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Mick Nixon - (2 June 1972)

David Bowie is one of the great enigmas of music.  But he showed that he is also one of the great entertainers when he opened at Newcastle's City Hall last Friday. Armed with his own fine vocals and stage presence, an immaculate sound system, a light show and above all the best rock band I have seen or heard for years, he took the audience by storm.

It really was a shame that the 2,500 capacity hall was only one-third full.   But it was not surprising.  The music loving fans of Tyneside could have had no idea of the goodies that were in store. David Bowie has hardly hit the heights - until now that is.  An amusing single "Rubber Band" that was mildly successful on the pirate charts of 1967, one more recent hit single "Space Oddity" and an LP "Hunky Dory" that received some acclaim.  That had been the sum of his credentials.

But from the moment he strutted onto stage, the audience knew they were in for something special. Forsaking his Lauren Bacall gear, he was garbed in a multi-coloured, seersucker jump-suit that made him look like a "snakeman" character from one of those American comic strip magazines.

The many amplifiers and drums had been placed around the edges of the stage, and the reason soon became clear as David Bowie strolled, leapt and minced around.  He showed himself to be the supreme showman. Straight from the first note the sound quality was amazing.  The volume was full blast but the details were in no way muffled - as is so often the case. Somewhere there was an echo chamber that seemed to be bouncing back sound from outer space, the setting for many of the songs.

The opening material must have come as a surprise to anyone who had heard the delicate, heavily orchestrated sound of "Hunky Dory". It was pure ear-shattering rock. The first two numbers were tracks from the forthcoming album - "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars" - including the title track.

Spiders From Mars is the name of David's backing group.  It consists of Mick Ronson lead, Trevor Bolder, bass and Mick Woodmansey, drums.  I have already hinted at their quality.  A really fresh blast of wind through a stale scene. Ronson was outstanding.  Technically brilliant without being self-indulgent.  After the opening five rockers David, with the band's help, arranged an almost perfect reproduction of "Starman" which was followed by an equally fine version of the excellent "Changes".

By now sweat was pouring off David's short carrot-coloured hair and the audience welcomed every number with wild enthusiasm.  At last there was respite from the barrage when stools came out for Bowie and Ronson as they performed "Space Oddity" alone. Apart from the display of musicianship the audience were lapping up David's showmanship.  He is not afraid to take the mickey out of himself and his image. And images was the subject of his song about Andy Warhol, which he performed alone.   The band returned for a mind-blowing version of Cream's "I Feel Free"   As it came to the instrumental climax David left the stage to change into a white satin outfit.  Next came what he described as "jitterbug" time with more rockers including Lou Reed's "White Heat" and [his own] "Suffragette City."

The end of the 60 minute set was met by a genuine spontaneous standing ovation.   The band took a little time to return for the encore - so that David could change outfits again.

"Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" had given their all.   Nothing had been spared to give the audience a good time. If there was a fault, though it can hardly be called that, it was that David Bowie tried a little too hard to show what a good time he was having. But as the audience obviously were having a good time that hardly matters.  After the encore - Velvet Underground's "You've Got It" [sic] - a section rushed the stage. I haven't seen a reaction like that since The Faces opened a tour in Newcastle, also to a half empty hall, nearly two years ago.  And we all know what happened to them.

---This page last modified: 28 Jun 2002---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)