The Young American
US Tour IV Reviews
The Montreal Star - 15 June 1974: Bowie bombs at Forum The reigning prince of glitter-camp rock, David Bowie, inaugurated his gigantic "comeback" tour of America last night at the Forum. The British rock singer had "retired" last year from the stage, thus forestalling last autumn's previously scheduled tour until he sold a few more million dollars worth of albums. His latest is called, appropriately, Diamond Dogs, and features a cover illustration of the gaunt faced, asexual Bowie as a dog; his private parts were blacked-out by his record company, and it's just as well. Naturally, the staging of the show was elaborate because staging is what Bowie is all about. He personifies and recreates cliches, most of them deathly melodramatic and from the movies, in an exaggerated fay way. His every move and expression is calculated and acted out on cue, and what he comes off as is a crummy actor. An ineffectual stage-hogger - the show was a non-stop hour and 45 minutes. He couldn't get off, he was a mannequin in floodlights and once they put him away for the night, he didn't return for the perfunctory Forum encore. The stage was built at weird angles like in 1920 German expressionist silents, with a cityscape as the backdrop. The band paled to one side of the stage and Bowie had plenty of space to pace around in. Instead of a chick chorus, he had a couple of fay cronies (or "dogs" as the program informed) doing weird things dressed in black. The performers cast long shadows over the stage - he whole set-up was an immaculately contrived display of staging.   And it was all for nothing, because Bowie is one of the most undynamic performers on stage today. He strikes poses, and opens his mouth and emits bland ounds. He is somewhat reminiscent of Johnny ray, except Johnny Ray was better: his tears were real. Bowie is worse than Adam Faith. He's worse than Freddy & the Dreamers. Worse than Bill Wyman! Bowie is an unaffecting stage performer, despite his programmed array of postures. His most emotional moment came when he went off stage during a guitar solo and reappeared on a terrace, wearing an oversized vintage wrap-around coat, bowing his head and looking moodily into the distance. He looked as if he was posing for a photograph. Big deal. There's nothing that he puts out on stage that makes you want to care about him. Despite the flashing red neon lightning rod - his symbol - and a crane that lifted Bowie bathed in purple light, singing Space Oddity over his audience, there was no direct immediacy from him, only from the hoked-up act. His band made a lot of tightly executed noise, filled with stock rock riffs, slotted in when needed (like the aesthetics of muzak). As the show wore on, it became apparent there was going to be no intermission, and pretty soon the clever staging was collapsing. The next time Bowie "retires", I hope it's for keeps. JUAN RODRIGUEZ   Ottawa Journal - June 1974: Bowie left 'em hangin' Britain’s symbol of glamor rock, David Bowie, gave a show that ranged from being excitingly spectacular to flatly uninspired when he played here the first time, at the Civic Centre on Saturday. As an entertainer, he staged a gleamingly polished performance, thrilling the audience with a combination of futuristic stage acts, mime and dancing. Fans rushed the stage and seemed ecstatic when he accepted a bouquet from an appreciative girl. But musically, he often left much to be desired, suffering from appalling acoustics which at times made his vocals inaudible, and sometimes failing to gear the sequence and choice of material to the greatest advantage. It was clear that Bowie had already paved a dedication in some quarters. A hard core of his fans sported the same cropped hair. Their faces were garishly made up like glittering masks. They looked like invaders from a science fiction film. From the moment Bowie entered among swirling purple searchlights, he delivered a non-stop show without even a pause for applause, belting straight from 1984 into his most recent Rebel Rebel.   