The Young American
U.S. Tour 4 Set Design
…Power, Nuremberg, and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.” How David Bowie outlined his vision for the Diamond Dogs tour stage set.
In March 1974, Jules Fisher flew to London to discuss the concept of the Diamond Dogs stage show with David. Fisher was well regarded as an American lighting designer and producer - in particular for his work on Broadway. David told him that he wanted something like the town in ‘The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari’. Fisher then brought in designer Mark Ravitz to design the ‘Hunger City’ stage set. Ravitz was given three clues by David - power, Nuremberg and Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’. In 2019, Ravitz auctioned a number of original designs and notes which included the ones for the Diamond Dogs tour. These provided a fascinating insight into the original ideas and subsequent development of the stage set.
(Left) A handwritten setlist which suggests that the opening music would be ‘Ode To Joy’ and that ‘My Death’ would be included in the set. ‘Watch That Man’, ‘Drive-In Saturday’ and ‘Panic In Detroit’ do not feature at this stage. (Right) One of the blueprints for the ‘diamond’.
(Left) The Aladdin Sane lightning bolt was still a key feature of the new stage set up. (Right) Some of the notes made by Ravitz to meet the task.
(Left) One of the discarded ideas… David swinging from a rope suspended from the bridge. (Right) The ‘decaying’ towers.
In 1996 the BBC screened a series of documentaries about the history of rock and roll called "Dancing In The Street". One episode was titled "Hang On To Yourself" and featured, amongst other things, a short piece on the Diamond Dogs tour in which Fisher and Ravitz used a model of the set to demonstrate how it was designed to operate. This clip can be seen by following the link at the bottom of this page.
The following publications have articles describing the ‘Hunger City’ stage set up and how it operated: Circus Raves September 1974 - ‘The secrets behind his dog tour’ Engineering extras: The most spectacular engineering feats in the "Diamond Dogs" extravaganza, though, are the three elements which move in coordination with David’s choreographed movements – the diamond, the bridge and the catapult. •The diamond is a space car on wheels which looks like a jewel. Bowie can be either inside it or on top of it. It appears upstage and comes down toward the audience to reveal the singer, somewhat like Bette Midler’s well known entrance to the Palace Theatre last fall from a high heeled shoe. It has microphones that come out so he can sing on it, and all the cables for sound and power for the DC motors are passed upstage with little rollers. •The bridge is similar to a painter’s trestle. It has winches of variable speeds on the ends so it can go up and down in time with various songs. The bridge moves between the buildings of the cityscape, and Bowie can dance across it, or leap over the railing and slide down ropes like a warbling buccaneer. Explaining the freedom of the concept, Langhart offered, "Bowie has the choice of going up the towers on the ends to get to it and then coming down, or he can board it from ground level, ride up in it, and then get off on the towers. It’s full of options for him." •The catapult doesn’t really hurl Bowie into the air, but the apparatus does allow him to sit in a chair at the top and be lowered down into the lap of the audience, over the first few rows. A kind of giant arm, it comes out of a "pool of essence." Let It Rock February 1975 - ‘The boys behind Bowie’.
Dancing In The Street BBC Documentary including Jules Fisher and Mark Ravitz explaining how the Hunger City stage set worked.
The ‘Hunger City’ stage before and during the performance at Detroit’s Cobo Arena on 23 June 1974.
In addition, there are two excellent fan-made publications which detail the workings of the Diamond Dogs tour - ‘Beware The Savage Jaw’ and ‘Bowie In Hunger City (New York 1974)’.