Originally released on vinyl on Record Store Day earlier this year, demand has been so high since then (with some copies going for around £70) that Parlophone made the swift decision to re-issue it on CD just a couple of months later. Recorded on 5th September 1974 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles during the transitional period between the Diamond Dogs and Philly Dogs tours, shows from around this period are considered to be the stuff of legend among fans lucky enough to have witnessed them.
Despite being one of the most audacious rock tours ever undertaken at that time, very little footage these shows exist outside of a rarely aired 1975 BBC documentary produced by Alan Yentob. Also titled Cracked Actor, the name was taken from a song on 1973’s Aladdin Sane. Two shows are said to have been filmed at Madison Square Garden in New York during July of 1974, but sadly there’s no word as to whether footage will ever be officially released.
Audio of the tour has existed in various forms for years, most notably on 1996’s bootleg CD A Portrait in Flesh. Recorded the very same night as Cracked Actor, the new release is essentially an official version of a live show which as been available for the past two decades. The big difference with Cracked Actor is in the sound quality, having been mixed by one of Bowie’s closest collaborators Tony Visconti, who spent two months working on it at Human Studios in New York during the autumn of 2016.
1974 may have been a time of drug-fuelled paranoia and financial difficulties (largely thanks to bad management by Tony Defries and his company MainMan), but it was also an incredibly creative period for Bowie who had retired retired Ziggy Stardust the previous year. With his infamously pale and skinny frame kept going on a diet of cocaine, red peppers and milk, he somehow released and toured Diamond Dogs, recorded Young Americans and started work on his first movie, The Man Who Fell to Earth.
In addition to this, Bowie also released his first official live album in October of that year. Recorded in July, David Live sounds fairly lifeless when stood next to the far superior Cracked Actor, even though both albums essentially contain the same core set of songs. The major difference between both albums is that the band playing on Cracked Actor was fresh and full of energy, featuring new faces such as guitarist Carlos Alomar who would end up being Bowie’s band leader for the next 14 years. The musicians performing on David Live on the other hand were coming to the end of their run together.
In addition to the reinvigorated band, the work Tony Visconti did in bringing the energy of the performance to the surface with his mixing also makes a massive difference. Guitarists Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick both sound superb alongside the new rhythm section of bassist Doug Raunch and drummer Greg Enrico, as does Mike Garson on keys. However, it’s the sax work of David Sanborn (alto) and Richard Grando (baritone) which sounds particularly great and will steal the show for many. It also helps that Bowie is at the very top of his game too. Cracked Actor is the essential Bowie live album and arguably among the best live recordings released in recent decades.