40 Years Ago: David Bowie Launches ‘Diamond Dogs’ Tour
When David Bowie, in July 1973, announced dramatically at the end of the final show of the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ tour that it was “the last show we’ll ever do,” many thought it was Bowie’s retirement. But of course it wasn’t. He was merely putting his glittery space-age character named Ziggy to bed. And then about one year later, the world got to see Bowie after he’d shed the sparkling jumpsuits and did away with the flamboyant makeup and hairstyles.
After a few rehearsals the week before at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., Bowie kicked off the ‘Year of the Diamond Dogs’ tour on June 14, 1974 in Montreal. Named in honor of Bowie’s newest album, the six-month trek took Bowie and company throughout North America until December. Interestingly, Bowie and company never brought the show to Europe, or anyplace else for that matter. This was strictly an American and Canadian affair that would eventually result in a double-album called ‘David Live’ as well as many production, set and musician changes throughout the course of its tumultuous run.
When the tour kicked off, a massive set had been built to resemble something called ‘Hunger City.’ Incorporating many props, moving parts and elaborate set pieces like a bridge and hydraulic cherry picker, the show automatically became one of the most elaborate in rock ‘n roll history. Bowie’s look had changed, as well. Gone were the futuristic and androgynous costumes that blended both space-age and Japanese kabuki. Instead, Bowie now appeared in more conventional lightweight suits with stylish suspenders and his orange hair had been restyled into a softer, layered style.
And the Spiders from Mars were gone, too, replaced by a funky rhythm section featuring Earl Slick on guitar and a horn section with David Sanborn on saxophone. After a mid-summer break to go work on the ‘Young Americans’ album, the band saw some personnel changes and widened to include several additional backing singers, including a young Luther Vandross. By autumn, the band personnel had morphed again to reflect the more soulful sounds that Bowie incorporated after immersing himself in R&B at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia during the summer.
From the beginning, the tour was beset with production problems, hardly surprising given the highly complex nature of the set. One night, a movable catwalk collapsed. Another night, the crane that held Bowie out over the crowd while he sang ‘Space Oddity’ into a telephone receiver got stuck in place, suspending the singer longer than he had planned.
But for all of the technical issues, the shows were still dazzling and received rave reviews in many cities. Performing a host of songs from the ‘Diamond Dogs’ album (including ’1984′ and ‘Rebel, Rebel’), the concerts would typically touch upon every Bowie album released to date. But in many cases, fans heard versions of songs that were wildly different from the studio albums. By incorporating the brass section, synthesizers and lots of backing singers, many older Bowie tunes took on a new soulful, jazzy, and even gospel-tinged flavor within the often-cabaret atmosphere the artist so effectively created.
By the time the October leg of the tour rolled around, Bowie had all but ditched the major production elements and instead presented a stripped-down soul revue that gave fans a preview at would be coming the next year in the shape of ‘Young Americans.’
Playing a mix of both theaters and arenas, Bowie reinvented and reestablished himself as an unpredictable creative force, maintaining all of the mystique he had as Ziggy while looking and sounding completely different.
Fans would have to wait until 1976′s Thin White Duke tour (supporting the ‘Station to Station’ album”) before they would see David Bowie on stage again. But from June through December 1974, he strutted and funked his way across North America, illustrating the first major reinvention of his career.