Among the highlights were Aladdin Sane, a superb version of Changes, when he sauntered tart-like, in a massive trench coat, and musically accomplished touches such as All The Young Dudes, and Space Oddity. This number was spectacularly enacted, the singer floating from a rocket, in a brilliant blue glow, above the audience. After Space Oddity, he became more blatantly camp, miming a solo boxing fight in a roped ring, switching to a flying Swan ballet and turning West Side Story gay in his street gang theatrical of Gene Genie. But often the concert seemed to fall flat after such high points. The previous excitement dropped in the tedious drama of Rock and Roll Suicide, although fans rushed forward eagerly as he kneeled to touch their hands during the number. The show was rife with false endings and when the close actually came nobody realized it. The audience gave him a standing ovation – well deserved for his professionalism and artistry – but became aggressive when it was announced the star had left and they realized there was to be no encore.   Ottawa Citizen - 17 June 1974: Bowie show needs more rock, less role For all its grand production, David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs – the alleged theme of his latest concert - was disappointingly dull. In fact the most dramatic moments of the entire evening came during the aftermath of Bowie’s early exit. In North America, Bowie has yet to live up to his advance billing and Saturday night in the Civic Centre, before a strong crowd of about 7,000, Bowie again failed to reach any great heights musically. The show was 30 minutes late, during which time the audience was subjected to an aimless soundtrack that ranged from satanic grunts ready to be exorcised, to pretend pantings of pornographic passion already in the process of being exorcised. The stage was dominated by tall, grey cut-out skyscrapers dripping colored wax like a forest of inner-city candles. Bowie and his rather good band finally hit the stage and opened medium-strong with a good rendition of 1984. Dressed in a white suit complemented by red shoes and hair, Bowie looked and acted much like a highly polished, latter-day Bobby Rydell. He sang one under a street-light song dressed in an anklelength coat and when he removed the coat he removed his jacket – to a loud round of applause. This revealed a blue shirt with red suspenders and, save for a few latter-day Presley pelvic gyrations, this was the most risqué Bowie got all evening. Two singer-dancers who accompanied him did pander to some purient interest but not much. A high point of the evening – physically rather than musically – came with Bowie, his head the sole target of a tiny, bright spotlight, singing while perched atop the centre building. As the song progressed, a mechanic arm slowly lowered Bowie out over the audience. A clever gimmick but the visual effect was far more memorable than the song itself. Bowie’s routine with the 15-foot glistening Christmas ornament was equally underwhelming.   Bowie’s biggest problem, as the show’s key figure, was that he kept disappearing - musically rather than physically. There’s a lot of acting in rock and roll but there should be even more rock than role. As a smalltime actor, Bowie is a fair rock star but as a big time rock star, Bowie is a smalltime actor. The band was quite good and made tunes like Moonage Daydream, Suffragette City, Diamond Dogs and Rock And Roll Suicide some kind of highlights. Bowie wrote his own epitaph some time ago in Lady Stardust: "And he was alright The band was all together Yes he was alright The song went on forever …" Unfortunately Bowie is supposed to be something spectacular yet, despite impressive stage settings, Saturday night’s performance – 90 minutes without an intermission – just never did climax. Bowie received surprisingly good crowd response throughout the show and at the end, the demand for more was surprisingly strong and vociferous. While many left, many more thousands remained cheering and stomping until some time later it was announced that Bowie had left the building. Like wildfire, a chair throwing spree spread across the floor area as many young people gave vent to their frustration. Backgrounded by a dangerous barrage of bottles, the piles of chairs grew until a few individuals began throwing chairs at the security and equipment personnel on stage. Some chairs were thrown back at the crowd by people on stage but finally, before a nasty situation turned nastier cool-headed policemen quietly intervened to calmly clear out the crowd. Bouquets to the police, a slap on the wrist for the audience – whether or not their feelings of rip-off were justified – and a sad bye-bye to Bowie.   