David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs tour is the stuff of legend. It marked a period of transition for the legendary musician, who, at that time was moving away from the glam-rock sound that had defined his early career and towards the soul-leanings of 1975’s Young Americans. Ziggy Stardust had effectively been hung out to dry on the basis that “there were other things I needed to do”.
After churning out his Pin Ups covers album, he made good on that promise with 1974’s Diamond Dogs, an album that heralded a new chapter in the life of David Bowie, and a new phase in his creative output. The tour which followed the chart-topping album took him across the Atlantic, to North America, where he embarked on an exhaustive series of dates that, as this footage reveals, included some of the most extravagant shows he ever performed.
Indeed, at the time, it was one of Bowie’s most ambitious ventures, requiring two solid months of rehearsals. Bowie worked closely with co-designer Mark Ravitz — who would go on to design the sets for Kiss and Whitney Houston — to create the stage show to end all stage shows. As you can see in this footage of Bowie performing his 1969 track’s ‘Space Oddity’ the stage set formed a central part of his shows on that tour.
Based around a concept Bowie called “Hunger City,” the design was inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi movie, Metropolis as well as Robert Wiene’s silent horror The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari. Ravitz intelligently designed set provided the backdrop for this all-consuming theatrical performance, in which Bowie sits, cross-legged on an armchair, and sings the lyrics “Ground Control to Major Tom” into a telephone. Everything, from the lighting design to the slick costumes, and Bowie’s performance itself are proof that, as one fan notes ahead of the show, the singer was indeed “from his own universe.” “Which universe is that?” the interviewer asks. “Bowie universe,” comes the reply.
The performance captured in this edited footage is one of the less restrained numbers from that concert, seeing Bowie utilise a range of props. Although he remains fairly static during the opening to ‘Space Oddity’, as the song moves towards its crescendo, Bowie can be seen floating above the crowd in, of all things, a cherry picker.
As a whole, the completed set cost around $250,000, weighed about six tonnes and comprised of over 20,000 moving parts, including props such as street lamps, chairs and even catwalks. As Bowie recalled in an interview in 1990, the shows on that tour were a risky affair and not without accident. For the star, the tour. “was good fun and dangerous, with the equipment breaking down and the bridges falling apart on stage. I kept getting stuck out over the audience’s heads, on the hydraulic cherry picker, after the finish of ‘Space Oddity.'”
Check out the stunning footage below.