Tag Archives: david bowie

Rockin’ Angels Interview

Jon Downes, editor of Gonzo Weekly interviewed me last week about my new book, Rockin’ the City of Angels. Here is the transcript, also up at GonzoWeekly.com:

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Tell us about the book

When I was a teenager (way back in the 1970s), I was lucky enough to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, (aka the City of Angels). Rock music was life to me, and probably due to 7 years of piano lessons I was in love with prog rock. My collection of records and concert tickets included Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd, along with what I felt were the highest quality rock bands like Zep, The Who, Queen, and Kansas. Music patronage became a lifelong passion for me. The concerts at that time were becoming amazing spectacles, with elaborate theatrical productions. As the lyrics were often as important as the music to me, the fact that many bands dramatized the themes of certain songs, or even whole concept albums made for artful theater.

I wrote this book as a “love letter” to rock musicians of the ‘70s— focused ultimately on the concerts and the films that captured them. I used only photos of the bands live in concert – no portraits. I wanted to show and tell the story of these concert performances from the standpoint of a fan, hoping a reader would relate to a guy who might have been a few seats down the row at these shows, who might have raved about what we just saw on the way home.

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As an example of a chapter, one covers the Genesis tour The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There are fantastic shots by Armando Gallo, a Melody-Maker cover showing Gabriel’s grotesque Slipperman costume, pages from the concert program, a ticket stub from the date at the Los Angeles Shrine auditorium, and sample frames from the film. The written material illuminates the album and tour, the special effects, and the film of the production’s slide show, which many fans might not realize exists (it’s on the 71-75 box set). This was a blueprint for all 36 bands covered.

How long has it taken to research and write?

At one level its taken 45 years of “field research,” record collecting, and study. But from the time I started writing and finding the photos it all took 2.5 years. I spent a lot of this time tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from around the world, sometimes digging through archives at agencies, others directly with the photographers of that day. I was fortunate to meet several of those photojournalists including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Neil Zlozower, and Lisa Tanner, who opened their archives for me at their studios or homes. I could not believe how many amazing shots exist that have never been seen by fans, shots that captured our musical heroes in their prime.

mccartneypaulwings_rockshowcover_72dpiAnother thing that took a lot of time was combing through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. You and I know that TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films at the local cinema that featured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings, and so many others. Now, just about every major band of the rock world can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive. I’m still that guy, the one who collects the high quality digital transfers available on media, rather than streaming them. Having said that, many of these films are available on streaming services like YouTube.

Were there any gigs you didn’t go to which you wished you had seen?

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Oh yeah! For each band I had to select what I think in retrospect was their finest hour –the best album and concert, and the best film covering that band, hopefully for that same tour. In the case for instance of Jethro Tull, I had not seen the Passion Play tour, but I knew through older friends and research that it would have been for me their best, and that is my favorite Tull record after all. Same with Genesis’ Lamb tour, though tribute band The Musical Box recreated it professionally just recently.

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In a few examples, I did not get to see the band in the ‘70s but instead did catch them later. Only three bands out of 36 eluded me completely. I was never inclined to see AC/DC (although I did enjoy the great film, Let There Be Rock!), and Happy The Man never toured the west coast (and, there is no film!). The worst mistake was missing the mighty Led Zeppelin. In the case of the Zep ‘77 tour, I loved Presence, and that was the concert to see, but I was instead booked to see Pink Floyd’s Animals concert just weeks before and budgets kept me from seeing more than one show every couple months.

What was the best gig you ever saw?

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All of that is in the Genesis family – I will never forget the Wind & Wuthering tour in 1977, and the first time I saw Peter Gabriel solo at the Roxy Theater the next year. But number one was Gabriel’s tour for his 4th album (also dubbed Security) which came early in the ‘80s – it’s a bit of a cheat as I cover that show in this “70s” book, but it’s really for me, the epilogue of the ‘70s decade. He absolutely stunned the audience and finally emerged on his own at the level of performance he had achieved while in his former band. Armando Gallo’s unbelievable shots give a very good idea of the drama. As there is literally no film of this seminal tour, we examine the So movie, particularly those songs he performed in the same way as that prior tour (like “Lay Your Hands On Me”).

Others in the top tier include Paul McCartney’s Wings Over America tour, Queen’s News of the World tour during which Freddie held the audience in complete awe, Kansas Point on Know Return featuring Steve Walsh giving the most physical performance I’ve ever seen, Dixie Dregs with their stunning virtuosity, Camel, ELO – so many incredible shows I will never forget. For the Floyd, while Animals was spectacular, I suffered a bit of “bad vibe” that night in the gi-hugic Anaheim Stadium, and it was eventually to be Roger Water’s restaging of the Wall this decade that became the ultimate live experience of that band’s music for me.

How did you go about the picture research?

