David Bowie

Live in Santa Monica '72
(Virgin)

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It's nearly laughable that this album is being marketed as "previously unreleased." Bowie's 1972 show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is, perhaps, one of the most-bootlegged concerts of the rock era, seen by most fans as the ultimate statement of what Bowie offered live in the '70s. Broadcast on the radio, the show offered no chance for Bowie (or his label) to second-guess the performance, and, therefore, this concert has long overshadowed official releases like the sterile Stage (1978) and the stilted performance quality of 1974's David Live. Bootlegs aside, the album got an official (or at least semi-official) release in the '90s, thanks to the shady machinations of Bowie's former management company. So, "previously unreleased" must just mean that this is the first time since the tickets were ripped that Bowie's been able to cash in on the show. Regardless of its rarity or lack thereof, Santa Monica '72 is justifiably legendary and should stand as the gold standard for live recordings. Very few major rock acts have successfully captured their stage presence on disc, and Bowie — given the highly theatrical nature of this Ziggy Stardust tour — had a higher bar than most. Still, what's often overlooked about this era of Bowie performance is that it was a positively electric brand of bracing rock 'n' roll he delivered. The Spiders From Mars are in full gear here, easily enlivening tracks like "Andy Warhol" and "Life on Mars" to a level that energizes the first half of the set. By the time the show winds up with a barreling run-through of "The Jean Genie," "Suffragette City," and "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide," Bowie and the Spiders are on a tear, dishing up vibrant and full-bodied rock that needs no costume — or second guesses — to validate it.

 
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