Toronto Globe Mail - 17 June 1974: David Bowie gives weekend of rock a stunning finale David Bowie’s concert at O’Keefe Centre last night was the most spectacular rock show I have ever seen. So spectacular, in fact, that the music in this first of two concerts was almost lost in the sets, lights, costumes and machinery. Virtually all of the 20 songs in Bowie’s set, which lasted over an hour and a half without intermission, were really mini-drama, three-to-five minute stories told in song, dance, mime and special effects. Some examples: The set itself (and it is a complete set, not just a few gigantic props of the sort Yes showed up with on its last time through Toronto) is a disintegrating metropolis called Hunger City. Speakers and lights are concealed by crumbling skyscrapers dripping huge globules of slag. A catwalk 20 feet above the stage became a bridge on which Bowie, standing under a dirty yellow streetlight, sang Sweet Things, a sad ballad of homosexual cruising. For Space Oddity, Bowie playing out the doomed Major Tom, swung out from a tower in a cantilevered chair on a hydraulic boom that had him, at one point, sitting almost over the first row. He sang Big Brother from the top of what looked like a space capsule. It then opened up into a mirrored room with floor-to-ceiling black lights and a huge hand that folded out into a staircase.   In addition to machines, Bowie used props like chairs for Jean Genie and a rope for Diamond Dogs. His dogs were Warren Peace and Gui Andrisano, who sang back-up vocals, danced, mimed and shuffled props microphones around for Bowie with machine-like precision. Everything about the show was precise. Attention to detail showed in little things like the fact that Bowie sang Space Oddity into a telephone rather than a standard microphone. In Cracked Actor Bowie was to have his face powdered off. The puff was right at hand. Nothing was ever misplaced. The whole show was carefully rehearsed and well it might be. The choreography alone was more complex than that in many roadshow musicals I have seen. Not to mention the batteries of extra stage lights including three movable spotlights on top of the towers as well as the four standard spots at the back of the hall. The sound quality was good. Bowie’s seven-piece band was good, and Bowie himself in a powder-blue modified zoot suit was amazing. He has the moves of a trained actor and the assurance of a star, a star in the old show-biz sense rather than the rock’n’roll one. A trouper who entertains with everything he can bring to bear on an audience. But what of the music – since is supposedly the point of the exercise? It’s up and down. Moonage Daydream and Drive-in Saturday are weak numbers but, unless you’re listening carefully, you won’t notice that fact. Bowie carries his poorer efforts on the strength of his stage presentation. ROBERT MARTIN   Toronto Star - 17 June 1974: Rock star Bowie an appealing mystery At one point during the first of his two O’Keefe Centre concerts last night, singer David Bowie danced to the edge of the stage where a girl was stretching her long arms in the air. Her hands darted out, clutching at his pants, but Bowie danced away, remaining always beyond her reach. It was as if no one would ever touch him, as if he wasn’t quite real. Everything about Bowie’s appearance has this sense of unreality. The 6,400 tickets available for the two shows were sold out a month ago even though the top price was $6.80, there wasn’t a single word of advertising, and the 27-year-old Bowie himself is something of a mystery. Yet it’s this mystery, with its hint of divine decadence, that makes him so appealing. Everywhere in the crowd outside the hall during the 30-minute delay before his first show began, you could see hints of his sexually ambiguous, futuristic style. A couple of confusing gender strolled through the crowd, one dressed in a short, frilly pink slip, the other’s mouth smeared with frosted lip gloss. One girl, otherwise normally dressed, was wearing an enormous pair of bat’s wings. And elsewhere among the jeans and T-shirts you could see lilac lipstick, tangerine eyes, hair dyed Bowie’s rusty-red color, and the familiar Bowie lightning-bolt zigzag painted on people’s faces. But even all this was nothing compared to Bowie’s show. The set, taken more or less from the jacket design for his latest album, Diamond Dogs (RCA CPLI-0576) was filled with mis-shapen skyscrapers (plus one rather pornographic image) leaning eerily every which way.   