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This was the most difficult part of the book’s production, hands down. Thank God for Google, but even with all the search engines in the world, it was amazingly difficult to find some of the photographers and shots that eventually did appear in the book. One snap alone, of Camel in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra on the night they recorded The Snow Goose together, took 7 months to find and it was sitting in the vaults at The Daily Mail, having also been recently unearthed by a researcher at PROG magazine (RIP). I never found shots of Ambrosia and Happy The Man until I actually reached a member from the band themselves, who had boxes “in the attic” with old shots and memorabilia. A lot of the shots in the book came from slides I was allowed to borrow and scan at Dickermans in San Francisco.

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Ambrosia’s David Pack, Joe Puerta

What is your next project?

TalkingHeads_SMSPoster_72dpiWell, this book was so expensive to produce that I have to sell all the copies I ordered during this year. Provided that happens, I will move to the next decade, sliding into the ‘80s with late ‘70s punk, then covering the era of New Wave music, including bands like Depeche Mode, The Cocteau Twins, Japan, Echo & The Bunnymen and so many others that were part of the second “British invasion!” I’m really looking forward to that as I’ve not seen any great ‘80s genre books that include what for me were the best bands of that decade with any kind of stunning photography.

Thank you to Jon Downes and his long time support of my work at GonzoWeekly.com

Hey ma, I got the cover!

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Rockin’ the City of Angels…Why?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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My first book, Rockin’ the City of Angels, is off the presses and at the warehouse. It will be shipping starting Tuesday, December 27!

Yesterday I was asked why I wrote the book…it’s worth a moment of reflection:

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Freddie Mercury of Queen, the stunning photo (c) Lisa Tanner

When I was a teenager (way way back in the 1970s), I was lucky to be able to attend dozens of rock concerts staged in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Rock music had become increasingly relevant to my life, and I was drawn to complex works and the challenging, sometimes fantastical elements of the genre known as “progressive rock.” My collection of records and collection of concert cite stubs grew to include prog-rock bands like Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Pink Floyd, along with some of the more creative harder rocking contemporaries like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and Queen, as well as bands from North America like Kansas, Styx, and Heart. My youthful fascination grew into a lifelong passion for music in general, and for progressive or classical rock music in particular. My enthusiasm was stoked by seeing these bands live in concert, where increasingly elaborate theatrical productions dramatized the themes of many of these concept albums. These concerts were almost religion to my growing list of fellow concertgoers.

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Yes Relayer/Solos Tour

I wrote this book as homage to rock music of the ‘70s—in concert and on film. It tells the story of three-dozen key concert performances from this era; illuminating the genius of the best progressive and classical rock acts whose concerts I attended. I spent two years tracking down a selection of iconic photographs from those unforgettable events, taking me to agency basements, file drawers brimming with slides, to band member and photographers homes, to collections both organized, and out of control! In the process, I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the talented photojournalists of the era, including Neal Preston, Armando Gallo, Jorgen Angel, Neil Zlozower, Lisa Tanner, Jim Summaria, and many others. Many thanks go out to these artists, who captured these consummate rock musicians in their prime, frozen in time in arresting images.

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David Bowie; Station to Station Tour – One of my favorite photos in the book!

In addition, I’ve combed through more than 100 rock films from the decade, all part of my private collection. TV appearances, professionally filmed 35mm movies—even celluloid left in the can for years, sometimes decades after light hit the film—are finally getting
home video or streaming media release. I remember going to see many of these films that cooperalice_dvdcover_3x4_72dpifeatured Led Zeppelin, Yes, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, Paul McCartney and Wings at the local cinema, flicking lighters and hollering at the screen. Now, just about every major band of the era can be seen performing live in one format or another, thanks to the dedicated teams at Eagle Rock Entertainment, Warner Home Video, and others who are helping to keep their legacies alive and to introduce the power and majesty of this adventurous music to new generations.

Although some of these bands are still touring, their time is waning, and soon these films will be the only way to recapture their extraordinary live performances. I believe these films are important documents of rock music performance in our life times. Those of us who were there found more than just good times at these concerts. Those shows brought us together to share profound, even life-changing experiences that bonded us forever.

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Fleetwood Mac’s incomparable Stevie Nicks

That’s what led me to write this book, and work for months on end with my designer Tilman Reitzle to render these photos and my recollections into a stunning tome. Check it out…. as we would have said… it’s bitchin’

Rockin’ the City of Angels: What?

Click here to buy Rockin’ the City of Angels, the new book now available at Amazon.com

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Titled Rockin’ the City of Angels, the book was a 2 year labor of love for this long time rock fanatic. I described it on the back cover in this way:

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STROBE FLASHES PIERCE THE DARK STAGE to reveal a NYC street punk as he faces the other half of his fractured self. A father’s WWII fighter plane crashes into a wall, temporarily slowing its ascent around his son’s troubled heart. A fiend clad in a white tuxedo steps out from the frame of a graveyard scene onto a haunted stage welcoming all to his many nightmares. A woman, weapon drawn, tells the story of James and his very cold gun. The top drummer from the top 70s rock band in the world pounds out the opening beat that tells us it’s been a long time since he rock ‘n’ rolled . . . a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely lonely time.

