On 3rd July 1974, David Bowie would kill off his Ziggy Stardust character in the most remarkable fashion. Typically opting to take the biggest stage available, while performing at the famous Hammersmith Odeon. many were left wondering if he would ever return or if he was cutting short his career whilst still at the peak of his powers.
Bowie had barely been off stage in the eighteen months preceding the final tour show, a factor which resulted in him being truly was burnt out. While it was expected that the show in London would be the last Ziggy Stardust show for some time, not even his band knew that the performance would mark their final concert with him and signal the end of an era—one that felt like it was only just getting started.
The final Ziggy Stardust Tour saw Bowie play a staggering 191 shows across Britain, North America and Japan with the venues becoming bigger and bigger each time he revisited a city over the 18 months of the dates. London was the perfect place to finish the long haul effort considering Ziggy had played the city so many times across the period of performance, shows ranging from Surbiton’s Toby Jug Pub to Earls Court with a residency at the Rainbow Theatre thrown in for good measure. It was only right he ended the mammoth run of dates in his hometown.
Bowie’s career had changed dramatically during the Stardust era, a time which transformed him from relative success into a household name who now had two number one albums to his name—which was two more than he had when the tour began. He was a global phenomenon who was unlike anything else that had come before him and, in truth, we have not seen anything similar to the magnificence of Bowie since.
During the show, Bowie shocked the 3,500 strong audience with this iconic speech: “Everybody, this has been one of the greatest tours of our life,” said David Bowie, standing on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon and clad in a sheer mesh top and glittery trousers, panting like a man on the brink.
“I’d like to thank the band, I’d like to thank our road crew and I’d like to thank our lighting people,” he then added: “Of all the shows on this tour, this particular show will remain with us the longest,” he said, to an even louder cheer. “Because not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”
Stardust was retired in perhaps the most epic style in the history of music, along with the Spiders From Mars they ripped through an astonishing 18-song set mainly from Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust material rather than his late ’60s work. At one point, Jeff Beck even joined the band for an incredible medley of ‘The Jean Genie’ and a cover of ‘Love Me Do’.
The reaction of the crowd to Ziggy’s retirement announcement is hard to separate the fact from fiction, with rumours of crowd removing all their items of clothing resulting in a mass orgy in the stalls. Bowie’s pianist Mike Garson, later gave his thoughts on whether these rumours had any truth to them: “I heard all those stories about what was going on in the audience and I tend to believe them. I remember seeing crazy stuff.”
The show is one of the most historic concerts of all time and it’s testament to Bowie that he felt like he had to creatively move on to his next venture even though if he had carried on as Ziggy Stardust he could do no wrong but this was Bowie. He never did anything conventionally and if he was a traditionalist we would never have welcomed Ziggy in the first place.