It’s a pivotal chapter in the long-running and always-fascinating romance between English rock stars and California girls. For English rock boys, the goal was always to inspire crush juice in the lips and loins of California girls. Those were the fans they dreamed about. For any band worth its salt out of sleepy London town, the motivation to write great songs was to stir the amatory nectars of the sun-kissed vestals of the West Coast. And the more fiercely the California girls loved them, the better the bands got – a feedback loop that improved all our lives. Ever since the Beatles wrote “Drive My Car” (“to me it was L.A. chicks,” Paul said) that bond held strong, and nobody wooed those girls like Bowie. At the Santa Monica show, he’s face to face with those girls – he sings, they scream, he sings louder, they scream louder.
At first, he’s timid, realizing they’re hearing the tunes for the first time. But as the show goes on, he starts to soar on the crowd energy, saying things like “You’re terrific.” He might also be soaring on something else, judging from the way he improvises poetry like, “I asked for lobster tail and they brought me palm tree.” He’s doing all these songs they couldn’t possibly know, some that haven’t been released yet (“The Jean Genie”) and obscure covers (Lou Reed, Jacques Brel). He’s doing songs from Hunky Dory, no kind of hit in America, and Ziggy Stardust, which he’d just released; “Space Oddity” is the only tune that gets a “hey, we know this one” clap at the intro. The Spiders from Mars play faster than they need to – everyone’s swept up in the excitement. When they rip into “Hang On to Yourself,” they sound like the Sex Pistols. (Famously, the Pistols stole their microphones and PA system from Bowie after his 1973 show in London.) When Mick Ronson and Bowie join voices at the climax of “Five Years,” they’re nowhere near the same key, but too blissed out to notice, which was part of the message.
These are the kids Zeppelin wrote “Going to California” about, but Bowie’s a lot less coy about his affection for them. He declares that they’re much hipper than their older brothers and sisters, that the corrupt adult world won’t crush them, that their golden years are just beginning. And they decide they like what they hear. Of course, there’s a lot of heartbreak ahead for Bowie and his new audience – drugs, despair, Soul Train. L.A. would nearly destroy Bowie a few years later. But tonight, he’s a star because he makes them feel like stars. For once they’re not alone. And neither is he.
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