35 Years Ago: David Bowie Releases ‘Stage’
When an artist releases a live album, it often closes one chapter in their career, and opens another. Such was the case with the 1978 release of ‘Stage’ by David Bowie.
The album was recorded over a handful of dates on a tour that took him around the globe, and came at the end of a now legendary string of studio albums that turned any notion of there being a “Bowie formula” on its head.
Only a few short years before, Bowie, in the Ziggy Stardust persona, was the center of attention in the rock world. In between the final Ziggy show in 1973 and the release of ‘Stage’ in September of 1978, there had been many changes. The theatrical drama of ‘Diamond Dogs’ and the accompanying tour cast him in an ever larger spotlight, and the white soul of ‘Young Americans’ and ‘Fame,’ gave him his biggest success yet in the US.
Always the wandering spirit, Bowie took a slight left turn with ‘Station To Station’ in 1976, and then sped off the road with ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes.’ It is here, where we find him caught live on ‘Stage.’
The touring band brought on board for the tour included some familiar Bowie associates such as guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist George Murray and drummer Dennis Davis, and some new faces such as the (then unknown) Adrian Belew and Roger Powell, on loan from Utopia.
Released as a two-LP set featuring 17 tracks, the bulk of the material on ‘Stage’ features highlights from Bowie’s more recent albums, but one entire side is devoted to songs from ‘Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.’ This might seem at odds with Bowie’s future gazing agenda, but the songs are given a new feel from the new musicians, and all work withing the context of the newer sounds. It is, however, the songs from ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ that shine brightest here. Live takes of ‘What In The World,’ ‘Breaking Glass,’ and ‘Heroes’ are all delivered wonderfully.
As a whole, ‘Stage’ is far superior to Bowie’s 1974 release, ‘David Live,’ which suffered from a general sluggishness and lackluster performance from all involved. The band on ‘Stage’ are — more often than not — clocking in at 100%. Most of the players would enter the studio with Bowie for the ‘Lodger’ sessions the following year, and within a couple years, Belew would join forces with another Bowie associate, Robert Fripp, in a new version of King Crimson, and make one of KC’s finest albums in ‘Discipline.’
When ‘Stage’ was finally remastered in 2005, the original concert running order was restored for the first time and, thanks to the space allowed on the CD format, the entire show was finally made available. It is in this version that the true splendor of the recording comes through, with not only improved sonic quality, but a clearer portrait of the original concert.
The album was a modest hit, just missing the US Top 40. It fared better in his U.K. homeland, where it hit No. 5. Bowie would follow ‘Stage’ with a pair of first rate albums, ‘Lodger’ and ‘Scary Monsters,’ that would mark not only and end to the ’70s, but the end of a long run of wildly adventurous recordings. In 1983 Bowie took the the pop charts with ‘Let’s Dance’ and became, for lack of a better term, more mainstream. This too would pass, as the ever restless spirit would find more roads to roam over the years.
Listen to David Bowie- ‘Stage’ (2005 remaster)