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David Bowie photo (c) Neil Zlowzower / Atlas Icons

THESE IMAGES ARE SEARED into my memory from the rock concerts I witnessed in Los Angeles, the “City of Angels” in the 1970s, a time when rock bands were making expansive concept records with sweeping themes. Rock albums at the time promised “theater of the mind,” and their creators were inspired to mount elaborate stage shows that brought these dreams to life. These artists used every available piece of stagecraft—lights, projections, backdrops, props, and costumes—to create awesome spectacles for arenas packed with adoring fans— fans like you and me.

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This book celebrates more than thirty of these incredible performances including key tours by bands such as Led Zeppelin, Queen, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Heart, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, The Who and Yes. We’ll share memories of those legendary concerts and my reviews of the best video documents of the era, each band illuminated by a hand-picked collection of brilliant images—some never-before seen—by the best photo- journalists of that time including Richard E. Aaron, Jorgen Angel, Fin Costello, Armando Gallo, Neal Preston, Jim Summaria, Lisa Tanner and Neil Zlowzower along with many others.

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Who photo (c) Neal Preston

This coffee-table book is nearly the size of an LP album cover, 396 pages, over 500 images, written by Douglas Harr, designed by Tilman Reitzle. Forword by Armando Gallo.

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The bands, order by category, then the date of their key performance in L.A.

Caught on Celluloid

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My old neighborhood Theater

With the recent passing of Lemmy, Keith Emerson, Glen Frey, David Bowie and other rock heroes, I’ve been thinking about how important rock concert films are to the preservation of their music and performances. I don’t know many fans who collect these films, but there are many worth having, good for cranking up on a Friday night while unwinding from the week passed… The notes below illuminate the history of rock music movies, with a particular focus on concert film, rather than the use of rock music within a film. Concert films capture our rock heroes in their best moments, on the lighted stage, entertaining and amazing us with their showmanship, virtuosity, and aplomb. With some of them leaving this mortal coil, it’s a good time to reflect on these celluloid documents….

The relationship between popular music and the movies has been challenging, and while there are plenty of examples of opportunistic, awkward marriages, there are many others where the power of the movies and rock music combined have been magic. At the dawn of the form, Bill Haley’s 1954 single “Rock Around the Clock,” his “novelty foxtrot” did not dent the charts until it was included in the soundtrack for the Richard Brooks film The Blackboard Jungle, which itself became a sell out, pushing the single to number one. Two years later Elvis Presley burst on the scene and built his career on combining popular music and film, reaching audiences worldwide with his charismatic performances. Some felt these performances were a tad embarrassing, but they accomplished the goal of both entertaining fans, and expanding audiences. Across the pond in Britain, a similar evolution was taking place, with Tommy Steele starring in his own movie The Tommy Steele Story (1957) after releasing just a few hit singles. Billy Fury, Adam Faith, Jeff Conrad, Cliff Richard and many others followed suit, either on early rock music television shows, or on the big screen. But it was The Beatles who became a global phenomenon in part due to the strength of their appearances on television specials and variety shows in Britain, America and beyond. They were also a key part of establishing the bond between storytelling and rock music, as seen in their 1965 classic Help!

JethroTull_NothingIsEasy_72dpiAs the 1960s came to a close, rock and roll stars were beginning to literally take center stage, making records without hired studio musicians, and selling their wares based on the strength of their musicianship and performances alone. Rock festivals became cultural phenomena, and several of these were captured on film at the close of the decade, setting the scene for the advent of concert films throughout the 1970s. Monterey Pop (1969) caught Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and a host of rockers in defining moments on stage. In the United Kingdom, The Isle of Wight festival in 1970 was filmed and led to a host of complete performances on film, including legendary videos of The Who and Jethro Tull. Arguably, the biggest, most important rock movie to start the decade was Woodstock (1970). Documenting the festival that took place on the 600-acre Woodstock_40thAnniversary_72dpifarm in upper New York State, the “celebration of love and peace” offered the screen up to The Who, Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and a host of other 60s rock acts, many of whom went on to major stardom. The film captured the spirit of the 60s, placing emphasis on the best sentiments of the hippie culture, and the heroes who spoke for them through music and performance. In stark contrast, Gimmie Shelter (1970) graphically captured the dark side of the movement, as members of the Hell’s Angels, who were policing the Rolling Stones free concert at Altamount Speedway east of San Francisco, beat a young black concertgoer to death in front of the band, symbolically ending the youth movement of the decade passed. As if to drive the point home, The Beatles’ Let It Be (1970), released theatrically in May 1970, depicted the sweet and sour dissolution of their union, capturing the band recording what would became their last albums Abbey Road and Let It Be. It is an important and rare document of the band in the studio, and on rooftop of the Apple building where they performed a short set live together for the last time, before being interrupted by the police.

Williams_PhantomOfThe Paradise_72dpiIt was during this tumultuous time that concert films took center stage in theaters, illuminating the live concert experience for posterity, favoring bands playing live on stage over scripted storytelling. While rock music was heard in countless soundtracks of the era, only a handful of movies featuring rock stars fronting their own story, or a fictional tale were funded and released. The first truly notable example of this form was Phantom of the Paradise (1974). Directed by Brian De Palma, this cult classic is about a record producer who claims as his own the music of a brilliant composer. The composer exacts his revenge Curry_RockyHorrorPictureShow_72dpiin the thrilling climax. Paul Williams received Academic Award and Gold Globe nominations for his musical score. This epic was followed the next year by the film, Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). This cult classic is an homage to science fiction and B horror films, boasting a soundtrack with almost two dozen unforgettable songs that have become classics in their own right such as “Sweet Transvestite,” “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” and “The Time Warp.”

