Friday, March 1, 2013

Old Music Night and Day

In the book I discuss the "whole album" fad, as popularised by ATP and its Don't Look Back series, then copied by everybody under the sun. Wondering aloud who first invented this live entertainment format, I conclude that as far as anybody can tell, it was Cheap Trick, who promoted the late 90s reissues of their albums with a series of gigs in various US cities where they performed a reissued album all the way through in its original track sequence (in the case of Live At Budokan, with the singer exactly replicating the deliberately stilted stage banter addressed to the Japanese audience, which had become much-loved by Cheap Trick fans in the US).

However it's come to my notice that somebody else may have got there first -- the Man of the Moment himself, Mr David Bowie. 

For his 1978 tour, Bowie prepared a set full of all the "New Music Night and Day" that he'd  developed in Berlin, i.e. songs from  Low and 'Heroes' . But  according to the Golden Years fan site, he "made the whole show more palatable by including a major slice of the Ziggy Stardust album". (He didn't quite go as far as resurrect a character he'd killed off, though, because he doesn't appear to have to have dressed the part, just played the fan-favourite tunes).

So the tour ended up a mixture of New Music Night and Day and Old Music Night and Day.

In a 1980 NME interview with Bowie, journalist Angus MacKinnon expressed his fan's disappointment with this auto-archive-raiding move, admitting that he had reacted to it harshly at the time as a nostalgic pander to the star's fan base, a cop out vis-a-vis the Berlin-exile-era Enovations. "I did feel a vague sense of betrayal... I just felt you were very consciously trying to recover your old audience again - a move that seemed to cancel out the validity of the newer material....  a bit of a cheap trick."

Bowie replies:  "I think it was rather to do with two ideas that I felt strongly. One was that I actually wanted to play [the] 'Ziggy' album from top to bottom, from bottom to top, one to nine, because I suddenly found it again an enjoyable piece of music to listen to, having not done it for quite a few years on stage. So there was pure personal enjoyment value in there. On the other hand, I'm only too willing to admit to the number of people who come to see me to hear a lot of those old songs and without any hesitation I'm quite willing to play them. I will also play the things I'm doing currently. But I have absolutely no qualms about playing older things of mine that people like."

So that's the side of Bowie that's showbiz, a trouper, give the punters what they want, "bums on seats", etc, rather than the art-rock frontiersman and edge-chaser dragging his audience with him into the future. 

But  "Ziggy' from top to bottom, from bottom to top, one to nine" --if he literally did play Ziggy Stardust in sequence on that tour, he invented the Whole Album phenomenon -- almost two decades in advance of  Cheap Trick. ("A bit of a cheap trick" in a different sense to how Angus Mackinnon meant it).

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