Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bowie - Isolar - 1976

In late 1975, David Bowie was in Jamaica at a home owned by Keith Richards preparing for the Isolar Tour. Bowie, who once called cocaine his "soul mate" had reportedly given up the drug (later, admitting that this was not the case). "Ziggy Stardust was actually drug-free, apart from the occasional pill — amphetamines speed. When we first started doing Ziggy we were really excited and drugs weren't necessary. Then I went to America, got introduced to real drugs and it all went pear-shaped." He went on to say: "I've had short flirtations with smack and things, but it was only for the mystery and the enigma. I like fast drugs." It was this fascination with 24 hour output that fed into Bowie's addiction, but by January 1976 the so named "Thin White Duke" was actively preparing for what would be his most memorable tour.

Later that month, Bowie was meant to provide the film score for Nicholas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which he starred. That soundtrack would never materialize (instead John Phillips would produce the soundtrack. In addition to the music of Roy Orbison and Joni Mitchell, Phillips created the incidental music with Japanese musician, Stama Yumash'ta, and the Rolling Stones' Mick Taylor). By January 21, 1976, Bowie left Jamaica for Vancouver for the first leg of the tour. Two days later, Station to Station was released. The tour found MainMan reduced to an efficient core who methodically orchestrated the lavish, if stark, production. As the venue went dark, music from Kraftwerk's Radioactivity provided the incidental score behind Luis Buñuel and Salvadore Dali’s Un Chien Andalou, which included the surreal visual of an eye sliced by a razor. The scratchy black and white film continued as Stacy Heydon's distinctive riff for "Station to Station" slowly emerged in the silent venue.

Stacy Heydon on lead guitar, was just 21 at the time. "It all became real when I sat on the stage watching them all file into the venue. We'd sound checked at 3ish and Buford Jones had the house audio dialed in. We were confident and well-rehearsed. It was this 21-year-old's second time performing in front of tens of thousands of people and I could barely wait for the Dali film to end, and for me to fire up the Marshalls and get the show started, with my feedback/intro to 'Station to Station.'" From that iconic intro, the band, also consisting of Carlos Alomar (Rhythm Guitar), Dennis Davis (Drums), George Murray (Bass) and Tony Kaye (the original keyboardist for Yes), knocked out 17 songs with no encore that included "Suffragette City," "Word on a Wing," a cover of The Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man," "Life on Mars," "Rebel Rebel" and "The Jean Genie." 

The set was a stark array of fluorescent bulbs that flashed, mostly simultaneously, lighting the venue in a stark flashbulb effect that highlighted Bowie in an outfit reminiscent of 1920s glamour: wide gray trousers, a black vest, a starched, wide-collared, French cuffed, shirt unbuttoned at the neck; his reddish blond hair (a la The Man Who Fell to Earth) slicked back and never a smile. (Later in the tour he would adopt a laborer's look, tall brown Red Wing boots, jeans rolled up to the calf, a chambray work shirt and Greek wool cap. Bowie assured that there was no confusion between the Thin White Duke and Ziggy, creating instead a 20's inspired flâneur.

For this writer, the Isolar show was among the most spectacular of rock productions and despite the lack of theatrics rivals even Pink Floyd's big three tours (DSOTM, Animals, The Wall), The Pet Shop Boys' Broadway spectaculars and the Yessongs shows. Not to be confused with the Isolar 2 shows that would become the album, Stage, 1976’s Isolar shows, though 40 Years ago, seem as fresh, modern and squeaky clean as if it were yesterday.