One column on the left concealed a hoist that floated the singer through the air during a song about space. And high above the stage, a bridge with several lights emphasizing its bleakness completed the harrowing cityscape. Despite the one hour and 40 minutes of solid satisfying rock, the show’s theme was the bombed-out future of George Orwell’s 1984. This, as Bowie’s voice intoned over some moaning electronic music, was where "fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats, and ten thousand peoploids split into small tribes, coveting the highest of the sterile skyscrapers." In all this, Bowie became a future Everyman who, in Sweet Thing, was hopelessly looking for love of any kind or who, in Big Brother, was cynically looking for a hero of any kind. Bowie’s voice showed a remarkable flexibility and range of sounds coupled with his abilities as a dancer and a mime. The show itself may have been a rock version of early Baroque opera, where the set often took precedence over the music, but Bowie knew exactly what to do. In fact, he is undoubtedly the first rock star to actually use theatrics as part of a total presentation. With his band on stage right, and two male singers-cum-dancers swirling around him, Bowie controlled everything, right in the moment when he was wheeled out inside a mirrored capsule that opened to show him off like some precious jewel. At this point, with dozens of fans clustered at the front of the stage, their arms out-stretched, Bowie seemed like something from another planet. And this, of course, was exactly what he had planned. PETER GODDARD   Windsor Star - 24 June 1974: Bowie's top showman at Cobo concert, but.. English glitter-rock star David Bowie's Sunday night show at Cobo Hall was his most theatrically ambitious Detroit concert so far but the least satisfying musically. Backed by a raucous and unimaginative new band, Bowie churned out many songs from his most popular albums and a couple from his new one, Diamond Dogs, but his mind appeared to be more on showmanship than singing and his vocal performance lacked the depth and clarity he's displayed in the past. Some of the visual tricks were great fun, though, especially a new production number for Space Oddity in which Bowie was lowered from high above the stage on the extended arm of a crane so that he dangled over the audience with flashing lights successfully creating the illusion of outer space. Earlier, singing Changes, he started again high above the stage on what appeared to be a balcony but turned out to be an elevator which lowered him amid more flashing lights to band level. And toward the end of the long show a many-sided box of mirrors edged on stage with Bowie first sitting on top singing and then, in the next number, the mirrored walls opened to reveal a luminous blue electric-candle-lit womb with Bowie nestled inside. The capacity crowd loved all of this and didn't seem to mind Bowie's attention straying from his music. He appeared particularly lost without guitarist Mick Ronson, whose shimmering guitar is something to behold, who is not with him on this tour.   Bowie was further hampered by two back-up vocalists who displayed no noticeable talent for singing and even less for the art of mime which they earnestly tried to practice behind the singer. Bowie would appear to be to blame for that. He had several pieces involving the two including a silly bit with what I took to be dogleashes for Diamond Dogs and an even sillier routine with Bowie wearing pink boxing gloves and being attended by a white-suited second for Panic In Detroit. For a change, Bowie didn't pull any spectacular costume switches, perhaps deciding to leave that to the audience. And there was the usual Bowie crowd - all satin pants, chopped-up hair and fey gestures. Ice cream vendors did a steady trade during the show catering to throats parched not only from screaming. I believe Bowie's best Detroit performance was his first, some 18-months ago, at the Fisher Theater, when his visual trickery and marvelous musical ability was in perfect harmony. The second appearance at the Masonic Temple was more reminiscent of a Judy Garland show than a rock show, with Bowie in hot-pants campily dangling his legs off he stage but the music was good. The man always gives you your money's worth in terms of entertainment but I think perhaps he needs his musical batteries recharged. RAY BENNETT   The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, US) - 1 July 1974: Bowie Show Borders on the Unbelievable Strangely, uniquely and loudly, David Bowie was back for a third time to woo Memphis last night, and with the vigor of a bellowing bull, Memphis was back to woo him. Bowie promised a new show, and the show he gave to about 9,000 people at the Mid-South Coliseum was not only new, but bordered on the brink of being unbelievable. That is not saying the show was good, just unbelievable. His singing has not improved, and he still likes to drown sanity with sound. It's when he sings to a telephone in a suspended chair 20 feet above an inviting crowd or when he strokes the thumb of a six-foot hand bedecked with blinking lights that the entertained know it is no run-of-the-mill rock show. When Bowie hits the stage with his affectionate group of men there is an air of accepting the unacceptable. What other entertainer has been cheered as he sparks with his male co-stars? Even the dark-tanned girl with the purple hair who sat waving her feather fan in the back row seemed in place.   