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Rockin' paralysis and the first night blues

02 March 1974
by Charles Shaar-Murray

Mick Ronson / Rainbow

Mick Ronson is standing stage centre at the Rainbow looking like he's going to dry up and blow away. Behind him, Ritchie Dharma is beating his drum kit into a state of total submission. High up on a podium are five brass players turning over pages in the score and chatting to each other.

To Ronson's right, rhythm guitarist Mark (Two Rivers) Pritchard is chording away and Thunder Thighs are trying to make up their minds whether supposed to be moving in unison or just going with the flow.

To the left, Trevor Bolder is huddling by the heat of Dharma's bass drum and Mike Garson is presiding over the keyboards like a surgeon performing a heart transplant on his first-born child. It's 20 minutes into the show and nothing is happening.

Well, almost nothing. Ronson had sprung out on to the stage after a near-hysterical introduction and played an acceptable but low energy version of Annette Peacock's 'I'm The One.'

His voice, which is pleasing but not overly magnetic, was almost totally buried in the mix, but Garson's tastefully swinging keyboards and Dharma's almost frighteningly powerful drumming kept things going. No extended guitar soloing, but a few nice licks.

When Ronno moved to the keyboards for 'Growing Up And I'm Fine,' things bounced along nicely, and his voice started coming over, but he blew one of his lines.

Christ, he's nervous.

About 600 string players are sprinkled across the back of the stage for occasional participation. 'Only After Dark,' the B-side of 'Love Me Tender,' sounds like it ought to be rocking, but it just lies there. 'Music Is Lethal,' which comes off on the album as extraordinarily powerful, just whithers away as Ronson sits there and mumbles to a large acoustic guitar. Both the guitar and the vocal mikes are operating at extremely low power. Intermission.

Intermission? Nothing's happened yet. I ain't come yet and you're gonna get up and make the coffee? Come-on, Mick, do it to it. I wanna rock...

Second half, Mick comes back in a different costume and goes straight into 'Pleasure Man.' Now that's more bleedin' like it. It really rocks like it's supposed to. The word is that he just got a heavy pep talk from Bowie and DeFries at half-time and they said 'Shake it, kid. Get out there and show 'em.'

And he does. The singing is powerful and assured, and half-way through he slides out to the side of the stage and starts making that Les Paul scream its head off. Garson's smiling and he's getting nicely into his piano.

Trouble is, Mick hasn't figured out what to do on stage when he's neither singing nor playing, so he just paces around until his next bit comes up. Whenever he gets into a guitar solo he looks about 200 percent happier.

He follows that with 'Love Me Tender,' and the first verse sounds like he's singing in the bath, but when the band come in it really gets moving. It builds nicely and makes a lot more sense that it does on the single.

The energy level in the second half is altogether infinitely higher than it was in the first half, and Ronson, at last, is beginning to relax.

'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue' itself is great, gradually growing in power, and you can tell that Ronson feels good playing a whole tune on guitar.

The he hammers out the intro to 'Moonage Daydream' and the whole place comes alight. Trevor Bolder moves out to take his place alongside Ronno in the front line, and the kids go crazy. The problem is that Ronno had to play a Bowie number to get them off and it only serves to highlight the yawning gap at the centre of the stage.

Finally, a rocking 'Girl Can't Help It' with Garson playing some real '50s piano and an encore of Cocker's 'High Time We Went.' Ears and tail. A shower of red roses and a few chicks rushing the stage.

But what about those hideous moments when young dudes in the audience howled 'Where's David?' or, most cutting of all, 'Play us a Bowie record!'

A lot of those kids went to see Mick purely as a Bowie substitute. A lot of people paid money to see Presley's car on tour, too.

Mick Ronson is an exceptionally gifted man. His album proves that he can sing and that he has a coherent and convincing musical identity of his own, and his live work with Bowie demonstrated that he is an exciting and original guitarist as well as a fine live performer.

But Friday's show proved that he cannot hope for super-stardom by divine right, which is what all Mainman's hype and flummery was trying to set him up for.

He's got to learn how to be a convincing and charismatic front man, or else he's gonna have to live with remarks like 'a born sideman' or 'he should go back to Bowie'--both of which I heard after the show.

Apparently, Saturday's show was a vast improvement, mainly because Ronno rehearsed for several hours, driving soundmen, musicians and himself through their paces until he was satisfied.

What was wrong with that gig was, as no-one knows better than Mick himself, chronic under-rehearsal and the worst case of nerves that I've ever seen on a stage. What's needed now is a lot of hard work.

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