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David Bowie | Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars -- The Motion Picture Soundtrack (EMI)
Continuing the 30th Anniversary theme begun last year with the 'parent' album to this live set, this two-disc set is a second exemplary outing for Bowie's most famous alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. Unlike '02s studio set, the 'Motion Picture Soundtrack' doesn't come with a full bonus disc of extras, but does deliver a vastly superior audio than previous issues and includes an unedited 15:45 Width of a Circle and the infamous 'farewell speech' to further entice (though sadly no cameo from Jeff Beck). Stunningly packaged in a box-come-slip-case with tastefully designed inserts (the replica ticket a nice touch), and pressed on striking red CDs, this would be a highly desirable artefact regardless of the music; but revisited in 2003, there remains a tangible excitement throughout its 83 minute running time.
The set-list comprises selections from the then most recent pair of Bowie classics, 'Aladdin Sane' (a trio of his most hard-rocking outings, Watch That Man, Cracked Actor and the Stones' Let's Spend The Night Together, plus an engrossing rendition of Time) and, of course, 'The Rise and Fall...' (five songs in all), plus selections from '69s 'Space Oddity' (the title track and, as part of a three song medley with All The Young Dudes and Oh! You Pretty Things, a beautiful reading of The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud), Hunky Dory (a stately Changes), and two notable covers. Brel's My Death is given an impassioned performance, Bowie desperately keen to quieten down the vocal audience before beginning the song; whilst a blazing take on Lou Reed's White Light, White Heat begins the encore, before that crowd-silencing 'retirement'.
Needless to say Bowie is the star of the show, and he's in superb form throughout, but virtuoso Mick Ronson takes the Best Supporting Actor honours. Regardless of Width of a Circle's relative pomposity (de rigeur for all rock shows at the time), Ronson was a master of the classic rock lead guitar but with a rare versatility that meant he was equally comfortable in the more contemplative (and structurally complex) compositions that much of Bowie's reputation stems from. While Bowie concentrated on costume changes and theatrics, Ronson led the three-piece Spiders with aplomb.
With the patchy 'David Live' from the following year's 'Diamond Dogs' Tour and '77s 'Stage' still out of print, the newly revamped 'The Motion Picture Soundtrack' is an even more timely addition to Bowie's extensive discography and, with this revamped version, damn near essential.
A note on the DVD:
Whilst you'll need to be a true home entertainment enthusiast to appreciate the full glory of Tony Visconti's 5.1 surround-sound mix, the simultaneous release of 'Ziggy Stardust The Motion Picture' on DVD proves to be a further essential purchase for Bowie-philes and rock historians everywhere. The genuinely enlightening commentary by Visconti and director D.A. Pennebaker is worth the price of admission alone as they constantly surprise each other with revelations and anecdotes. That said, hearing that backing vocals, keyboard and guitar parts were overdubbed in 1982 (admittedly by Bowie and Visconti) because the source material wasn't always up to par can't help but detract from the experience. Likewise the shortcomings of the camera work (non-existent lighting means that glimpses of bassist Trevor Bolder, drummer Woody Woodmansey, and keysman Mike Garson are rare) cannot be shrugged off as pivotal to the energy of the picture, which emanates strictly from the performance of Bowie and henchman Ronson. Indeed the oft-visible 'artefacts' (to use the buffs term for flecks of dirt that pepper the shot from time to time), make you wonder why, with all the time and effort spent on perfecting the soundtrack, such attention wasn't paid to the visuals. That said what we see here is a notable improvement on previous video and even TV airings and, as I've made clear, it's the sheer theatre that matters, and be he displaying his mime expertise, 'fellating' Ronson's Les Paul or shimmying around in a variety of elaborate costumes, Bowie is a consummate performer at the peak of his powers, as witnessed by the frankly cringeworthy behaviour of elements of the awe-struck audience. 'Space cadets' pretty much sums up the front row fawners. Disappointing that the heavily bootlegged but never official released section of the show where Jeff Beck joined the band (for encores of The Jean Genie and Chuck Berry's Round and Round) remains absent in the age of DVD extras, but both narrators suggest that Beck was unhappy with his performance and/or uncomfortable with his 'normality' amid the Glam rock excesses unfolding onstage. Visconti for one, however, believes with the benefit of hindsight that his absence probably enhances the film's intensity.