Who_Tommy_72dpiNext up was The Who’s Tommy (1975). Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest rock albums ever made, Tommy is a tale in music of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who inspires others to transcend their everyday circumstances. The film adaptation stars lead singer Roger Daltrey and features Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Jack Nicholson and Elton John. The Who would be back at the end of the decade with Quadrophenia (1979). A battle between two rival gangs, the Mods and the Rockers, this movie uses the music of the Who to explore the dark side of growing up in London in the mid-1960s. Some of the Who’s greatest songs are featured, such as “The Real Me” and “Love Reign O’er Me.”

Who_IsleofWightCover_72dpiOther than these examples of storytelling, the decade would instead give favor to actual live concert films. One of the first filmed performances was also by The Who in December 1969 when the band began touring Tommy with a set list including nearly the entire rock opera. Tucked away as an extra on The Who film Live at Kilburn: 1977 (1977) is a film of that concert at the London Coliseum in December 1969. It’s not the best film, as the 16mm cameras could barely capture the show, which was not lit properly for film, an issue that plagues many movies from the decade. But it’s a key document of this legendary band delivering one of the first rock concept albums on stage. A much more watchable set was released as Live at the Isle of Wight (1970) which catches the band delivering an amazing concert at the Isle of Wight Festival. Taking the stage at 2 am in the morning, they played several songs, then most of the Tommy album to 600,000 people. These shows kicked off the decade, setting the stage for a wealth of films to come.

McCartneyPaulWings_RockShowCover_72dpiMany of these best concert films of the 1970s will be reviewed within the pages of my upcoming book. Some were released to theaters during the decade, such as ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition (1970), Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii (1972), Yes’ Yessongs (1973), Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same (1976), Alice Cooper’s Welcome to my Nightmare (1976), Genesis’ in Concert (1977), The Band’s The Last Waltz (1978), but many more have been unearthed, restored and released on home video long after the end of the era. The decade closed with the release of one of the best-filmed concerts from that time, Paul McCartney and Wings Rock Show (1980). This concert, from the 1975-1976 “Wings Over the World” tour shows McCartney and Wings at their absolute best. The band play many of McCartney solo hits as well as some Beatles songs such as “Lady Madonna,” “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Blackbird.” It’s an exceptional film that will take any viewer right into the concert experience. It’s absolutely one of the best concert films of all time.

With the sad passing of David Bowie, Glen Frey, and Keith Emerson, here are a few titles worth consideration (apologies to Lemmy, I did not find any films of Motorhead from the 70s):

David Bowie

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – The Motion Picture

BowieDavid_ZiggyDVDCover_72dpiThe best official film of David Bowie’s career in the 1970s is the 1973 movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – The Motion Picture. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, this is a rare chance to see Bowie during his glam period, taking the stage wrapped in his most influential alter ego. Fifteen songs from the set list are presented, along with a few behind the scenes shots of Bowie back stage and yhr fans out front. It’s not a polished product; the sound is flawed, sometimes brash, and lots of shots are blurry. But the 1.33:1 framing and source material that exposes extra grain and grit seems somehow representative of the early years of the glam movement. The film played in movie theaters in the early 1970s for a brief time, and was later screened frequently as a cult classic.

David Bowie: Live at NHK Hall in Budokan Japan on December 12, 1978
The next official Bowie film would not be released until the Serious Moonlight tour of 1983. It means that there is no officially released video to document several key concert tours in the intervening years from 1974 to 1982. Possibly the best film that was made captured a jubilant, well-groomed Bowie performing at the NHK Hall in Budokan Japan on December 12, 1978 on the last night of the Low and “Heroes” tour. Bowie himself is a revelation, leading his all-star band while surrounded by pulsating fluorescent light tubes through a show that clearly influenced a host of new wave artists who followed. An hour of this fabulous concert was broadcast on Japanese television including a thirteen-minute rendition of the title track from Station to Station. The film is well preserved and available on YouTube or via an unofficial DVD release from heavymetalweb.net. Recordings from the same tour were assembled for the double live album Stage, released in 1978.

Eagles           

Eagles_historyCover_72dpiEagles Live at the Capital Centre March 1977. Jigsaw Productions, DVD
This concert is on the third disc of the 2013 documentary History of the Eagles. It captures the band in Washington D.C. on the Hotel California tour playing many of their most popular songs. A critic once accused the Eagles with “loitering on stage” and it’s true the band exuded the laid back California vibes perfectly captured in their music.Yet their laconic style does not seem a disadvantage all these years later, and it’s a pleasure to watch this concert film. The dual guitar jam during the title track alone is worth the price of the set.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer  

Pictures at an Exhibition (1970) Eagle Rock, 144 min., DVD
This DVD shows ELP playing their version of Mussorgsky’s masterpiece and other songs at the Lyceum in London. An excess of psychedelic effects mar the footage, but ELP’s musicianship is magnificent.

