David Bowie should be an artist whose full canon exists in my Record Cell. I thought that it was, by the late 90s, when I finally bought the heretofore studiously avoided “Let’s Dance” and “Tonight.” I was spared buying “Never Let Me Down Again” since Mr. Ware gave it to me as a gift. But I had completely forgotten “Labyrinth” OST which remains a sticking point to this day. Its scarcity on CD format is probably the main reason why I still haven’t heard it. After all, it could hardly be worse than “Tonight,” could it? The live albums that have filtered out since his demise have been a low priority, but put me in a record store with them dangling in front of me for the right price [or give it to me as a gift as my wife did with “Cracked Actor” last year] and I’m ready to absorb it. Such was the case recently in Los Angeles [how apropos!] when I bought the long-bootlegged CD of his “stationtostation” tour of 1976.
#27 • David Bowie: Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 US 2xCD 
- Suffragette City
- Word On A Wing
- Waiting For The Man
- Queen Bitch
- Live On Mars?
- Five Years
- Panic In Detroit
- Diamond Dogs
- Rebel Rebel
- The Jean Genie
The band here are performing the “stationtostation” material live for the first time in Bowie’s career, so there’s a vibrancy and electricity to it that gives it a power that it didn’t always have years later. The title track was stretched out live for nearly 12 minutes and I’m just fine with that. Guitarist Stacey Headon made his first and last tour with Bowie here as Earl Slick, who’d done honors on the album, failed to come to an agreement with management for the tour itself and wouldn’t re-enter Bowie’s sphere again for 26 years. When Heydon rips into the noise intro to the magnificent “stationtostation,” I can’t help but think that I’m hearing the point of origins for Adrian Belew’s distinctive tone. It practically sounds like Heydon is conjuring up Belew’s leads on King Crimson’s “Elephant Talk” five years early!
Bowie sounded magisterial here and the mix of this album by Harry Maslin, who had produced the “stationtostation” album gives this heavily bootlegged concert [it was broadcast on the radio on the King Biscuit Flower Hour” radio program back in the day] a new sonic life. Two tracks from this concert had beed used as bonus tracks on the Rykodisc edition of “stationtostation” and the differences between those and this are substantial.
On the earlier recordings Bowie dominated the soundstage with rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar taking center stage to the detriment of everyone else. Bowie may have been the Thin White Duke here, but the equally thin sound of the Ryko bonus tracks became a distant memory when hearing this new album. The band an singer stretch this one out another two minutes but you won’t hear a peep out of me. This is an electrifying song and performance; given to abrupt and dramatic shifts in tone which may have been “the side effects of the cocaine” but the end result is unique and cataclysmic.
The set list on this concert favored few singles and many deep cuts expertly chosen from his body of work. “Suffragette City” benefits from the mighty Alomar/Davis/Murray rhythm section that first got a crack at this material here. “Fame” positively burns down the house here with Davis giving expert cowbell to push this one into the stratosphere.
“Stay” as evidenced here is almost the definitive version. Stacey Headon is on fire with white-hot intensity and his closing solo is the stuff of thrills. The pallid mix of the Ryko version is snuffed from existence. Where it reaches for the starts and fails for me is in the mix by Maslin. On the Ryko version, Bowie is vamping from the 4:00-5:00 mark as the band are really getting up a head of steam. At approximately, 4:20, Bowie flubs a “staaaay!’ when a frog in his throat appears at the worst possible time; shifting his pitch up drastically at the end of the line.
Bowie, perhaps channeling four of Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards at once, then repeated the flub two more times – saving his bacon brilliantly. It’s my favorite part of the song for having marveled over it for 27 years now! It’s both human and superhuman at the same time. No longer. Maslin chicken-heartedly faded Bowie’s vocal out during the “offending” part of the vocal. Possibly under Bowie’s direction since this CD was originally only part of the expen$ive “stationtostation” 2010 SDLX RM boxed set which I sat out.
A long [6:20] and funky take on “Waiting For The Man” gains a completely different character to any version of the song played by Bowie [or Reed, for that matter] in earlier years. And the appearance of the unparalleled Reed/VU pastiche “Queen Bitch” afterward was stunningly obvious for Bowie. “Life On Mars?” was barely there at a little over two minutes as it segued into “Five Years.” “Mars” was perhaps the one ill-considered song choice here as it required a humanism and compassion alien to this period in Bowie’s life and art.
My favorite song from “Aladdin Sane” was “Panic In Detroit” and the live version here was originally 13 minutes in length, owing to the drum solo by Dennis Davis which must have been all but edited out as just about a minute of it appeared here. Such revisionism sits poorly with me, as with the Bowie vocal flub on “Stay,” but the practical side of me thinks “did I really want to hear eight more minutes of drum solo on this one?” In the end, the ultimate version of this song for me was always the album version.
While early in the concert, Bowie sounded like he was channeling the Thin White Duke persona blood-chillingly well, by this late in the show he was not afraid to get a little loose, as was the case on the chestnut “Changes.” Having the rollicking “TVC15” follow on from that one was great sequencing. I love the backing vocals by the band full of chatter and asides as the song got off of the starting block, sounding very ad libby combined with Tony Kaye’s boogie-woogie piano. “Diamond Dogs” was a fantastic deep cut that, again, made perfect sense in the sequence here.
Maybe it would have been better to have just ended the show with the funky strut of the US single version of “Rebel Rebel” as played here by the band. The Latinesque leanings of that version of the song were a perfect fit for his fantastic American rhythm section, and once again, Dennis Davis was not stingy with the cowbell. I can’t say I was impressed with the closing take on “The Jean Genie.” It sounded for all the world here like some horrifying spacetime-continuum accident that allowed Tin Machine’s version of it [on a bad night] get warped back to 1976.
This was an almost great live Bowie album, in spite of the years of fans praising the bootleg of this. Maslin’s mix corrected the many sins of the Ryko cuts we were familiar with something fierce, but his sweeping Bowie’s vocal misstep on “Stay” really rankles me. Especially since the mix is otherwise breathtaking. Maybe I can mashup the Ryko version and this one to get what I am craving at some time in the future? Otherwise, this is a great mix of material that with the exception of “Life On Mars?” hangs together like The Duke’s timeless wardrobe. One can sense the thrill of where Bowie was and more importantly, where he was heading. This period is the outlier to greatness that would be following on Bowie’s next four albums.