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Week 33 | Live Nassau Coliseum ’76 (2017)

Bowie’s live albums have proliferated since he died.  As of this writing, I await a release of a 2000 performed.  “Live Nassau Coliseum ‘76” is, obviously, from an earlier time.  It fits in the chronology of tours that began with “Santa Monica ‘72,” continued with “Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture (which captures a 1973 concert); “David Live” (1974); “Cracked Actor” (later in 1974), “Stage” (1978) and “Welcome to the Blackout” (later in 1978). There are other Bowie live albums, recording later concerts, but the 70’s albums are so sequential as to almost be one, continuing set (though they were not released sequentially).  Some of these are better than others, and despite the condensed period they cover, Bowie’s playlist and style changes from album to album.  That said, though I welcome the proliferation, these live albums from the 70s are becoming numerous to the point that no one really stands out.  

“Live Nassau Coliseum ‘76” is pretty satisfactory.  It has the obvious advantage of including a wider swath of Bowie songs than were possible on earlier live albums, but is also not weighed down by instrumental pieces from “Heroes” and “Low” that appear on “Stage” and “Welcome to the Blackout.”  Bowie was promoting “Station to Station” at the time.  That’s the song he opens with, and it is also one of the standouts on the album.  For me, live albums tend to add value when the live performances of songs are significantly different than the studio versions, or when the artist performs live songs he hadn’t recorded.  This live version of “Station to Station” includes an extended instrumentals introduction that departs enough from the studio version as to set the tone for the rest of the album.  Unfortunately, most of the other songs, while performed well, are not as innovative.  The very next song, “Suffragette City,” doesn’t sound so much like a variation on the studio version, but just a sloppier version.  Most of the other songs are performed well and are enjoyable, but I tend to like the studio versions better.  With Bowie live albums, the less I like the studio versions of the songs, the more I like the live versions.  So “Glass Spider Live” is a big improvement on “Never Let Me Down,” but while “Live Nassau” contains many of my favorite songs— there’s not a dog among this collection, they are not my favorite versions.

Unfortunately the album contains only one song, “Waiting for the Man,” a cover or a Velvet Underground song, that does not appear on a Bowie studio album.  The performance is strong and I consider this to be the highlight of the album.  The album doesn’t really have any lowlights.  As I have been listening to it in my car, I have not found myself skipping over songs that I’ve grown tired of hearing.  It is a plausible enough as representative sample of Bowie’s music to be the only Bowie album in a casual fan’s collection.  I could imagine it as a decent first Bowie album, or a first live Bowie album, or an album to get ahold of after buying up a large number of the studio albums But for someone who bought, say, “Ziggy Stardust” and followed it up with “Let’s Dance” then “Heroes” would be better off actually buying “Station to Station” rather than this live collection.  

So in terms of song selection, this album is a triumph.  In terms of performance, hey, its pretty good.  In terms of innovation though, it leaves a little to be desired.  

Live Nassau Coliseum ‘76 had (apparently) been circulated for years as a bootleg before being released as a bonus disc with a Station to Station reissue a few years back.  I had never heard it, though, until after it was released as a stand-alone CD in 2017.

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