ELP_DVD_Cover_72dpiBeyond the Beginning [2 DVD set] Sanctuary Records, 250 min., DVD
A variety of clips of varying quality from the band’s early career are presented here. Although some of the video is out of synch with the audio, this is a worthwhile and essential collection of concert appearances by a talented and thrilling band. The highlight is their set at California Jam on the legendary Brain Salad Surgery tour.

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Keith Emerson, Cal Jam 1973

Top: Photo of the Corbin Theater above, after it was converted to a X-rated theater, late 70s….

 

David Bowie’s Legacy

BowieDavid_Live1_72dpiI can’t imagine what popular music would have been like had there not been a David Bowie. He was a musician, actor, artist and fashionista with such an innate ability to anticipate cultural trends that he remained relevant for over four decades. Somehow Bowie always seemed young and fresh, in large part due to his uncanny way of reinventing himself regularly, collecting personalities, going from crooner to glam-rock star, to the dispassionate “thin white duke,” and the art-rock inventor of the progressive “Berlin trilogy” and beyond. He was, according to one commentator upon his passing, “of the time, at every time.” He remains one of the most recognized personalities in the world, and he is already missed greatly.

While the second stage of his career as Ziggy Stardust, king of glam rock was not my favorite era, I knew other teenagers who lived for this music particularly those on the Hollywood side of the Santa Monica Mountains. Many of these friends never felt they fit in, never believed that anyone understood or spoke for them before Bowie stepped onto the scene with his shocking hair, makeup, dress and confident androgynous manner. If the man never recorded a thing after 1974 he would still be canonized today, yet he continued to change and influence generations. After the Ziggy Stardust tour and movie, Bowie retired that persona, and recorded his last mostly glam album, Diamond Dogs, in 1974. Next up, Young Americans found Bowie delving into American funk and “plastic soul.”

BowieDavid_StationtoStation3CD_72dpiBut for this writer, it’s the next album, the 1976 classic Station to Station that really galvanized my interest. The record found Bowie experimenting with synthesizers and the kind of metronomic beat found in German Krautrock. The balance of ice and passion is clear as the title track begins with the ominous sound of trains and minor tones then building to a resolve that emerges into the jubilant final third, beginning with the exclamation, “It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love!” Funk and soul tracks like the hits “Golden Years” and “TVC 15” are upbeat, while “Stay” is a grittier boogie, driven forward by an irresistibly funky guitar riff. The beautiful romantic ballad “Wild is the Wind,” the sole cover, must be Bowie’s most spectacular, inspirational vocal performance on record. It’s a tremendous album that represents a bridge between the prior work Young Americans, and the colder ambient classic Low to come.

BowieDavid_StationToStationLiveCover_72dpiBowie’s persona for Station to Station was called the “thin white duke” clad in white shirt, black pants and waistcoat, and passionate dispassion. One writer described Bowie’s new alter ego as a “hollow man who sang songs of romance with an agonized intensity… ice masquerading as fire.” The tour supporting Station to Station stopped at the LA Forum for three nights in February that same year, putting the man and his new myth on display. Bowie reportedly took the stage, sang sixteen songs and left the building stoically. It was a rehearsed, perfunctory yet riveting experience according to those I knew who were able to attend, and as documented in a bootleg film of the rehearsals for the concert tour, and a recording captured one month later at the Nassau Coliseum in New Jersey. That complete live set was released in 2010 on two CDs included as part of a special three CD edition of Station to Station that also came with a booklet, some photos and other extras.

BowieDavid_StageCDCover_72dpiBowie’s recorded output became even more interesting during the next phase of his career, the so-called “Berlin Trilogy,” working with progressive artists Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Iggy Pop and producer Tony Visconti among others. The resulting albums Low and “Heroes” (1977), and Lodger (1979) are inventive, varied and always surprising. The world tour for Low and “Heroes” found Bowie is perfect voice and brimming with energy, playing with a supporting band of luminaries that included Adrian Belew and Carlos Alomar on guitars, George Murray on bass, Dennis Davis on drums, Roger Powell and Sean Mayes on keys, and Simon House on violin. Recordings from the tour were assembled for the double live album Stage, released in 1978. That album in its original form garnered some complaints due to tinkering with the song order, and other issues. More recently the album was remastered and rereleased on CD with those complaints addressed, the complete set of songs in their original order presented in a compelling stereo mix.

ON FILM

BowieDavid_ZiggyDVDCover_72dpiThe best official film of David Bowie’s career in the 1970s is the 1973 movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – The Motion Picture. Directed by D.A. Pennebaker, this is a rare chance to see Bowie during his glam period, taking the stage wrapped in his most influential alter ego. Fifteen songs from the set list are presented, along with a few behind the scenes shots of Bowie back stage. It’s not a polished product; the sound is flawed, sometimes brash, and lots of shots are blurry. But the 1.33:1 framing exposing extra grain and grit seems somehow representative of the early years of the Glam movement. The film played in movie theaters in the early 1970s for a brief time, and was later screened frequently as a cult classic.

