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At Carnegie Debut


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Ron Ross - Record World (14 October 1972)

Review of Carnegie Hall Concert - 28 September 1972


Even Andy couldn't get a third ticket; David Bowie's first concert in New York at Carnegie Hall (September 28) was the toughest ticket in town, in the Event class with Elvis and the Stones. From hard rocking kids to executives that had yet to be convinced of their own hype, the Apple's boogaloo dudes sat amazed while Bowie proved once and for all that his act, his songs, his style were all one needed to know about the Face of 1972, whose photos most of us know so much better than his music.

A few were disappointed; they had expected Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Jim Morrison, and Mick Jagger, all in drag, and what they got was an intimate, tasteful, and dignified young man, whose performance seemed closer to Marlene Dietrich or Edith Piaf than the late lamented Ziggy Stardust. In fact, tunes from Bowie's latest RCA album, "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," seemed to fall into clear perspective for the first time, as Bowie combined them with earlier masterpieces like "Space Oddity" and "Width of a Circle."

They did what Bowie's agent calls the "rock and roll" show to distinguish it from the theatre extravaganza, with pantomimists and dancers, which David mounted at London's Rainbow Theatre shortly before he embarked on his first American tour. It is a surprisingly straight-forward set, despite the difficulty of some of the material, after one gets over the initial impression of the band's highly styled, reptile-tight futuristic costumes, guitarist Mick Ronson's platinum blond super-image, and the remarkable dexterity of drummer Woody Woodmansey and bassist Trevor Bolder, it is David's face and hands and voice that captivate and focus attention on the flow, beat, and content of the incomparable songs. He appears then not as a gay boy, a transvestite, a theatrical rocker, or a Bolanish hype, but as an artist who even without force of flash compels hushed respect. New York audiences are not generally renowned for hushed respect.

Bowie began with his current theme song "Hang on to Yourself," but quickly moved on to a variety of material from his last four albums. The show is beautifully paced, mixing up such poles of Bowie's genius as "Life on Mars" and "Suffragette City," "Starman" and "Andy Warhol" ("for all the blondes in the audience") with no sense of strain or pretension. The band is the sharpest, tightest and tastiest trio since the original Beck group, sans Nicky Hopkins and Rod Stewart. They could be a hot band on their own, but it is greatly to Bowie's credit that he turns them on enough for them to add new dimensions to his older songs as they perform them today. Previously, they had used Cream's "I Feel Free" to knock the audience over with their virtuosity, not coincidentally allowing Bowie time to slip offstage and change outfits. Now the extended bizarre personal odyssey "Width of A Circle" is the vehicle, and like the Who's medley from "Tommy" or the Stones' live version of "Midnight Rambler," it is hard to believe a show can go on from there.

But Bowie had some Lou Reed to get across, so "like bringing coals to Newcastle," he lit into "Waiting for the Man" and "White Heat," driving those songs harder than the Velvets, who lived them, ever could. When the audience stood and laughed, whistled, stomped and generated for David, who had in a short hour and a half become a rocking Reality the like of which we just don't hear anymore, there was nothing left to do but boogie on with "Round and Round." A smile, a sincere "thank you," and away.

People have been talking about David Bowie for years, and even now that he is here and turning his cult into a superstar's following, there are those who will write him off as a hype, because they can't cope with the energy, the confusion, the politics, and perhaps their disappointment because tickets were scarce and nobody was petted into self-importance for liking David Bowie. Bowie's show is his own best justification; no more need be said, and eventually as with Alice and Jagger, words will be superfluous. For the time being, we should note that David Bowie sold 4,300 seats in Memphis on a Sunday night, that his "All the Young Dudes" as performed by Mott The Hoople is bulleting up the charts, and that Ziggy Stardust is one of the year's biggest albums in Britain. David Bowie is the cat's p.j.s.

---This page last modified: 13 Dec 2018---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)