Bowie has taken what made the bearded lady famous and New Orleans' Bourbon Street entertaining and is making a fortune out of it. He has taken the unexpected, the heard-about but rarely seen and a pinch of actual professionalism to net his profits. A sellout last night, the show grossed about $60,094. Part of the new come-on, however, is Bowie himself. Last night, with the atmosphere two bumps and grind short of a nightmare, Bowie wasn't the floral painted wild man he has been in other shows. This time he let the mechanics handle the wildness and he handled the noise. Together they give one something to think about. MARK HANNA   The Boston Globe - 18 July 1974: Bowie's blitz The six-inch platform shoes made it difficult for the woman to maneuver though the crowd. She pressed on, however, inching closer to the Music Hall ticket-taker. On her face was painted a red lightning bolt, bordered with glittering silver dust. “Dahr-ling,” she said, “please give me the half that says BOWIE on it.” The attraction, of course, was British trendsetter David Bowie and the 4200 people who turned out for his Boston appearance Tuesday night arrived in appropriate trappings: silver lame, black leather, Panama hats and numerous Art Deco variations. Blue denim was the exception. Bowie’s “retirement” last summer provided him with an opportunity to work without the Spiders from Mars, the futuristic group that included lead guitarist Mick Ronson, the glamorous blond, who has been replaced by Earl Slick, late of New York Rock Ensemble, and a battery of musicians who, unlike the Spiders, linger far in the background. Bowie has been known to make as many as two dozen costume changes in a single show. He has abandoned this practice and instead relies more on dazzling lighting effects and mime. A master of motion, he darts from one side of the stage to the other, gesticulating with deceptive grace, his carrot-orange hair accentuating the bizarre scene. Opening with “1984,” his own demented vision of urban decay, Bowie wastes no time in generating the familiar churning musical momentum. Behind him is a disturbing, surrealistic mock-up of high-rise society: skyscrapers oozing blood, a subway platform that silently rises high above the stage.   “Ground Control to Major Tom…” intones Bowie from somewhere off stage. The opening line from “Space Oddity” has the crowd on its toes, stretching for a glimpse of the ill-fated astronaut that Bowie introduced in his first big hit five years ago. Suddenly, the wound atop the building at stage right opens and for several seconds it appears Bowie is floating in space. A crane lowers him slowly as he recites the chilling tale of extraterrestrial death. The frantic pacing continues with “Diamond Dogs,” the title cut from his latest album, “Rock’n’Roll with Me” leads directly into “Suffragette City,” “All The Young Dudes,” “Jean Genie” and the eerie “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family.” He dons bright red boxing gloves for a version of “Panic in Detroit” that substitutes some deliberately disorganized choreography for the searing instrumental urgency of the recorded version. Bowie plays sax, guitar, Moog and mellotron on his new album but didn’t pick up a single instrument during his hour-and-40 minute set. Listening to his new back-up musicians is a difficult adjustment after a half dozen albums with the now-departed Spiders. Ronson’s absence is particularly noticeable and seemed the primary topic of conversation among the departing audience. Bowie’s penchant for visual gimmicks has taken some of the edge off his music but he has succeeded where Alice Cooper and Jethro Tull have failed. The nagging question for him now is where to go from here. WILLIAM HOWARD     The New York Times 21 July 1974: Bowie Puts on Lavish Show at Garden Glitter and Theatrics Reflect New Album David Bowie (or just Bowie, as he prefers to be