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The next official Bowie film would not be released until the Serious Moonlight tour of 1983 was captured for the home video market. It means that there is no officially released video to document several key concert tours in the intervening years from 1974 to 1982. Possibly the best film that was made captured a jubilant, well-groomed Bowie performing at the NHK Hall in Budokan Japan on December 12, 1978 on the last night of the Low and “Heroes” tour. Bowie himself is a revelation, leading his all-star band surrounded by pulsating fluorescent light tubes through a show that clearly influenced a host of new wave artists who followed. An hour of this fabulous concert was broadcast on Japanese television including a thirteen-minute rendition of the title track from Station to Station, with an intro that, courtesy of Adrian Belew’s wall of guitar distortion and accompanying keyboards, winds down imaginary train tracks for more than five minutes before Bowie appears and the melody kicks in. The film is well preserved and available on YouTube or via an unofficial DVD release from heavymetalweb.net

BowieDavid_Live5_72dpiThere were other televised performances during this time that are also of value. About forty minutes of a live performance at the Beat Club were captured for the German music program Musikladen. Six songs at the Dallas Convention Center and four on Saturday Night Live were broadcast in the U.S. Apparently, performances at Earls Court in London were also filmed, with excerpts shown on the tube there, but this footage has also not been released. It’s a shame that all of this concert footage, particularly the NHK Hall content, has not been expanded, remastered and released officially, rather than on bootlegs and low-res copies on YouTube. Yes, we can enjoy the official audio on the double-album Stage, but we are lacking important video content of this very visual artist. Maybe now with our hero sadly departed, as we gain perspective on the overall arc of his massively successful career, the remaining proof of his mastery will surface.

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Tokyo Film Setlist:

  1. Warszawa
  2. Heroes
  3. Fame
  4. Beauty and the Beast
  5. Five years
  6. Soul Love
  7. Star
  8. Hang on to yourself
  9. Ziggy Stardust
  10. Suffragette city
  11. Station to Station
  12. TVC 15

Station to Station, 1978

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDXBeu3198c

Complete Tokyo concert:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaKpJl4D8bc

Live at Beat Club Musikladen 1978

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClDO1_dH0DU

 

 

 

Adrian Belew goes to the Chapel

belew_press_photoAdrian Belew is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist and one of the most prolific and talented artists of our time. He is a “musicians musician” in that those who play or who are into music as a pursuit inevitably know his work, whereas the more casual listener may not. It’s a shame, as Adrian’s solo albums number more than a dozen, and his work with other artists of our time is compelling.

To kick start his solo career, Adrian released a pair of incredibly creative, fun albums in the early 80’s – Lone Rhino (1982) and Twang Bar King (1983). These established Adrian’s love of both progressive and pop-rock forms, peppered with frequent use of distorted guitar patches to imitate animal sounds, industrial noisbelew_guitar1e such as trains and autos, to create frenetic leads, and color quieter pieces. His releases since, interspersed through the years with his other collaborations follow a varied path through many fascinating soundscapes. He is known for inventive technique on guitar and pliant, modern voice. It’s possible to forget he’s penned some of the best lyrics of our era – from “The Rail Song” to “Men in Helicopters” and “Inner Revolution,” which reflect on our times, our treatment of the planet, and just as often, very fun, positive and affirming prose.

belew_poster_serpentesdesignsAdrian’s work with other musicians, on their albums and concerts, include productive time with Frank Zappa, Paul Simon, David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, and The Talking Heads, often guesting on the best of all works by that artist. Listen to his playing on career defining albums such as Graceland by Paul Simon, or Lodger by David Bowie, or Remain in Light by The Talking Heads for relevant examples of this charm. Besides his solo work, Adrian fronted his own happy pop band “The Bears” who were a blast to see live. But his primary work outside solo and bear efforts has been with King Crimson from 1980 to 2012, wherein his writing, vocals and duos with founder Robert Fripp on guitar are second to none. Adrian’s kind heart, sense of drama balanced with humor and concern for the environment pervade his work and that of his collaborators.

On November 10th I talked to Adrian about his current band “The Power Trio” who has played with him about 8 years now, and discuss their current tour.

belew_signageDoug: Adrian, to begin, when the Power Trio just started out in 2006 we saw you play at the Carriage house (a small theater in Saratoga, California.) I recall the sound was so loud, and the playing so aggressive that you cleared out first three rows within ten minutes – do you remember that night?

Adrian: (laughs) – I do remember that – those were people who subscribed to the concert series – who came to the shows no matter who was playing!

Doug: It remains true that these shows are definitely of the hard rocking variety – presenting very driven versions of your work. What’s led to that approach – no piano, no winds – a trio?

belew_julie_slickAdrian: I really wanted to work in a trio format – it allows each member more freedom, and more responsibility at the same time. And consequently in doing that, to do material that was not originally in that format, you have to fill the holes pretty well – I don’t think of it as “hard” as much as powerful and a bit exciting!

