Review: Bowie’s Rare 1978 Berlin Show Gets a Belated Release

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

David Bowie

Live in Berlin (1978)

Streaming/vinyl

3 out of 5 stars

While the David Bowie organization isn’t close to releasing the volume of live material that, say, the Grateful Dead or Neil Young have been shoveling our way, they are intent on gradually opening up Bowie’s archives for us to savor. This concert, already released to Bowie club members on limited edition vinyl and now digitally streaming, is a short but sweet taste.

At only eight tracks barely breaking a half hour, it’s clearly not the whole performance. Despite the show being recorded on May 16, 1978, following the “Heroes” album release in October 1977, only three of the eight relatively brief tunes (“Heroes” at seven minutes is the longest) are grabbed from that now iconic disc. Three oldies “Fame,” “Alabama Song,” and “Rebel Rebel” close the set and two tunes from Low provide the rest.

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A six-piece band consisting of guitarists Adrian Belew and Carlos Alomar along with longtime bassist George Murray is augmented by electric violinist Simon House whose contributions are generally under-mixed. Oddly veteran pianist Mike Garson is MIA. Regardless, they are a taut and committed outfit, plowing into “Fame” with an added dollop of funk-fueled energy and bringing an extra edge to the often chilly music of Low and “Heroes.” The offbeat “Alabama Song” gets an appropriately drunken twist but remains the weakest inclusion here.

The audio is a bit muddy, with an emphasis on Bowie’s vocals that are cranked up. Audience reaction barely registers, but generally, the playing is tough, tight, and tension-filled. However, since all selections but “Rebel Rebel” are included in 1978’s officially released Stage double disc with this same band, which not only sounds better but is three times longer, only Bowie collectors will find much interest here. And they might already own it.

The lingering question is what happened to the rest. This is a good teaser but based on the expanded Stage concert, there was plenty more music played that evening. Notes don’t explain where that is hiding, leaving this a quality oddity to stream, but far from a necessary acquisition.       

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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