known now) has been attacked with an uncommon, even hysterical fervor in certain sections of the rock press for his latest album, “Diamond Dogs.” Because I hardly found the disk all that offensive, and because one purpose of rock ‘n’ roll is to outrage, there was every reason to approach his live show Friday night at Madison Square Garden with whetted expectations. And those expectations weren’t entirely unfulfilled. The most disappointing thing, however, was not that Mr. Bowie was perverting rock ‘n’ roll or falling short of his own earlier standards, but that he hadn’t yet begun to realize his own potential as a man of the theater. Mr. Bowie’s first records, back in the mid-nineteen sixties, showed a hesitant rocker indeed. His real roots seemed to lie in the British music hall and the Continental cabaret song, with a strong twist of Marcel Marceau mime thrown into the balance. By the late sixties, however, Mr. Bowie had emerged as a real rock ‘n’ roll star, albeit a rather extraterrestrial one. Ever since his hit, “Space Oddity,” he has stuck close to the themes of science-fantasy as a metaphor for teen-age rock alienation and the drug experience. It is an evocative set of themes, if you respond to them all, and Mr. Bowie’s songs – both words and music – have a real potency to them, even the maligned surrealistic- nihilistic “Diamond Dogs” LP. But Mr. Bowe has always been much more than a freaky android rock star. He is best known, of course, as a self-professed bisexual glitter-theater wizard. Glitter and rock theatrics are by no means identical, of course. But in recent years they have become inextricably entwined. Glitter, on the one hand, is the principal fashion and (fantasy?) life-style of a large minority of young people mostly in such centers as London, New York and Los Angeles. You don’t have to be homosexual or bisexual to be a glitterer, although it may help. Sparkling platform shoes, eccentric make-up, lots of feathers are today’s answer to the rebellious black leather jackets of yesteryear. Theatrics is simpler to understand, and marginally less controversial. More and more rock hands have lost interest in the more bovine kind of concert, wherein bands stand in stoned stolidity and just play. Glitter is either a portent of the future sexual norm, an overhyped fad or a moral scourge, depending on where you sit. Theatrics is either the wave of the rock future or a pretentious distortion of rock’s musical basics and an admission of musical failure, depending on how you hear. In combing the two, so assertively, Mr. Bowie has assured himself a prominent place in our attentions. His place isn’t prominent enough to be a super super-star, however, at least not quite yet. “Diamond Dogs” was No. 5 with a bullet on the Billboard chart last Monday, but it is hardly an automatic, long-lasting No. 1. And Madison Square Garden wasn’t quite sold out Friday (the second show, last night, had been announced first and was reportedly a sell-out) – even after a barrage of advertisements. Those who came got a pretty lavish show. Mr. Bowie has a good band behind him, including two agile dancer-chorus members, and he sounded in remarkably good voice, considering the rigors of a tour. His repertory was built around the new album, but dipped freely back into his past repository of songs. Mr. Bowie himself looked very good and moved very well indeed. He is modishly emaciated, and his dyed orange-red, shagged hair frames a face quite perfect as either a man’s or woman’s. He has a dancer’s body and a fashion model’s way with clothes. The set ad lighting, too, were craftily planned, full of elevator platforms, scaffoldings and extending booms, and holding a variety of movable props. The 100 minute production was tightly executed and reasonably well-paced, and if spontaneity was in short supply, professionalism and energetic precision almost made up for it. But there was one problem, and it was a big one. For all his theatricality, Mr. Bowie failed quite completely to build his show toward a big finale. For all the momentary appeal of the effects and the short-range success of the pacing, there was little coherence to the evening. A routine would end, a special effect would unfurl, and then tension would snag and snap. When Mr. Bowie can offer us an evening-long rock-theatrical entity to match his technical expertise and his conceptual ambitions, we may really have something. Until then, for all the striking incident and over-all aura, he is just fussing around, however gaudily. JOHN ROCKWELL