Doug: Agreed – Back then the power trio was Julie Slick (bass) plus her brother Eric on drums?

belew_tobias_ralphAdrian: Yes, he was our drummer for the first four years – now for the last four years we’ve had Tobias Ralph who has worked out absolutely perfectly for us. We really love Tobias. Considering this band has done so much touring inside the US and all over the world we’ve really come together – you feel like these guys must have been playing as a trio forever cause that’s how it feels.

Doug: What should we expect for the new shows?

Adrian: We’ve changed the format for this tour – it’s pretty new and I’ve never done it before – there’s new music coming out on FLUX – it’s a music app – its music that is never the same twice. The music changes at a fairly rapid rate then is interrupted by other things and keeps moving in different ways changing constantly.

So we’ve applied that idea to these live performances. We’ve dug through my catalog and pulled out songs from among 14 records, all from different eras, but we don’t play the whole song most of the time, we’ll play a portion of it and just when you least expect it that will be interrupted by a sound or something called a “snippet” and then it will move into the next song. So in the show we do something like 30 songs and I sing 25 songs (laughs) so it’s a romp through my whole career.

belew_power_trioDoug: How do you pick things for the set list like that – it must be hard to choose from so much work

Adrian: We have plans that over time we are going to build in mini sets – I look at them as blocks. Let’s say you might put 5 songs together and in between the songs there might be 4 or 5 things that cut the song off and then the next song starts immediately – maybe that’s 10 minutes long. What I want to do over time with the trio is build a lot of these blocks – we can shift them in and out of the show and get more and more material – Crimson, Bowie, Zappa, and tons of solo stuff – so much to choose from.

Doug: Set lists I’ve seen include a lot from your solo work and from King Crimson – ever thought of doing a show that’s just made up of songs from all the artists you’ve worked with?

Adrian: I could do that! What we do on this tour is we take a break for 15 minutes in the show. During that intermission, and before and after the show we play the other artists I’ve worked with– whether Crash Test Dummies or Paul Simon’s Graceland – it’s a good way to remind people of the whole picture.

belew_musicheadDoug: I noticed Mr. Music Head (1989) was left out of the set – is it just too different given the piano driven songs?

Adrian: I’m going to find a way in the future to tackle those – maybe just having a keyboard beside me. So much of that record was written around the piano and there’s a reason why. I had bought a house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and it came with a piano – first time in my life I had one. That whole record was based on me just sitting there every day just figuring out the piano. So you’ve got a lot of songs like “Bad Days” and “Motor Bungalow” that really are piano songs – really difficult to play on guitar – I’ve got to play them on another tour!

Doug: It’s a big favorite including songs like “Peaceable Kingdom,” “Bad Day”, “Motor Bungalow” and others.

Adrian: I had played the piano before but never owned one so I could sit down gather my thoughts and compose with it, so it was really a thrill. I remember when I wrote the song “Bad Days,” I sat there and played that song 4 days in a row all day long – I was just fascinated that I’d finally written a piano song!

Doug: “Big Blue Sun” (from Inner Revolution (1992)) has that same sunny feel and I noticed it in an early set list.

belew_vocalAdrian: We tried that out but pulled it from the set– it’s very difficult to sing. I’ve got to be careful I don’t put too many difficult songs in the list because I realize our tour has a lot of shows. I’m singing 25 songs a night – it’s about as far as I could take it!

Doug: Another one I noticed on the list – “Men in Helicopters” (from Young Lions (1990)) – a big favorite – that one must be special to you.

Editor: the lyrics to this track are heartfelt and impactful:

Wouldn’t it be great
To see the African plains
Before they lay them to waste
And only the bones remain?

 

Adrian: It really is one of my personal favorites – once again a difficult one to sing so what were doing is just the first two verses of it. So its kind of nice I can go that far without exhausting my voice every night – you feel like you’ve heard the song – you’re reminded of it and it’s enough you know – its fun in that way. I miss having songs like that in our set, so the new approach is a way to do that.

Doug: Another early favorite is “The Rail Song” (from Twang Bar King)

Adrian: I’ve got to work that one out in the future – it’s a different guitar tuning – hard to switch guitars just for that song – but I will work that one out because it’s another perennial favorite for myself, and my wife likes that one a lot.

Doug: I was wondering about FLUX – you are using it for new material – are you adapting your earlier songs for it as well?

belew_guitar2Adrian: If FLUX is accepted well enough and becomes a legitimate form, which I can continue – and I really hope that happens – I always thought there might be another version – like FLUX “classic.” That version would go back to the old catalog, to take it apart and put it back together in different ways. You would hear songs but they would sound different than they did originally. Here’s the thing about FLUX – you can do as many versions of the song as you want – you actually need to do that as it requires lots of content. I was thinking the other day how interesting it is that an artist does a song and that’s it – that’s the song –you can never hear it another way – that’s it’s only life. My idea is that in the future I’ll give all those songs a whole new dressing up – that might be a second version of FLUX.

Doug: And the FLUX platform includes visuals as well.

