some thoughts on David Bowie's "Stage" on DVD-A

Discussion in 'Music' started by Aaron Reynolds, May 21, 2006.

  1. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    Let me start by saying that I'm a big fan of this album and have been for a long time. As a fifteen-year-old kid in 1989 with a brand-new CD player, I was looking for stuff to put into it. I came across the Bowie Sound+Vision boxed set (the original Ryko issue with the hybrid laserdisc on disc four -- that's what led me into laserdiscs) and bought it, basically without knowing anything about Bowie aside from Labyrinth, Absolute Beginners and his cover of Dancin' in the Street with Mick Jagger. Oh, and Tin Machine -- I was one of the six or eight people who bought and loved Tin Machine.

    It took me a while to warm up to it, since it was so far away from what I expected to hear. However, I had only a couple of other CDs, so Sound+Vision got heavy rotation until I began to completely fall in love with it.

    The stuff that I loved best was the material from Stage, and that was the first classic Bowie album that I bought. I've been listening to it steadily for well over a decade at this point.

    When I heard that the album had been re-sequenced back to the concert's original running order, I was indifferent -- I had no qualms with how Stage flowed as an album.

    I'm here to tell you that I was so totally wrong about that. The old version of Stage basically isolates the ambient pieces, and diffuses the set-to-set build-ups and climaxes present in the original sequence. The album, as a whole, is far stronger on the new version. In fact, the tracks that I'd frequently skip over (Sense of Doubt, Art Decade) are now integral to the show.

    Let's talk about the mixes.

    I listen to everything in stereo. I like stereo, and I frequently found myself irritated by showy surround mixes that took away from what you were listening to, so I decided to jettison my multichannel equipment and put all my dollars into a killer two-channel system.

    So the first thing I did was listen to the stereo 24/48 PCM track. I was unsure if this track was simply a refurbished version of the 1978 mix or a whole new mix -- reading the notes and comparing it to the Ryko Stage CD and also to the 24/48 5.1 mix, it's pretty clear that it's the 1978 mix (with the exception of Be My Wife and Stay, which were not on the original relase and are singled out in the notes as having a new 2004 stereo mix. Alabama Song wasn't on the original release but does appear on the Ryko CD -- there's no note about a new stereo mix, so it was either mixed for the Ryko issue or was previously mixed for a b-side or something).

    The 24/48 stereo PCM track sounds very good. Certainly an improvement over the Ryko CD, which I was always happy with. The Ryko CD is very harsh in comparison, and the bass is much less clean.

    One complaint -- because the re-ordering has been done for the most part without a new mix, the space between songs is sometimes very short. Not problematically so, but certainly noticeable if you're used to the older version of the album. In addition, the starts of two songs fade in over the crowd -- Five Years and Art Decade -- and the way cool shouted count-in to Hang On To Yourself (which used to open the album) has been removed. These are very minor complaints, and I probably wouldn't have noticed any of this if I wasn't intimately familiar with the old version.

    Next, I gave the 24/48 5.1 mix a whirl, albeit in mixdown mode. Suboptimal, I know. I was just curious. Since I have listened to the live version of Station to Station more than any other Bowie track, I spun that to make these brief observations.

    Tony Visconti seems to have taken some previous criticism of the way the album was mixed to heart -- before it was a brittle, icy sound which I thought really suited the material. This new mix is much warmer. It also has lessened the effects to make them more subtle, like the harmonized snare drum and the vocal processing. The cymbals are much lower in the mix, and a hi-hat that I don't think I even knew was there has really come out. Actually, the drums as a whole are far more defined and I appreciate the skilled work on this song more than ever before. The bass is also much cleaner and more clearly defined.

    There are a lot more ambient effects and echoes and the like, which I'm sure sound real purty in 5.1. Visconti notes that he recorded the shows with an eye towards making a quadrophonic mix and mic'ed the room for ambience accordingly -- even though the original quadrophonic mix never came about, he was able to use that material here. I'm going to go to a friend's place and give a couple of tracks a spin in a good 5.1 environment and I'll post more thoughts about it once I have.

    Summing up: if you liked the old mix of Stage, it's here, sounding better than ever and it's a much stronger album in its "new", original configuration. If you thought it was too cold, you'll probably like the new 5.1 mix. If you like late '70s Bowie and don't have this album, you should go out and buy it.

    Hell, if you like Bowie at all, you should go out and buy this album. It is, in my opinion, his best concert recording by far, and in the "new" original running order I think it challenges for the title of best Bowie album, period.
     
  2. Mikael Soderholm

    Mikael Soderholm Supporting Actor

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    I was another [​IMG].
    Good points on the Stage album, you're in for a real treat with the 5.1 mix, it is very good. I haven't listened much to the stereo mix after I heard the multi-channel one.
    Might I also suggest you check out the other Bowie DVD-A release, David Live, also a new mix, new tracks and re-sequenced.
     
  3. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    One thing I forgot to mention was that on the 5.1 mix, there's a lot more space between tracks and some extra chatter/screams/band noises -- it doesn't have the same issues that the stereo one does.

    David Live was also on my birthday list, though I prefer Stage as an album -- but it came down to what was in stock at the store. [​IMG]
     
  4. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    Between the three of us and a bunch of my friends, that's a very low estimate! [​IMG]

    But the real question is -- do you have all three Tin Machine discs?

    I don't have Stage, but I'll check it out. Thanks for the tip!
     
  5. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    I have Tin Machine and Tin Machine II, but I've never actually seen a physical copy of the live album. Is it any good? I thought Tin Machine II was mostly horrible.

    As a fan of Tin Machine, did you hear the bonus live disc that came with Bowie at the Beeb? It was a 2000 concert in the BBC Radio Theatre for fan club members, with a fan club selected set list. Fantastic show, and at times very hard-edged, especially the version of Cracked Actor which made me think of Tin Machine.

    I'm trying to remember off the top of my head what the lineup was for that 2000 band -- did it maybe have Reeves Gabrels in it?
     
  6. Aaron Silverman

    Aaron Silverman Executive Producer

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    You know, I haven't listened to it in years. Not since I shoved my entire CD collection into a set of binders in no order at all (I had to pack to move). I'll see if I can dig it up.

    I haven't heard Bowie At The Beeb, but it's been on my list to pick up. I'd guess that Reeves Gabrels (I even have his solo disc [​IMG] ) plays on that set -- doesn't he still usually tour with Bowie's band?
     
  7. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    He wasn't on the last tour (in '04).
     
  8. Mikael Soderholm

    Mikael Soderholm Supporting Actor

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    Bassman says
    Earl Slick lead guitar
    Mark Plati: rhythm guitar + bass
    Sterling Campbell: drums
    Gail Ann Dorsey - bass + guitar + vocals + clarinet
    Mike Garson - piano + keyboards
    Emm Gryner - background vocals + keyboards + clarinet
    Holly Plamer - background vocals + percussion

    He split with Gabrels after ...hours
     

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