David Bowie, the late British singer-songwriter and actor, drew on both his musical and theatrical skills to launch him into rock superstardom with the 1972 release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and subsequent concert tour dates.
You can catch it live—although without Bowie, of course, as his androgynous alter ego, Ziggy—thanks to Classic Albums Live, which, as the name implies, performs classic albums note for note in order of appearance on the original vinyl LPs. The Toronto-based concert touring company, which last came to Easton’s Avalon Theater in November to play The Doors’ LA Woman, brings Ziggy Stardust to life on the main stage Saturday, Jan. 25.
A different group of musicians is assembled for each album to meet Classic Album Live’s commitment to achieving as close as possible the same sound, riff-for-riff, as the recording that first turned you into a fan of, say, The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zep or The Boss.
Bowie had his first major success on the pop/rock charts with “Space Oddity” in 1969. But it was Ziggy Stardust that rocketed him to the top in the “glam rock” era of the 1970s.
This is a concept album in that its songs comprise a loose storyline about the travails of Ziggy, a space alien. He’s come to Earth as a rock star to warn humanity to change habits that pose an existential threat to the planet as a habitable island in the universe. Sound familiar?
As Bowie himself described the concept, “The time is five years to go before the end of the Earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of a lack of natural resources.”Or maybe it’s just so hot that the seas will soon flood all the planet’s landmasses.
Whatever. Here’s Ziggy Stardust, in first-cut-to-last order as you’ll experience it at the Avalon Saturday night:
“Five Years,” the low-key percussion-driven opening number, seems to have been influenced by the Plastic Ono Band (Yoko Ono/John Lennon). Drummer Mick Woodmansey also figures prominently in the undertone of “Soul Love,” accented by Bowie’s unique vocal lyricism and Mick Ronson’s layered electric guitar riffs. “Moonage Daydream” suggests a deep space sonic invasion with Trevor Bolder’s steadily accelerating bass leading to a furious piano, backing vocals, and electric-guitar finish.
The album’s hit single, “Starman,” remains one of the greatest in Bowie’s career. As an acoustic ballad, it brings to mind his breakthrough single, “Space Oddity,” with eerie sound effects, orchestration, and deft Ronson riffs following each chorus. The song represents a turning point in Ziggy’s persona from a manipulative would-be savior to a delusional refugee from another world. Side one closes with, oddly enough for a concept album, a cover—”It Ain’t Easy” by the late American songwriter Ron Davies. It fits right in with the “Stardust” vibe accented by 12-string acoustics and a harpsichord.
“Lady Stardust” opens side two with a moody piano-driven ballad featuring bass virtuosity but almost no guitar. Next, “Star” could be a piano-led rocker from the ‘50s or early ‘60s, while “Hang on to Yourself,” a punkish interlude with glam accents starring Ronson on slide guitar, sets up the climactic final numbers.
The title song represents the beginning of the end with serial classic rock riffs by Ronson, plus Bowie’s vocals delivered in a way to distinguish each of the number’s two parts from each other. In the original recording, “Ziggy” segues into “Suffragette City,” which became the No. 2 hit from the album. It’s a tight rock highlighted by stellar performances by Bowie and Ronson, suggesting a Velvet Underground influence. After that electric romp, the album closes with the acoustic “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” which finds Ziggy as a washed-up stage presence, before the song and album conclude with subtle electric guitar effects building slowly to full orchestration and a fittingly dramatic coda to a truly classic album.
Bowie, who died of cancer in 2016, went on to play another space role, this time on the big screen—”The Man Who Fell to Earth” in 1976, playing an alien from a dying planet. Twenty years later, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Next up in the Classic Albums Live series at the Avalon: the late Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, Apr. 30.
CLASSIC ALBUMS LIVE: David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust
8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25, Avalon Theatre, 40 E. Dover St., Easton
Tickets: $40, 410-822-7299
Steve Parks is a retired journalist, arts writer and editor now living in Easton.
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