Adrian: There’s so much that can happen with the visual aspect to this. The original idea was only a musical one and I had that idea for several decades. But how to actually do it was eluding me, because there was no technical way to approach it. Once we decided that we could develop an app – that opened the door to the visuals – since you play it on your iPhone or iPad or Android and you don’t want to be looking at a blank screen. So that introduced a whole new set of variables into this that are very cool – we are loving it! I’m a visual artist – I think musically in visual terms as I write so now that we’ve got these interesting creative things going on, and they are as random as the music – it’s a confluence of events.

Doug: I’ve been collecting video content – lots on Youtube but also on media. You are in a lot of these shows – from Bowie 1978, and his Sound and Vision tour 1990 – to the Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, and The Bears and Crimson of course – but is there video from your solo career hidden in a vault somewhere?

belew_and_julieAdrian: No I don’t think so –most of the time if I worked in a video format we used any footage because it was costly. If you go out of your way to do something visual you want to use it. Nowadays of course its not expensive – everyone’s used to people filming and taking photos with iPhones.   Back in the day with MTV I did not do many videos because they were costly. The “Big Electric Cat” video won an award for the effect they used – the filmmakers loved the song and tried out this new technique and it worked – that was very early days. But MTV turned out to be so huge and corporate it seemed to me that people who didn’t have a $200k budget were not allowed in the door – it left me out in the cold. Even if I had that kind of money I don’t know if I would want to do that – I would rather spend it on creating new music or playing music for someone.

Doug: Looking at the Kickstarter campaign for FLUX I noticed you offered to come to a contributor’s home to tell stories and play live – that sounded like an awesome offer –and no one took you up on it!

Adrian: As we looked at campaigns and things to do we decided to try it – I would have done it if it sold. I like my fans and I like to engage with them – going out and meeting and talking with them. The campaign went well though – we didn’t know what kind of goal to set – FLUX has cost a lot – the point of doing Kickstarter was more getting people to know about it. There are a lot of people out there who know Kickstarter but don’t know me – so in a sense it was more for that – we will utilize the money we made to improve FLUX and make it better.

Doug: Will you be offering the FLUX platform to other artists?

belew_happyAdrian: Yeah that’s a possibility – its not something we’ve planned out – would love other people to take to it and enjoy it – it’s a great artistic platform. I don’t have a plan as to how that might happen but am hoping it does. I’ve always believed that the concept of FLUX – of things never repeating themselves – short random bursts – could be applied to other art forms – especially film – its already the way people make TV commercials somewhat – so my other hope is that this idea will spread into other areas. For me it requires a lot of content so its very time consuming – you can’t just take 10 songs and turn it into FLUX like you can a record. But for people who are prolific or have a lot of ideas or people who have an ADD approach to their creativity or people who have a large catalog – any of those types of situations – if you have a lot of information then FLUX is a wonderful way to present it.

Doug: Okay, last one is a King Crimson question – we saw the new incarnation of the band recently. The new group played a lot of older tracks besides the 2-3 songs you guys used to play since 1980. Back then was it Robert who did not want to go deep and play much off the 1970’s albums – or was that your position as well?

Adrian: I was a huge fan of all the early music but I was a champion of “new” so I was with Robert on that in the sense that it was a very different band with completely different vocabularies so it didn’t seem right to me to be going back and playing “In the Court of the Crimson King” or something like that. I think now that’s what he wants to be doing so he’s gone back to that period and it makes sense that I’m not a part of it because I wasn’t a part of it then. So when he told me about it I said, well if you’re not doing the music that I was a part of or wrote or co-wrote then I have no bone with any of it. If you’re doing more of the later music though then I think I should be there. In a sense he made the determination to go back to the beginning – I heard good things about it so am happy it all worked out.

Adrian’s tour winds it’s way through the U.S. this year. A few nights after this discussion, we caught up with the tour in San Francisco at the Chapel Theater, on November 12, 2014.

belew_indisciplineThe show was astounding – powerful and exciting as promised.  Adrian did in fact “romp” through his catalog, playing the style that will be served up by his FLUX platform. Songs would begin and end with transitions to and from other songs –or sometimes to a snippet of sound – be it random distortion, animal noises, or a bridge to the next track. As an example, Adrian led into the song “Elephant Talk” at the fourth verse “Debates, discussions, these are words with a D this time.” After that verse, one chorus and a solo, Adrian switched to the next track within the “block.” Most of the show consisted of these blocks – song snippets and interludes, though several tracks were played in their seemingly complete form, such as “Indiscipline” which allowed drummer Tobias Ralph a ripping solo prior to the first verse. It was a completely unique way to create a set list – covering a lot of history – and managing to give one the satisfaction of hearing so many favorites.

Of course, the playing itself was terrific. Adrian incorporated his trademark techniques, and his voice is undiminished. Julie stood out on several tracks, with rapid, dexterous moves and attitude. Tobias was just amazing – very often creating a fuller sound than the original tracks with dense fills on a musically tuned kit. And as promised, before and after the show, and during the intermission, we heard recordings from most of the artists who have collaborated with Adrian over the years – a welcome soundtrack as we anticipated the opportunity to catch this artist at work.