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(20 October 1972)
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David Bowie's concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles on the 20th October 1972 was a classic Ziggy Stardust concert and one which firmly established him in the American market. And for many Bowie fans, this concert, available only as a famous bootleg for many years until the concert was officially released in 1994, still remains the most exciting live performance ever by David Bowie and The Spiders From Mars.
Bowie's 1st US Ziggy Stardust tour had started in Cleveland on 22 September 1972 and from the beginning the tour had proved to be an overwhelming success with more concerts added over time to meet demand. Although little known in the US, Bowie was acting as a star and with word spreading of his amazing stage shows, his concerts were beginning to sell out. Originally designed to end in California with the one show on 20th October 1972 - Tony DeFries began adding more concerts to the 1st US Ziggy Stardust Tour - eventually extending the tour by another six weeks.
Beverly Hills Hotel
On 16 October 1972, the 46-strong Bowie entourage arrived in Los Angeles for four days pre-concert relaxation staying at the very exclusive and expensive Beverly Hills Hotel - set in 12 acres of tropical foliage (the final bill would cost RCA Record & Tapes over $100,000 - $20,000 just for room service!). The New York critic Lisa Robinson had recommended this location to Leee Black Childers as vital for promoting a star image. Bowie wrote the song "Cracked Actor" at the Beverly Hills Hotel after touring Hollywood Boulevard. Mike Garson found himself in a luxury bungalow between Elton John and Perry Como. Incidentally, relations between Elton John and Bowie were fine, with Elton visiting Bowie in spite of Bowie's reported view that John's "Rocket Man" was a direct rip-off of his own "Space Oddity."
David Bowie at the Beverly Hills Hotel
Photos: Mick Rock
The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is situated on Pico and Main on the Los Angeles coast line. There were two shows at Santa Monica - one on the 20th and another was quickly booked on the 21st when the first sold out immediately. The Santa Monica shows were promoted by Jim Rismiller, a well known West Coast promoter, who Tony DeFries used for advice on planning the first US Ziggy Stardust Tour. Rismiller, however, had never heard of David Bowie before De Fries contacted him and was intrigued with the hype surrounding Bowie. On the morning of the 20th, when Bowie attended the customary soundcheck Rismiller approached Bowie in order to shake his hand only to be intercepted by Bowie's karate-suit wearing bodyguards Stuey George and Tony Frost - who informed him "Don't go near him, don't shake hands with him - David Bowie doesn't like to be touched." Rismiller, undeterred by this rebuff, attended the concert and was extremely impressed with both Bowie and the Ziggy Stardust show.
Santa Monica Civic Auditorium Programme for 8 Oct - 20 Oct 1972
The concert at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was to be Bowie's first live American radio broadcast, and subsequently there was great pressure on him and the band to deliver one of the best Ziggy Stardust shows ever, and so it turned out to be! The show (attended by 3,000 and broadcast to tens of thousands more) captured Bowie at his peak and helped tremendously with his American breakthrough.
The show quickly became a high quality popular bootleg through its exposure on FM radio. The performance of Bowie at Santa Monica was officially released on 25 April 1994 as SANTA MONICA '72 after circulating amongst Bowie fans for years as one of THE best Bowie bootlegs ever.
1994 SANTA MONICA '72 CD, LP and Box-Set releases
RCA also recorded this concert for a planned Ziggy Stardust live album which never eventuated. The orginal plan was to release the very first live Bowie album in time for the 1972 Christmas market. This double LP was to include the Santa Monica concert plus tracks recorded by RCA at the Boston Music Hall concert 19 days earlier. However, the LP was scrapped and the Santa Monica material only released officially in 1994. The Boston tracks were discovered and released as part of Rykodisc's Sound + Vision box set in 1989.
As heard on an original FM radio broadcast, a DJ set the scene:
"Steve Martin here, backstage at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Its a cool night in Los Angeles and as you may know or not know, the Santa Monica Civic is about a hundred yards from the beach so we have a cool breeze blowing off the ocean through the stage at our backs. The auditorium is packed, as a matter of fact, for the first David Bowie concert in the Los Angeles area. There will be one more tomorrow night, this is the concert tonight which will be recorded by RCA for the next David Bowie album and we expect to hear some new material by this British superstar. David and his group, the Spiders from Mars, will enter from the other side of the stage. The auditorium is completely blacked out except for flashing strobe lights. Now the entrance music will be the Ode, or should I say the Ode to Joy which is featured in the movie "Clockwork Orange" and the house lights are starting to dim, ..... here's David Bowie."
