David Bowie’s Final Gig as Ziggy Stardust Documented in 1973 Concert Film

We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly brought you the ori­gin sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust, David Bowie’s first and most flam­boy­ant rock & roll char­ac­ter, as well as his lat­er rec­ol­lec­tions of those times in a 1977 inter­view on Cana­di­an tele­vi­sion. Above, see the doc­u­men­tary that marked the end of that piv­otal era, D.A. Pennebaker’s Zig­gy Star­dust and the Spi­ders from Mars, a con­cert film of Bowie’s last show as the glam rock kabu­ki space alien. (Part 1 can be found above, remain­ing parts reside here.) Bowie had grown tired of the char­ac­ter, feel­ing forced by his man­ag­er Tony DeFries to put on big­ger, more elab­o­rate stage shows (though there is spec­u­la­tion that record com­pa­ny RCA refused to finance planned US and Cana­di­an sta­di­um shows). In a lat­er rec­ol­lec­tion, Bowie stat­ed he was ready to move on:

I want­ed the whole Main­Man thing away from me. It was cir­cusy. I was nev­er much of an entourage per­son — I hat­ed all of that. It’s a relief for all these years … not have a con­stant stream of peo­ple fol­low­ing me around to the point where, when I sat down, fif­teen oth­er peo­ple sat down. It was unbear­able. I think Tony [DeFries] saw him­self as a Sven­gali type, but I think I would have done okay any­way. Now, I look back on it with amuse­ment more than any­thing else.

Along with broth­ers Albert and David Maysles, who made Gimme Shel­ter, Pen­nebak­er had an uncan­ny knack for being in the right place at exact­ly the right time in music his­to­ry. His Dont Look Back defined Bob Dylan for a gen­er­a­tion and launched the much-imi­tat­ed pro­to-music video with cue cards for “Sub­ter­ranean Home­sick Blues.”

The epony­mous Mon­terey Pop doc­u­ment­ed the explo­sive 1967 fes­ti­val that “crystallize[d] the ener­gy of a coun­ter­cul­ture that by then seemed both bless­ed­ly inevitable and dan­ger­ous­ly embat­tled,” accord­ing to Robert Christ­gau. In 1973, Pen­nebak­er found him­self again posi­tioned per­fect­ly to doc­u­ment a piv­otal moment—the end of Bowie’s Zig­gy Star­dust per­sona at London’s Ham­mer­smith Odeon in what became known as “The Retire­ment Gig.”

Pen­nebak­er, who’d only just signed on dur­ing the final Lon­don leg of the tour to make a full-length film and who knew lit­tle of Bowie’s music, was as sur­prised as any­one when Bowie announced Ziggy’s retire­ment by say­ing “this show will stay the longest in our mem­o­ries, not just because it is the end of the tour but because it is the last show we’ll ever do.” No one knew at the time that Bowie would return, trans­formed into Aladdin Sane in an album of the same name that year (with the same band—watch them do a ver­sion of Lou Reed’s “White Light/White Heat” above at 1:18:10, a track record­ed for, but cut from, 1973 cov­ers album Pin Ups). The farewell con­cert opened with a med­ley of Bowie songs on solo piano per­formed by Mike Gar­son, who called the show “phe­nom­e­nal” (hear Garson’s med­ley above, begin­ning at 2:30, after the intro­duc­tion).

The retire­ment gig was the 60th of 40 tour dates on the third Zig­gy UK tour and was, in fact, a replace­ment for a can­celled gig at Earl’s Court. Find a full list of the set here. Bowie and the Spi­ders were joined onstage by Jeff Beck for two songs before Bowie’s farewell speech, but Beck lat­er had him­self cut from Pennebaker’s film, unhap­py with his solos, and per­haps his wardrobe. Though Beck was Bowie gui­tarist Mick Ronson’s hero, Ron­son remem­bers being too dis­tract­ed to be over­whelmed: “I was too busy look­ing at his flares. Even by our stan­dards, those trousers were exces­sive!” See grainy boot­leg footage from the show of Beck and his trousers in “Jean Genie,” and a snip­pet of “Love Me Do” (above), and Chuck Berry’s “Round and Round” (below).

via Net­work Awe­some

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust: How David Bowie Cre­at­ed the Char­ac­ter that Made Him Famous

David Bowie Recalls the Strange Expe­ri­ence of Invent­ing the Char­ac­ter Zig­gy Star­dust (1977)

Lego Video Shows How David Bowie Almost Became “Cob­bler Bob,” Not “Aladdin Sane”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Elijah M says:

    Actu­al­ly, “Aladdin Sane” was released three months before the Bowie retire­ment gig, not lat­er that year. The film shows peo­ple in the crowd with the light­ning bolt from the LP cov­er paint­ed on their faces. And “Pin Ups” was record­ed with the Zig­gy band, minus only drum­mer Mick Wood­mansey, who was replaced by Ayns­ley Dun­bar.

  • Lynne huff says:

    Oh this is won­der­ful ! I could­n’t real­ly see Jeff Beck­’s bell bot­toms It was clas­sic to me Mick and David look so strik­ing in their make­up Thank you very much Good text too

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