David Live is David Bowie's first official live album, originally released by RCA Records in 1974. The album was recorded in July of that year, on the initial leg of Bowie's Diamond Dogs Tour, at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. The second leg, a more soul-oriented affair following recording sessions in Philadelphia for the bulk of Young Americans, would be renamed 'Philly Dogs', as reflected on a different live release, Cracked Actor.
The album catches Bowie in transition from the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane glam-rock era of his career to the 'plastic soul' of Young Americans. While the cover featured a picture of Bowie in his latest soul threads – baggy trouser suit complete with shoulder pads and braces from October 1974 – the music was recorded in July of that year when he was showcasing his two most recent studio albums of original material, Diamond Dogs and Aladdin Sane, as well as selected favourites from Ziggy Stardust and earlier.
The tour was Bowie's most ambitious to date, featuring a giant set designed to evoke "Hunger City", the post-apocalyptic setting for Diamond Dogs, and his largest band, led by Michael Kamen. For "Space Oddity" (recorded at the time but not released until the album's 2005 reissue) Bowie sang using a radio microphone disguised as a telephone whilst being raised and lowered above the stage by a cherry picker crane. The tour was documented in Alan Yentob's Cracked Actor (1975).
Capturing the music on tape was itself problematic; most of the backing vocals, as well as the saxophone, needed to be overdubbed in the studio later (a fact noted on the original album sleeve as well as the reissue) because the performers were often off-mike. According to the original album liner notes: "This Live album was culled from performances on the 14th & 15th July 1974 at the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia. It is complete and exact. No studio overdubs or re-recording of voices, instruments or audience have been added with the exception of several backing vocals due to loss of theatre mike contact." The Tower Theater concerts also gave rise to a backstage revolt by Bowie's touring band. David Sanborn and Hugh McCracken (who had learned in a conversation with John Venable of The Record Plant Remote that the concerts were being recorded) informed other band members that a non-contractual recording was about to occur. The band confronted Bowie an hour before the first show and refused to take the stage. Venable offered that Record Plant hold the tapes until financial negotiations were settled so the recording could proceed. About twenty minutes before showtime, Bowie agreed that each band member would receive what they judged was a more reasonable $5,000 fee, per member. Several musicians involved in the Tower Theater performance (including Mike Garson and Herbie Flowers) have since remarked that the tension provoked by this confrontation was audible in the stilted performances found on the live album. The concerts were recorded by Keith Harwood and David Hewitt on the Record Plant NY Remote Truck.
The finished album has been criticised for Bowie's 'obsessive' rearrangements of the songs and for the strained quality of his vocals. Opinion of the playing is also divided, despite the presence of such acclaimed guests as Michael Kamen, Earl Slick and David Sanborn, as well as Flowers, Mike Garson and Tony Newman from the Diamond Dogs sessions. However some of the interpretations earned praise, such as the upbeat jazz-Latin version of "Aladdin Sane" and the atmospheric instrumental additions to "The Width of a Circle" from The Man Who Sold the World. The record is also notable for including Bowie's first release of "All the Young Dudes," a song originally given to the band Mott the Hoople for their 1972 album of the same name.
Mick Jagger commented about the album at the time, saying he thought "Knock on Wood" was "awful". Jagger went on to say, "If I got the kind of reviews that he got for that album, I would honestly never record again. Never."
Bowie later commented that "David Live was the final death of Ziggy… And that photo on the cover. My God, it looks like I've just stepped out of the grave. That's actually how I felt. That record should have been called 'David Bowie Is Alive and Well and Living Only in Theory'".
David Live made No. 2 on the UK charts (the tour had only visited North America), No. 5 in Canada (where the tour had opened) and No. 8 in the US. "Knock on Wood" was released as a single, reaching No. 10 in the UK. A reissue of the album in 2005 finally included a complete song list from the original concerts plus a new mix by Tony Visconti, said to be an improvement over the fidelity of previous releases.
This album was first released on CD in 1990 by Rykodisc/EMI, containing two bonus songs and Bowie's introduction to the audience of his band. A new version of the album was released on CD in 2005 by EMI/Virgin, containing two additional bonus tracks (though the version of "Panic in Detroit" had previously been released as the B-side to the UK single release of "Knock on Wood", and reissued on the 1982 compilation Rare), a reordering of these and previous bonus tracks into their correct position in the original set list order, and a new mix by Tony Visconti.
In 2016, the album was included, in two versions, in the Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976)box set. One version contained the original mix and the same ordering of tracks that had appeared on the original vinyl album; the other replicated the 2005 version of the album in a new remastering. The latter was also released separately on CD and vinyl, in 2017.
Rock Concert/David Bowie at the Tower Philadelphia
A cut-down version of David Live called Rock Concert was released as a single disc by RCA in the Netherlands in 1979. In 1982 it was again released in the Netherlands as David Bowie at the Tower Philadelphia.
"Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)"
"All the Young Dudes" (originally recorded by Mott the Hoople)
"Rock 'n' Roll With Me" (Bowie, Peace (for the music))