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  "Starman Over The Rainbow"  

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by Alexander Stuart - Plays and Players  (November, 1972)
Photographs by Mick Rock

Review of The Rainbow Theatre Concert (19 August 1972)

Judy Garland hasn't left us!  Rematerialised, reincarnated, her spirit today enjoys a cosmic existence within the inner consciousness of one celestial transvestite poseur, namely David Bowie, who recently returned to Earth with something like the impact of nuclear fission.

In a solid two hour performance at the London rock venue ironically called The Rainbow, David demonstrated in an explosive manner just what it's all about. I expected rock; most of the audience probably expected rock.  The main course however was theatre - living theatre.

Synthesized strains of Beethoven from A Clockwork Orange set the scene as, amid a mist of dry ice, David pranced onstage, complete with makeup and sparking astral outfit, to render "Lady Stardust."  The Spiders - the name the trio of Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey appear to have acquired as a result of the success of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars - joined him, and above, The Astronettes appeared one by one.  The Astronettes are an extraordinary group of mime artists, led by mime expert Lindsay Kemp, whose routines David has made an integral part of the music.

"Ziggy Stardust" formed the core around which everything was built.  The LP, aside from it musical merits or demerits, contains an extremely sophisticated "rock story" - not sophisticated so much in terms of its theme as in the way that theme is put across, with David using varying levels of involvement, from total detachment to absolute identification with the main character, to convey his idea: that of the rise and fall of a superstar.  Unlike Christ, possibly the first superstar, Ziggy Stardust is to be one of the last, for there are only five years left to cry in - earth is dying.  Hence the connection with A Clockwork Orange (which has obviously become a "now" cult with Beethoven's remains no doubt doing their best to writhe as audiences clap along to the beat of the glorious ninth); the world of Ziggy stardust has similarities with that of Alex and his droogs.  Similarities too with Cabaret, and its implications: the glamour, the sexual ambiguity, the decadence, its all there - only now Joel Grey has moved from MC to superstar.

The Ziggy story was not laboriously retold, however.   The make-up, the costumes, the mime and such provided background whilst songs like "Five Years", "Starman", "Lady Stardust" and "Suffragette City" implied the basic theme.  This structure was completed with material from two of David's other albums. The Man Who Sold The World is an earlier LP just being "discovered" by the public, but deemed his greatest musical achievement so far by some critics.  As well as a couple of longer numbers from this, there were several from the more recent Hunky Dory, including the last single "Changes", David's tribute to Andy Warhol, and one of my favourites, "Queen Bitch."

But back to Miss Garland; the entire evening seemed like a tribute to Judy.  David Bowie, his delicate face made-up to look like hers, has the guts, the glitter, the charm, the force, the remoteness - the star qualities - of Garland and, yes, even the legs.  During one of his numbers, he disappeared from the stage for a few moments and returned, having shed his stardust suit, sporting a multi-coloured leotard and a shapely pair of legs.  And that after he'd worked the title line from Over The Rainbow into a verse of Starman!  The audience responded just as they might have done, 10 or 20 years ago to Judy, riotously applauding at the beginning of, end of, and in some cases (such as "Space Oddity", which had been reworked to allow audience "participation" in the blast off) in the middle of the numbers.

David Bowie backs up his act with "The Astronettes", a group of mime artists
led by Lindsay Kemp, and the result is explosive rock theatre

The set made that of Jesus Christ Superstar look like the stage for a school play, and David was around for a couple of nights, not for a long running West End musical.  The multi-layered design included platforms at either side with ladders stretching up to them, and mechanically operated backdrop screens, used in conjunction with projectors (film and slide) and an intricately calculated light show.   As David and the trio performed their music, The Astronettes danced advanced mime routines, periodically joined by David himself.  The biggest difficulty for all concerned was getting into the correct position for the lighting effects at the correct time, but the dancing was mostly quite smooth and sophisticated, although David's movements flowed rather less than the others and occasionally seemed a little shaky.

David Bowie has been through many changes, resulting in deep and sincere interests in Buddhism and the ancient art of mime, which date back to pre-Space Oddity times.  He was responsible for forming the Beckenham Arts Lab, in which he was free to concentrate on Chinese derived movement and help develop mixed media work, and he once appeared at the Royal Festival Hall as a mime artist performing a Tibetan story.  The movement of The Astronettes owe much to the Chinese art - swift, dramatic, to the point.  One of their routines, which made greatest use of the ladders, had first David and then the rest of the team nimbly running part-way up the ladders, then, as if suddenly losing their nerve, gliding back down to the center of the stage, like scared mice who are afraid to venture too far from their hole.

Two hours is a long time, both, for artists and audience, and by the end both seemed exhausted.  David must certainly have stamina - to dance and sing like that for so long where many more conventional performers would have relied on pre-recorded music - and it must have rubbed off on the audience, because they could easily have been staggered by the spectacle.  It was a lot to take all in one go, slightly over the top, but one factor held it together more than any: David's voice.   This has matured tremendously and now has a clear, liquid quality about it which together with his attractive melancholy tremble, is quite compelling.

David is well on the way to achieving the recognition that's been wasted on mortals in recent years.  He's on his own, but only because he's different - he has the mystique of a star.  The trouble is where next?   Traditionally it should be the automobile accident or the overdose, but then he's hardly a traditionalist.  Ziggy commits rock n roll suicide.  Maybe he's to suffer the fate of Major Tom in Oddity: to float alone in space for eternity.

---This page last modified: 01 Jan 2019---

Ziggy Stardust Scarf (1973)