David Bowie’s 1974 North American tour is the stuff of rock legend. Promoting his first proper post-Spiders solo album (Diamond Dogs), Bowie recruited theatre designers for the stage set which incorporated his Hunger City ideas, pioneering the use of theatre design in a rock concert setting. The Tower Theatre shows for David Live (Upper Darby) in July 1974 were recorded, however by August, Bowie, completely over the choreography and lavish stage sets, indulged in his newfound penchant for the soul music of Philadelphia (and other indulgences a la USA and the drug of choice in the 1970s), re-branded it The Soul Tour, a radical departure from the first part of the Diamond Dogs theatrical extravaganza, even for Bowie.
This live show finds Bowie in transition, bridging the gap between Diamond Dogs and Young Americans. A fascinating juncture in the great man’s career, he’s no longer the spiky-haired glam-rock alien of Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane from the previous year, he had even ditched Halloween Jack from the dystopian Diamond Dogs. A break in the tour found him recording a new album called Young Americans (1975) at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia and by the time the band hit LA in September he was the besuited blue-eyed (plastic) soul boy. The tour’s elaborate six-ton stage set was drastically stripped back and the set list was overhauled to include as-yet-unreleased tracks from the Young Americans sessions at the expense of great tracks such as Width of a Circle. It is this new soul material that works best on this LP.
The Soul Tour also featured a revamped band, augmented to include musicians and vocalists from those sessions and rechristened The Mike Garson Band, introducing future Bowie mainstays Dennis Davis (drums) and Carlos Alomar (guitar). It was LA where there stage set was used for the last time, and it was also there where director Alan Yentob captured the skeletal and somewhat frightening figure in his Cracked Actor documentary.
The Soul Tour has taken on a mythical status among Bowie fans, never properly filmed, only grainy footage has emerged, the tour visited twenty cities in the East and South of the US. Now Parlophone Records have announced the unearthing of this never released recording of Bowie in concert. This double live album was recorded during his final performance at the Michigan Palace, Detroit on 20th October, 1974 after a six night run in front of 20,000 fans each night.
Generally the quality of the double vinyl LP is very good. The music has been sourced from the best available tapes and while the press release notes that the tapes at times sound their age, the quality never detracts from the performances and the historical significance of these recordings outweighs any possible sonic imperfections.
1. Introduction – Memory Of A Free Festival
The hoard of backing vocalists take on this Space Oddity closer as the announcer blasts: “From Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane it’s the Diamond Dog himself DAVID BOWIE” as he enters the stage….
2. Rebel Rebel
Bowie sings very well but his voice sounds shredded already, although he and the band sound like they’re having so much fun it doesn’t matter. It is well documented that the cocaine intake was rampant. This is unrecognisable from the Diamond Dogs version; the backing vocals are front and centre and Sanborn’s sax prominent, a constant theme for the majority of the show. 7/10
3. John, I’m Only Dancing (Again)
Disco-influenced and fresh reworking of the 1972 track, Bowie had only just recorded this and was pencilled in to open the new album. On the lengthy outro the backing singers repeat “Dancing woo woo woo-oo” as Bowie jams. 7
Bowie’s vocals are drenched in delay on this Pin Ups cover. A pleasant surprise to have Sorrow rolled out in such a lovely restrained soulful version with this band. A rare sighting Sorrow, and it wasn’t on David Live either. 9
Bowie’s voice is not at it’s best although he doesn’t miss a note on this Hunky Dory classic. The band sound good particularly bandleader Mark Garson on piano. Not dissimilar to the arrangement on the previous Ziggy tour. 7
The song that pointed towards Bowie’s new direction on Diamond Dogs. A faithful rendition, opened the show earlier in the tour, was already old news in Bowie’s eyes. Bowie had already dropped Sweet Thing and Big Brother from the set. 6
1. Moonage Daydream
Again Bowie’s voice is incomparable to his booming rock timbre just one year prior, or even his commanding baritone of just a couple of years later. Case in point: “I’ll be a rock and rolling BITCH for you”, Bowie sings and performs it well although his voice sounds thin and shredded, without the power, and its a strange soulful reworking on a glam-rock classic. Earl Slick adds a fine guitar solo. 6
2. Rock ’n’ Roll With Me
Superb moment in the concert performance. This underrated song in the Bowie canon suits the band and feel of the show. Bowie is exchanging a rose with a fan in the front row: “Be careful of the thorns.” Then a charming announcement to the audience after the first chorus: “This is our last night in Detroit but good evening. We’ve had a very lovely week, and you’ve been lovely, and I’ve enjoyed myself thank you.” Then into the second verse seamlessly. More delay on Bowie’s vocal in the outro – not sure if this has been added post-production. 9
3. Love Me Do / The Jean Genie
Bowie introduces The Jean Genie as being written in Detroit, then strangely into Love Me Do. Some fine harmonica from the man himself replacing the sax which is a relief. Massive vocal delay again although this concert staple works well with the band including another blistering lead solo from Slick. 7.5
4. Young Americans
A brand new track and the first in a run of new songs. The audience would’ve been hearing these Young Americans numbers for the first time, and this is faithful to the album version released in 1975. 10
1. Can You Hear Me
“That song, like the next two songs, that will be with you next year sometime, and I want to do them for you. These are two love songs, something I do know something about.” A highlight of the show, and a highlight of Young Americans. 10
2. It’s Gonna Be Me
A lovely track inexplicably left off Young Americans for the Beatles cover (Across the Universe), Bowie obviously rated this live show staple. Another concert highlight. Carlos Alomar is all over this fine subtle performance. Bowie’s singing at it’s best on these quieter more soulful numbers, at one stage he introduces a mercifully short sax solo with: “Mr Sanborn….” 10
3. Somebody Up There Likes Me
An underrated track in the Bowie repertoire, this Young Americans side two opener is a super inclusion in the show and again works well with this band. His voice is in career best shape on that album, although unfortunately again he’s sounding thoroughly bushed. “Somebody Up There Likes You!” 9
4. Suffragette City
A sax driven Ziggy rave-up soul style. Surprisingly great. Bowie’s having fun despite forgetting the words in the first verse, and regularly laughs throughout the song. 9
1. Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide
The climax to the Ziggy show and album is rolled out in soul style although a bit ponderous here – interestingly he throws in “All you gotta do is Win” a few times, perhaps the genesis of that Young Americans classic. 7
2. Panic In Detroit
The samba of this Aladdin Sane track gives way to a more funked-up version. Can’t really go wrong with this song. 8
3. Knock On Wood
4. Footstomping / I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate / Footstomping
5. Diamond Dogs / It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I like It) / Diamond Dogs
The encores were taken from the Municipal Auditorium, Nashville on 30th November, 1974 and are a lot of fun and go by in a blizzard of cocaine. You can here the yet to be written or recorded Fame loud and clear in Footstomping an obvious inspiration if not a direct rip. Bowie sang backup vocals on the Stones album title track, which he throws in here during a fine performance of Diamond Dogs. 8
The Mike Garson Band:
Earl Slick – Guitar
Carlos Alomar – Guitar
Mike Garson – Piano, Mellotron
David Sanborn – Alto sax, flute
Emir Ksasan – Bass
Dennis Davis finished the 1974 tour on drums.
Tony Newman (First Leg: June/July) – David Live in Upper Darby, July 1974
Greg Errico (Second Leg: Sep) – Cracked Actor in LA, September 1974
Dennis Davis (Final Leg: Oct-Dec)
Backing vocals – Warren Peace, Anthony Hinton, Luther Vandross, Ava Cherry, Robin Clark and Diane Sumler.