slips back into an enclosed aerie, which is part of the vast metropolis setting. The topless towers of a contempo-futuristic Ilium are streaked with thick, dripping gore, and the windows are as blind as Oedipus. It is doubtful that Bowie and Mark Ravitz, who designed the setting, and Jules Fisher, who lighted it magnificently, had any classical associations in mind. Nonetheless, ancient and timeless fears, dooms and tragedies are implicit in the atmosphere they have evoked. It is all the more scary for the imposition of a dehumanizing gloss sparked into brilliance by space-age technology. Ultraviolet light tubes line the interior of a gleaming, metallic, octagonal cage. It opens like a lotus from outer space, disclosing the idol — Bowie. A great hand like the hand of Buddha, but black and flashing with lights like diamonds, is lowered toward the audience, and the new symbol of bisexuality (recognized as a divine attribute in most mythologies) descends. Being a glorified symbol is natural for Bowie, and that's the saving grace. He is in command of his soul as well as his voice and body. He knows who he is. Nothing reveals the consummate artist more than his ability to remain perfectly still on stage, and still command absolute attention. Great ballet dancers thrill us with their moments of exquisite repose. Bowie's dancing has an angular grace, elegantly adapted to the rock beat. He criss-crosses the imaginary line between dancing and mime so easily that you are not aware of anything but total fluid movement. Co-director Toni Basil worked hand in glove with the star, developing patterns of movement which still leave room for improvisation, the primary impulse of rock choreography. There is a refreshing air of organized casualness. Since Basil doesn't appear in the production, it is reasonably safe to credit her with keeping a trained dancer's eye on the exciting spatial deployment of the three key figures, Bowie and his seductive boys. Singer-dancers Warren Peace and Gui Andrisano are dark-haired minions of his orange-topped majesty, loose-limbed Leporellos to his ambidextrous Don Juan. The trio generated heat playing rope tricks to the tune of "Diamond Dogs," a potent mini-excusion into sexual bondage and discipline, but they seemed even more foxy playing a cool game of footsies while occupying musical chairs. Bowie is well aware of the crucial zone, but, unlike Elvis, his pelvic motion is not circular. It's forward thrust for Bowie, and on him it somehow looks aesthetic. Early in the show, he saunters back and forth across a bridge spanning the stage, and rides it vertically. He sings under three lampposts (although one was enough for Fannie Brice and Edith Piaf to lean against), but the great white globes are sterile moons, and that's reason enough for their presence. The bridge is the highest and best since Jo Mielziner designed the dark underside of a great bridge for Maxwell Anderson's drama, "Winterset." Many elements in this production recall — happily — elements of the gait. But they are elements new to the young. Young people, who were into rock concerts and movies only, are now into theater. And they love it. And they love dressing up for it, dressing up that doesn't demand all males to look like penguins: and the females be gowned by Couturiers beginning, alphabetically, with Adrian and Balenciaga. Four cygnets down front, who had probably never heard of "Swan Lake." were waving their arms in ecstatic unison most of the extraordinary evening. The evening ended on an appropriate apocalyptic note. A dozen army searchlights blazed, making crazy circles in the sky (O Rodgers! O Hammerstein!), and silver balloons, like gravity-defying bombs, plummeted upward. CHARLES FABER