This set has long been known to Bowie fans, because of its quality and accessibility (it was broadcast on LA’s now-defunct KMET after all). But there’s more to it than just that. The show finds Bowie on his first U.S. tour, completely immersed in his new Ziggy Stardust persona and at the first of his several artistic peaks. As far as his live performances go, his later, more refined periods probably couldn’t match this for theatrics and raw power.
The great thing about Live Santa Monica ’72 is that it captures Bowie’s flamboyance, but also reveals the substance beneath. Without the benefit of a visual, the album still shows just how over-the-top the Spiders from Mars were. In the middle of the set, three acoustic tracks scale things back and make the set more intimate without losing its drama. Bowie’s fearless improvisation of the things he couldn’t bring from the studio to the live setting show tremendous trust for his music.
Something else of interest on Live Santa Monica ’72 is that it makes two things even more clear than they are on his studio albums. First, he was heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground. His cover of "Waiting for the Man" is far from the only evidence of the connection as Bowie dips into Lou Reed’s arty minimalism over the full course of the concert. Second, Bowie was a huge influence on punk. The raw energy and disregard for perfection on this album had to be an injection into the already bloated world of rock music. Even the extended jam of "The Width of a Circle" maintains an intensity that doesn’t let up over its 10 minutes.
This had to be a pretty incredible time to see David Bowie and even though I’m sure the recording pales in comparison to being there, it manages to convey an amazing breadth of what he was doing. It’s raw, yet theatrical. It’s flamboyant, but never grandiose.
Check out that ticket on the album cover. Wouldn’t you love to see Bowie for $5.50 today?!?!?