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David Bowie | David Live / Stage (EMI)
EMI's continued repackaging of David Bowie's '70s output continues with this pair of oft-overlooked live sets, lovingly revamped by long-time associate Tony Visconti. Both boast superb remastered sound (the sets are also available in DVD-A format with 5.1 surround option), and restore the sets to their original running order and set-lists (previously omitted tracks are thus reinstated to further entice the collector), which should imply 'definitive' status for both.

The 1974 set, 'David Live' - documenting the period between the rock operatics of 'Diamond Dogs' and the emergence of the white-soul period captured on 1975's 'Young Americans' - has long been a personal favourite despite its lowly standing among critics. Backed by a stellar ten-piece band that included guitarist Earl Slick (stepping into the Mick Ronson role with aplomb), pianist Mike Garson, drummer Tony Newman and saxophonist David Sanborn (who would play a pivotal role on 'Young Americans'), Bowie is in fine form, despite his emaciated appearance and apparent escalating drug use. Included here is Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (found previously on the Rykodisc issue in 1990 but not the original release), a Bowie original that is a clear indicator of his imminent direction but remained unrecorded in the studio, plus the first CD release of the live Panic In Detroit (until now inexplicably only available on the flip of single Knock On Wood) and a first release of Space Oddity, previously excised due to distortion problems.

Significantly more serious changes are to be found on 'Stage', the 1978 set that always had the clinical sheen of a polished studio recording, thanks to Visconti's close-mic-ed, widely separated mix. The addition of more audience noise and the radically altered (original) sequence, means this is a revelatory listen even for seasoned Bowiephiles. The set-list now makes perfect sense, beginning with the brooding Warszawa and rousing Heroes and alternating between other 'Heroes' cuts and selections from its follow-up, 'Low' (a first outing for Be My Wife included) and a crowd-pleasing Fame, before the second half sees five classics from 'Ziggy Stardust' and three from 'Station To Station' (now including the previously unreleased Stay) and Kurt Weill's Alabama Song.

Whilst it's fair to say neither of these double albums were 'essential' during the decade in which they first appeared, their re-emergence some thirty years on only enhances the enduring legacy of Bowie's creative genius at the time. With the repackaging programme beginning with 'Ziggy Stardust' it'll be interesting to see if EMI deem Bowie's late '70s material worth comparable reinvestigation and, indeed, whether they're prepared to go back and deliver similarly definitive editions of 'Hunky Dory', 'The Man Who Sold The World' and the one that started it all, 'Space Oddity'. Let's face it, if Bowie '69-'80 isn't worthy, then who is?

Matt Dornan
February-April 2005