Nobody knew it at the time, but the supporting tour for David Bowie‘s 2003 album Reality wound up being the last concert tour of the legendary musician’s career. After having recorded and toured for nearly three decades straight, Bowie took a breather, only appearing sporadically in guest spots over the next two years before permanently retiring from stage performance in 2006.
As was his style, Bowie went out with a bang. At 112 shows, ‘A Reality Tour’ wound up being the longest jaunt of Bowie’s career, including stops in Singapore, Australia, and a number of Central European countries. Bowie loaded the setlist with hits and hidden gems that stretched all the way through his entire career, including reviving some of his best-loved songs that he collaborated on with other artists, including his Queen team-up ‘Under Pressure’, his Mott the Hoople track ‘All the Young Dudes’, and his Iggy Pop co-wrote number ‘China Girl’.
One of the biggest surprises was Bowie’s willingness to incorporate a wide range of material from both his recent past and legendary back catalogue. On the previous ‘Heathen Tour’, Bowie kept his setlist relatively compact, featuring very little deviation and focusing mostly on his albums Heathen and Low. Some tours, like the ‘Sound + Vision Tour’, featured no variation at all. But here, Bowie and his band organised a loose list of around 60 songs that would be dropped in and shaken up with every new concert. Bowie occasionally called audibles, with the results being a brand new concert experience every night.
One of his final shows of the tour, in Long Island, New York, is perhaps the best representation of his wide-ranging scope. Kicking off with the classic ‘Rebel Rebel’, weaves in and out of different eras, jumping from all-time greats like ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Modern Love’ to less well-known material like Hunky Dory‘s ‘Quicksand’, all while incorporating new material like ‘New Killer Star’ and ‘The Loneliest Guy’.
During this particular concert, Bowie introduces a song by saying: “This is a very new one for us. It’s only a few gigs old, so still warming up into it.” With that, the band kicks into the glammed-out guitar opening to Diamond Dogs, the title track from Bowie’s 1974 LP of the same name. Bowie wasn’t lying: he had only brought ‘Diamond Dogs’ into the setlist a week before, and the performance in Wantagh represented just the fifth performance of the song on tour. Ultimately, Bowie only played the song nine times, making it the sixth least played original on the tour behind ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’, ‘The Jean Genie’ (seven times), ‘Queen Bitch’ (five times), ‘Space Oddity’ (three times in full, although it was often teased or played in snippets throughout the tour), and ‘The Bewlay Brothers’ (two times).
Afterwards, however, Bowie busted out a stalwart addition to the tour: ‘Five Years’, the prophetic opening track to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Once the opening drums kick in, the entire crowd knows what’s coming, and the gleeful shout along to the dire and doom-laden imagery of the song’s apocalyptic message make for a fascinating group moment. So much sadness and destruction, but rendered so joyously between Bowie and his audience. Although the setlist was fluid, ‘Five Years’ was a common addition, appearing in roughly half of the tour’s shows.
Check out the footage of ‘Diamond Dogs’ and ‘Five Years’ down below.