Bootleg crash-lands to earth
It's no easy gig invading Planet Earth. Conquering America alone is a tricky proposition when you're a glittery, androgynous alien traveling with a guitar and a few glammed-up rock dudes. But given Ziggy Stardust's iconic stature, it's easy to forget what a weird and daring invention David Bowie's extraterrestrial alter ego was when he hit US shores in 1972.
"Live Santa Monica '72," a legendary bootleg recording now getting a proper release, catches Bowie in the act of turning his fictional rock god into reality, armed with a voice at its peak and material from the freshly released "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" and its predecessor, "Hunky Dory."
Guitarist Mick Ronson is crucial, thrashing around in the apocalyptic chords of "Ziggy Stardust" and "Suffragette City," sprawling to the edges of psychedelia on "Moonage Daydream" and "The Width of a Circle" and helping "Andy Warhol" become far more eerie and interesting than its poorly aging studio version.
There are blips in the sound quality and weak moments - "Changes" feels out of character and the Velvet Underground cover "Waiting for the Man" falls flat - but mostly, the roughness feels like atmosphere. Stripped of its orchestral elements, "Life on Mars?" is a ragged garage-glam ballad, and "Space Oddity" feels fresh as Bowie goofily ad-libs the cosmic sound effects.
On the box, Bowie writes that by this point Ziggy was "no longer an act; I am him." He may be right. Bringing the finale "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" to its climactic shout, "Oh no love, you're not alone," Ziggy might just have turned human. [David Kieley]