DA Pennebaker, that eminent celluloid chronicler of live rock (Don’t Look Back, Down From The Mountain), filmed the farewell Ziggy show (July 3, 1973, Hammersmith Odeon), and now Tony Visconti’s remixed the soundtrack for a 30th anniversary double CD special edition (the film’s out on DVD, too). Bowie’s between-song banter is included for the first time, most notably the big bold brouhaha of the bye-bye speech. And “The Width Of A Circle” is present in all its noisy, unedited, 16-minute glory. Although the sound’s still erratic in parts, The Spiders prove they were every bit as kick-ass a rock’n’roll band as the nostalgic claim: they were always just messy enough.
“The technology wasn’t there then”, Visconti told Uncut earlier this year. “Pennebaker did his best but the sound on the film wasn’t up to scratch. So in ’81, David and I put some money into it and tidied it up. Nobody could hear themselves on stage in ’73; Mick Ronson was as loud as anything, and private in-ear monitors were still a fantasy. So David re-sang the backing vocals, sweetened them up, added some percussion. He never replaced his own lead vocal; it was impeccable.”
It opens with a portentous blast of Beethoven’s Ninth before cracking into a light-footed “Hang On To Yourself”. Then it sizzles electrically through high-spots from Bowie’s first golden age, as well as Brel’s “My Death”, “White Light/White Heat”, a brief medley of “All The Young Dudes/Oh! You Pretty Things” and blasts of Rossini and Elgar juxtaposed with much raucous riffing and the greatest of white voices. “Time” is sublime, and the “Rock’n’Roll Suicide” finale is as showbizzily dramatic as the genre ever got: you half expect Brian De Palma and Paul Williams to burst out of the wings. Handbags, gladrags and the tears of a pierrot. Fantastic.