David Bowie – Wembley Empire Pool, London, Fri May7th 1976

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The six shows had sold out in an instant. Bowie was in creative maelstrom mode. Six albums released in a four- year period from Ziggy onwards, each one packed with a dizzying array of ideas and musical references. Ziggy Stardust had morphed into the Thin White Duke. After the debacle of his 1973 shows at Earls Court where a poor sound system, poor stewarding, poor organisation and a physical set inadequate for an arena show had damaged his reputation, he had something to prove live. His formidable recorded presence needed to take that leap to live superstar. His arrival in London at Victoria Railway Station in an open topped Mercedes, greeting his fans with a one handed, fascist style salute had not augured well.

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Support bands were the norm. The motivation was that they should be the warm- up, and a bit of added value. Not this time. Instead the infamous 1929 short Bunuel / Dali film, Un chien Andalou, featuring an eye slicing, was shown. Its shock value had not diminished almost fifty years later.

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The tour had opened on 2nd Feb in Vancouver, this was the fifth of six shows. The band were tour tight. My only disappointment was that Stacy Heydon had lead guitar duties rather than the unavailable Earl Slick, otherwise the excellent rhythm trio of Alomar (guitar), Davis (drums) and Murray (bass) were to serve Bowie live and on vinyl for many years to come. There was no conventional coloured lighting rig, just banks of fluorescent white light set against black backdrops on a stage stripped of props other than the band and their instruments.

 

 
“Station to Station” could have been written as a show opener with its long instrumental, swelling introduction and wailing guitars heralding ‘ the return of the thin white duke throwing darts in lover’s eyes’. Dressed in black shoes, trousers and waistcoat, teamed with a white shirt and slicked back blonde hair, Bowie looked pin sharp, every bit The Thin White Duke. After the extended workout of the opener, the whiplash “ Suffragette City” could not have offered a starker or more compelling counterpoint, sharp, short and crowd frenzy inducingly brilliant.

 

 
Thereafter highlights included the vocal gymnastics of “Fame”, the only offering from the Young Americans album, a neat “Life on Mars/ Five Years” segue and a fiery “Stay”. He finished with a rock-out “Diamond Dogs” cementing a decidedly Rock feel to the set, shorn of the glamour of the Diamond Dogs tour, and the soul of Young Americans. Without the keyboards dexterity of Mike Garson or Roy Bittan, keys man Tony Kaye was functional, but uninspired, he filled the sound, rather than creating one.

 
A killer double encore of “Rebel Rebel” and “Jean Genie” wrapped up a killer show, the sound was fantastic, organisationally it was fine. The sceptre of Earls Court banished. At fourteen songs it barely beat the ninety minutes mark despite an already mountainous back catalogue, but as a set it worked brilliantly. The best selection of songs I saw him play.

 

 

The Set List
Station to Station
Suffragette City
Fame
Word on a Wing
Stay
I’m Waiting for the Man
Queen Bitch
Life on Mars/ Five Years
Panic in Detroit
Changes
TVC15
Diamond Dogs
Encore:
Rebel Rebel
The Jean Genie

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