The ZIGGY STARDUST Companion

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Aladdin Distress

by Nick Kent - New Musical Express  (19 May 1973)

"and when he arrived they screamed and they cried, and they rushed, and rushed forth and beat their feminine fists into…"

FORGET IT! This is business – 18,000 heads worth of business to be exact.

Bowie: "We must not leave the young behind. I repeat that"

You can repeat it to you’re blue in the face, sweetheart, but you can blame the more cynical among us for rising to the bait when you fill a miserable air hanger full of dear young things, most of whom have scrupulously saved their pennies for the event, and who are consequently treated to one of the worst examples of a bad deal ever perpetuated on English rock audiences? For that in fairly straight terms, is what David Bowies concert at Earl Court amounted to.

Of the reported 18,000 present, one doubts whether more than half were able to even see what was going down on-stage, while the sound system veered from adequate to diabolical to totally inaudible – depending on where you were seated.

I mean there was poor Alan Freeman and David Wigg, and all us journalists situated at the back of the arena clutching our 2 pounds tickets vaguely wondering how we were going to review a concert when we couldn’t even see where the stage was. We all like to have our photographs taken beside you David, but you know what prima donnas we can be when placed in awkward situations like this.

Personally, my heart went out to Sue and Hazel of Tooting who spent 2 pounds each for their tickets, time and money making their costumes, and an excited three weeks anticipating their initiation into Bowie’s rock n roll fantasy as performed live onstage. They departed in the intermission when that ugly American guy was telling all the people to "get their asses back to their seats" and the fights started breaking out. They left their David Bowie scarves on the chairs.

Anyway, a small dot from the stage could be seen burbling out the evening’s date in what sounded like an American accent: something about an intermission and other details. It might have been Cherry Vanilla – then again it might not.

The lights went down, a loud burst of applause went up, the Clockwork Orange theme was played and then phased out. It was at this point that some glamorous pinheads were faintly visible above the thousands straining their necks to catch a glimpse of the new Messiah. The sound from the PA was the equivalent of David Bowie's 'Hang Onto Yourself' played on a transistor radio coming from the next room. The show appeared to have started.

During the second number, I managed to get upstairs and lo and behold, there was Bowie, resplendent in embroidered white kimono and stockings (?), prancing around with old faithfuls Ronson, Bolder and Woodmansey, plus newer musicians like Mike Garson on piano.

'Watch that Man' was the first number to make a distinct impression: muddled sound with Ronson standing out on guitar. Bowie himself looked absolutely luscious; his new 1966 Peter None hair-cut brushed back to its old magnificence, he pranced ineffectively but remembered the words to his songs. The real show was going on down in the arena though. Pure anarchy reined supreme with the natives yelping mightily in unison, absolutely ruining the beginning of 'Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud'. Bowie being the courageous darling we all know and love, ignored it admirably and turned in a stirring performance. (Anyway he could always do a dazzling costume change and silence the caphony that way. Which is precisely what he did).

I can’t remember if it was before that marvelous rendition of 'All The Young Dudes' coupled with a snatch of 'Oh You Pretty Things' or after, but he eventually burst into the spotlight dressed to kill in silver lame bathing top, compete with heavily fringed sleeves. Did I say fringe? I’m afraid I did, and I must say that I was a trifle perturbed by this choice of style – unpleasantly reminiscent of Woodstock Nation fashions – particularly coming from such a self-appointed trend-bender as our David.

Still the music was good enough, even though the majority had difficulty in hearing it properly.

Then came the intermission, at which point the masses who had gathered in the aisles were summoned back to their seats. Either by an obnoxious spirit of Woodstock – only heavier American, or by bouncers who cleared the front of the stage in their own inimitable style.

This little process took a good 40 minutes to perform and yes, all the previous culprits moved back to their former locations once the lights dimmed and the Chosen One had leapt back into the spotlight for 'Jean Genie'. Terrible harp playing on Bowie’s part, and he will insist on lurching around the stage: possibly to no good effect. He still looked pretty of course, though on Time, possibly the most pretentious song he's ever written, his performance reached a new level of low camp.  "Time is waiting in the wings-and he peers around the amplifiers to prove the point (Ah, what a charismatic presence!) But who needs to move like Mick Jagger when you've got all those costumes to strut around in?  Right now, he's wearing a very interesting body stocking, accommodating half his body, and for the next number (The Width of A Circle", the Spiders big-power trio epic featuring genuinely excellent Ronson guitar), he'll prance in a leotard.

Dressing up is so much fun that Bowie winds up doing a quick change for every number towards the end.  Well, it makes up for the inescapable fact that our hero's voice is cracking up.  He's not catching up on his cues either, and the bands getting sluggish.  After a very painful rendition of "Aladdin Sane", Mr B embarks on another medley - "Quicksand" and "Changes" goes into one of those two all-join-in affairs of the evening on the horrendously wimpish chorus of Memory of a Free Festival, "The Sun Machine is coming out and we're going to have a party.   Oh yeah".  Inspired stuff, this, and more pseudo-Woodstock dribblings methinks.

You almost expect Tony De Fries to come on and do a Max Yasgur impersonation.

The sexual parody of "Lets Spend The Night Together" was highly effective and the final number "Suffragette City" had Bowie going down on Mick Ronson's guitar just like he did at Aylesbury a year ago.  He even stood on top of the amplifier to the left of the stage just to show he had balls.

An encore?  But of course - and what else but "Rock n Roll Suicide"?

AND THERE he was: the little man in the red spaceman suit, exhorting his aficionados to "give me your hands".  It was beautifully symbolic in a way because this gig was a formidable bunch of nails set in the potential coffin for which the whole Bowie mystique will soon be placed and solemnly laid to rest.

And all the costume-changes and mime-poses in the world won't compensate for that, sweetheart.

---This page last modified: 29 Jun 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)