David Bowie at Santa Monica © Jon Levicke 1972
More photos from this concert by Jon Levicke
The songs played were as follows: Hang Onto Yourself / Ziggy Stardust / Changes / The Supermen / Life on Mars? / Five Years / Space Oddity / Andy Warhol / My Death / The Width Of A Circle / Queen Bitch / Moonage Daydream / John, I'm Only Dancing / Waiting For The Man / The Jean Genie / Suffragette City & the encore Rock n Roll Suicide
While Bowie and the Spiders were undoubtedly nervous, the first part of the show was flawless - except maybe for "5 Years" where Mick Ronson's backup singing was a little out of tune. Incidentally Mick Ronson was suffering from sunburn during this concert - from too many hours spent in the hot sun by the pool side at the Beverly Hills Hotel. To make things worse - Sue Fussey, Bowie's hairdresser and Ronson's future wife, had to bleach his hair back to blond after the swimming pool chlorine had turned it green overnight. Bowie, unlike most of the entourage, which included Iggy Pop, stayed in his room out of the sun, sleeping, reading, writing and watching TV. He was according to Rismiller "a frail, chalk-white figure."
Following "Five Years" there was a break in which Bowie tried to fix a microphone to his guitar. The audience shouted out a lot of unintelligible things to him during this break. Bowie said to them "Boy...you are terrific" in an Andy Warhol accent. Then to his roadies he said "Get me a pair of pliers...pliers...or a strong hand...that's enough, don't tighten it up again. No leave it, look come here, leave it, no just leave it." To laughs from the audience he says "Boy...I've got my shit together." Next up was a wonderful acoustic performance of "Space Oddity", "Andy Warhol" and "My Death" sung beautifully by both Bowie and Ronson (on bass guitar). "Space Oddity" started with Ronson counting down the take-off sequence to Bowie's murmured blastoff which ended with a spoken "Yoo...doo...daa...better!". For "Andy Warhol" Bowie said "This is a painter, from New York, terrific! That's my impersonation, and its about a man called Andy Warhol - Warhol". After the song Bowie made a stream of conscious observation about a palm tree and lobster - "Playing to you courtesy of a piece of palm tree that I ate, I asked for lobster tail, and they brought me palm tree, piece of palm tree. Yeah really. That's all." For "The Jean Genie" Bowie said "This one is about - give me some lead - no it isn't, its about a New York lady and its about a guy who lives in New York called Jean Genie and it begins in E." Bowie had just recorded "The Jean Genie" in New York and mixed it in Nashville. During their next concerts in San Francisco he would make a promotional video about the song with Mick Rock, on the streets of San Francisco, in the studio and in the Winterland Auditorium.
"It was like walking into the future," says DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, dean of the Hollywood rock-scene, recalling Bowie's two sellout shows on October 20th and 21st at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. "When that strobe light started going, it seemed like everything was black, white and silver - except for his red hair." According to Bingenheimer, when Bowie braked halfway through the show for a brief acoustic set featuring "Space Oddity" and a haunting performance of Jacque Brel's "My Death," people were stunned. "Everyone became real quiet," he says. "It was like seeing music from the future." Robert Hilburn, in his Los Angeles Times review of the Santa Monica spectacle, was no less gushing, hailing Bowie, as "a certified, genuine, guaranteed, blue-ribbon star." - from Live! 20 Greatest Performances: David Bowie & the Spiders From Mars (Rolling Stone - 4 June 1987)
Following "Suffragette City" Bowie and the Spiders left the stage and then returned for the encore "Rock n Roll Suicide"
"You heard the applause and that's a bid for David Bowie to come back on, and they are coming back on. We're at Santa Monica Civic, first of two performances in town. They're back on stage, they'll perform some more, a standing ovation' - DJ Steve Martin
Robert Hilburn - "David Bowie Rocks in Santa Monica"
---This page last modified: 14 Dec 2018---