Originally Published: September 1973
Author: Lisa Robinon
New York - Rock and roll has gone through some weird changes during the past ten years or so. When the Beatles first invaded the airwaves across America, rock was something you listened to and looked at - no one ever closed their eyes at a Beatles concert, except, maybe in ecstasy. But during the latter part of the Sixties a lot of people did close their eyes. Audiences and groups alike got so wrapped up in the music they were making that the visual element of rock got lost. Not completely lost, but any band that would let a light show supplant their presence onstage couldn't have been too concerned with how their audiences viewed them as performers. In fact, the great majority of Sixties groups, and audiences, seemed concerned with a lack of visual entertainment, rock had to be organic, and organic meant that you couldn't put on a flashy set of clothes or brush your hair back out of your face before you stepped onstage to perform.
Now that the Seventies have arrived, two major performers have decided that the time has come for audiences to start paying attention to what's happening on stage. Their names are Alice Cooper and David Bowie . . . and while they're two totally different artists making different kinds of music and have nothing to do with each other in most ways, they have both raised our consciousness about rock and roll as theater, each in his own special way.
Of the two, David Bowie is the one who relies most heavily on what he himself looks like as a performer. Alice is more involved with the staging of a show where Alice, as a performer, is only a portion of much grander goings-on. But between the two of them they are putting on the two best shows in town, and what they're doing must be considered an indication of things to come on the rock scene, whether you like it or not.
Let's take a look at their two shows, so you can see what we're talking about.
First the David Bowie show.
David Bowie was knocked unconscious as he was performing his encore during his first appearance at Radio City Music Hall in New York, earlier this spring. Lisa Robinson describes the scene: David was in the middle of "Rock & Roll Suicide" when he suddenly fell to the floor, knocked down by an over-zealous fan who had managed to get past the uniformed guards of the concert hall as well as David's own karate trained bodyguards. For one long moment everyone was stunned, apparently unable to decide whether David was kidding, or there was really something wrong. Those close to David became more concerned as he lay there, having dropped the microphone, not moving. One of Bowie's bodyguards lifted his limp body into his arms and carried him offstage. The Spiders From Mars who had stopped playing when David was knocked out seemed dazed at the turn of events and ran offstage.
The stage of the Music Hall is low, and directly in front of the first row, allowing the fans to run right up there during that part of the song when David sang "Give me your hands . . ." On David's last American tour when he performed that number the stages were sufficently removed from the audience so that the kids just reached out with their hands and rushed to the front. This time, however, several fans managed to get on the stage - most of them being held back by the Radio City Music Hall security guards, policemen, and Bowie's bodyguards. But one boy hurled past the guards and collided with David, knocking all the wind out of him and causing him to fall unconscious to the stage.
Apparently Bowie had been up the entire night before, rehearsing at the Music Hall, and had had no sleep, was exhausted by the end of the show.
As for the show itself, it may have had the most spectacular beginning as well as ending of any rock and roll concert this, or any other, season. David made his entrance to the music from "Clockwork Orange", but this time he was standing in a large metal unisphere-like structure that was slowly lowered from the ceiling to the floor of the huge stage. Bowie posed in the ball, one foot in front ot the other, hands on hips, wearing a black and white almost a zebra-striped outfit with huge kabuki type legs. The place went wild.
What went on between the beginning and the end of the concert was a good rock and roll show marred by some sound problems that rendered most of the words to the songs unintelligible, and a fashion show that was at times a bit . . . much. (Hoping that David would be the first in rock to come out ala Motown in tuxedos I was disappointed and exhausted when he changed five times, no less, into outfits of unparalleled spaciness. Oh well, maybe we'll have to wait for Roxy Music to do it after all . . . Needless to say, the audience loved the clothes . . . applauding each new change like he was a model on a runway.
David Bowie's performance is a show. He changes costumes, paces what he does so you never know what's coming next, use lights and props to make you feel that you're part of some space age production, half 2001, half Creation Of The Humanoids. It is an exciting show, totally different from anything you've ever seen in rock and before . . . right down to the fact that David has short, carrot red hair, wears otufits that you won't see anyone wearing on the streets for at least a few years to come, and generally provides an atmosphere where the unexpected is definately to be expected.
Alice Cooper, on the other hand, isn't as outrageous in his personal dress, or movements, but the show he gives is much more of a production than Bowie's.
Alice Cooper couldn't bring his new show to Broadway; he's managed to bring a little bit of Broadway to the rest of the United States on his current, incredible tour across the country. Cooper and Co. opened in Philadelphia, the traditional out of town try-out center for most Broadway shows, and brought along about 80 press people to watch. The journalists were wined and dined and then went along with 18,000 others to the spectrum, a huge arena outside of the city proper. Flo & Eddie opened the show and were superb and then came the main event: the Alice Cooper show. And a show it is. (The spectacle is just too much to sum up in a brief account. To do it justice, we've devoted an entire feature which gives a very valid description of the show. See "Alice Cooper In The Deep South", which follows this story.)
The next day Alice held a short press conference when he said, "People keep getting sicker, and so do we. As long as the kids keep getting sicker, we'll have things to do onstage."
From these brief descriptions it is possible to get a little bit of an idea of what Alice Cooper and David Bowie are up to and it is possible to realize that neither of them are doing the same old forty minute set with drum solo and guitar break that has become so standard - and so unimaginative - on the part of so many of the bands that grew up in the Sixties.
Whether you like it or not, rock and roll has got to compete with television, movies, and other visual events for an audience, and in order to do that successfully it can't remain solely on audio medium. Funny enough, this seems to be the next major change that's taking place with rock. The music hasn't changed as much as the way it is presented. David Bowie and Alice aren't really doing anything really different from the things they were doing two or three years ago . . . but it sure looks different and that's why David and Alice have two of the best shows in town. Rock and roll is always changing, but this time the change isn't in the music, it's in the way the music and the performers are presented and, believe it or not, this may be the most important change that's been made in rock since Chuck Berry wrote "Johnny B. Goode".