I received one of my periodic "care packages" the other day from the most excellent Mr. Mark Anthony, and two of the CD's sent were the recent reissues of two David Bowie live albums, 1974's David Live and 1978's Stage...and I'm really digging the former a lot.
I used to have David Live on 8-track (I know, I know) as a teenager, and frankly didn't like it all. I wasn't down with Bowie's impending soul music leanings, and the sound of the album was muddy and dull. So, even though I eventually came to appreciate Bowie's R&B infatuation I never bought it on vinyl, nor did I get the CD when Rykodisc put out all their Bowie reissues in the early 90s. So it's been a while since I heard it, and I was pleasantly surprised. It's been remastered by original producer Tony Visconti (one of the many heroes behind most of Bowie's creative successes), the accompaniment (especially the bass) and BV's have been punched up, the original concert song sequence has been restored, and it makes a world of difference from what I remember back in the day. Most of the material is from Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs- the tour started out as a highly theatrical presentation of the rock-ish Dogs album, but DB grew bored with it and more and more enamored of Philly-style soul music, so they took a break and came back as a different band all together. The conflicting approaches make for some interesting song textures, with lots of sax and some funkier rhythms throughout. The Diamond Dogs songs, in particular, benefit from this treatment; I've always thought that studio album sounded conflicted and patched-together, and these renditions are a little more cohesive to my ears.
Stage, on the other hand, is from four years later and features many of the groundbreaking songs DB recorded with Brian Eno and, you guessed it, Tony Visconti in the latter half of the 70s. It's much slicker and more polished, and suffers a bit for it despite some stellar backing by the likes of Adrian Belew and Todd Rundgren's Utopia keyboard guy Roger Powell. The band sprints through these songs in breakneck fashion, like they have a plane to catch, and it becomes wearing after a while. Still, it's not bad at all, especially for a live album.