David Bowie – Station To Station (live 1976)

In early May 1976 I went to see my musical hero David Bowie play live for the first time. It was his Thin White Duke period, promoting Station To Station. 

As I made my way by Tube to Wembley, in a state of high anticipation and extreme excitement, I could never have dreamed our paths would ever cross in real life.

It still stuns me to think I have managed to see him perform at least a dozen more times, met him, interviewed him and chatted to him on half a dozen other occasions in places as far afield as London, New York and, for the last time, late in 2003, in Marseille.

While I was sorry to have missed seeing him perform in his glory days as Ziggy and Aladdin Sane simply by being too young (and living in the wrong country), I was also thankful he had moved on from his Philly soul Young Americans period.

My memory of the show is vivid. Everything was monochrome – the stage, the lighting, the clothes. It was like a blizzard of cocaine in the dead of night. Which, by all accounts, is an apt description of Bowie’s state of mind at the time.

The “support” was a screening of Salvador Dali’s short surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, a black-and-white masterpiece made back in 1928. The music papers had hyped it up with much talk of the notorious scene in which a woman’s eyeball (actually a cow’s eyeball) is sliced open with a razorblade.

I managed not to faint, though it still shocks every time I see it – it’s on a loop at the Reina Sofia art museum in Madrid and I’ve seen it there on at least three occasions. Every time it seems to be the bloody eyeball scene!

As an alternative to a support band, it served Bowie’s purpose well: it introduced me to Dali and, by association, to his art – and thence to other contemporary art. This was the gateway drug. Bowie was brilliant at that sort of thing.

And then… the lights went down, shafts of white light bore down on the black stage, and a cacophonous sound began to fill the aircraft hangar-like arena. Not the slow train that you hear on the record, but screeching feedback from Bowie’s newest recruit, guitarist Stacy Heydon.

The unknown 21-year-old Canadian had been a last-minute replacement for Earl Slick, who left the band on the eve of the Isolar tour, after playing on the Station To Station album (and its two predecessors, Young Americans and Diamond Dogs).

After several minutes of free-form feedback, Heydon was joined by the funky bass of top hat-wearing George Murray and the relentlessly pounding rhythms of drummer Dennis Davis, the band completed with rhythm guitarist Carlos Alomar and former Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye.

And then, as the music built to a climax, there he was, suddenly spotlight centre stage in a billowing white shirt and black waistcoat and trousers, his reddish hair swept back, standing motionless with one arm outstretched.

As he began to sing: “The return of the Thin White Duke / Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes” the whole place went mad. I went mad. But not too mad: I was recording it on my cassette player. I must still have the C-90 somewhere.

I remember I played it back on the Tube into town afterwards and everyone stopped talking to listen again. Then I went to the Hard Rock Cafe and gave it to the girl on the door and she played it over the PA to everyone there. 

Set list:

  1. Station to Station
  2. Suffragette City
  3. Fame
  4. Word on a Wing
  5. Stay
  6. I’m Waiting for the Man
  7. Queen Bitch
  8. Life on Mars?
  9. Five Years
  10. Panic in Detroit
  11. Changes
  12. TVC15
  13. Diamond Dogs
  14. Rebel Rebel
  15. The Jean Genie

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