Format: Double LP
File under: Value-pack monstrosities, crimes against synthesizers
My copy of David Bowie's 1978 live album Stage came with a yellowed pamphlet for the "Official International David Bowie Fan Club." I've since lost that amusing little item, and it's left me with a dreadful reminder of how just a few mistakes can turn masterpieces into unspeakable cheese.
For the most part, Kyle and Jason's Vinyl Retentive posts (and the one that I've done) have kept it pretty affectionate. I love most of the stuff in my modest vinyl collection. Still, used vinyl is a cheap-ass way to explore music, making it a lot easier to take chances and wind up with the occasional slab of shit.
Four sides of live Bowie, covering tracks from Ziggy Stardust, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, and Heroes? Sounds logical, at least in terms of Bowie. The fun of a Bowie show is hearing him collide a bunch of his different eras. I saw him pull it off in 2004, taking in everything from a cover of "White Light/White Heat" to 2003's Reality album. If a lesser artist wants to use a live album as a perfunctory souvenir, fine, but the really sad thing about Stage is that it could have been an opportunity. Bowie even had Adrian Belew along for these shows.
Instead of reveling in the contrasts, the band re-arranges pretty much every song with an emphasis on thin, sparkly synth and guitar tones. It all sounds incredibly shaky and rushed, as does much of Bowie's vocal phrasing. The Low tracks get the Brian Eno touch bleached right out of them. That sizzling pulse that began "Speed Of Life" turns into bloop-bloops straight out of an old-school Pac-Man machine, and the band strolls through it at the detached pace of a shitty marching band killing time between plays at a college football game. "Warszawa" sounds OK until it stirs out of its initial slow build. "What In The World" becomes some kind of half-assed reggae disaster, and the less said about this album's version of "Breaking Glass," the fewer puppies will cry. It's not surprising to hear a few missteps from an artist this ambitious and scattered, but it's demoralizing to hear 17 fuckups in a row.
Still, it's almost forgivable to screw up all the textures of Low in a live setting. But Stage also mangles the stuff that'd be easy to get right. "Ziggy Stardust" replaces Mick Ronson's filthy-glorious guitar with, again, spritzy, sparkly, tinny synth. If he was shooting for the the grocery-store muzak and Jazzercise markets, Bowie nailed it on this one.
Availability: Still lurking out there on CD and DVD.