Today we are remembering the wonderous David Bowie by revisiting his spellbinding Diamond Dogs tour of 1974. The string of live dates, which are now remembered as a game-changing event in the history of live music, would change production levels forever. Bowie’s performance of ‘Space Oddity’ from this tour is the perfect example of his glass ceiling breaking brilliance.
The set for the theatrically groundbreaking Diamond Dogs tour was designed by Mark Ravitz, a creative who would go on to later design sets for artists such as stadium rockers KISS as well as for Whitney Houston and Bowie’s ahead of it’s time 1987 Glass Spider Tour.
Ravitz’s tour was built to resemble a city which was called ‘Hunger City’ and the mammoth production weighed a staggering six tons as well as incorporating over 20,000 moving parts including a variety of props which included street lamps, chairs and multiple catwalks. It was touch and go as to whether the set would be ready in time for the first show but thankfully with just six days to spare it was ready.
However, because of a lack of time to rehearse with the set before the tour began which was coupled with the set being hastily assembled with time running out, the issues then led to an array of technical problems during the tour with the movable catwalk once collapsing during with Bowie stood on it.
The production was partially based on work by the German artist George Grosz. In 1990, while preparing for his Sound+Vision Tour, Bowie recalled the difficulties faced by the ambitiousness nature of the set, saying it “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.'”
That performance of ‘Space Oddity’ that Bowie mentions arrived as the standout moment from the tour was the definition of pioneering as he reshaped what a ‘live concert’ should be. Bowie performed the gorgeous number placed above the audience from a chair that was mounted on the moving hydraulic arm of a cherry picker.
The cherry picker emerged from a pair of doors at the top of one of the ‘Hunger City’ towers and went out over the first six rows of the audience. As Bowie sings the first line: “Ground Control to Major Tom” fans had to scour around the vast arena to see where the dulcet tones of Bowie were coming from before spotting the machine. As the song would end, the chair would return to its position and the final note would see Bowie feign his own death as he slumped his head before the stage faded to black.
This footage below is from the Universal Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, on September the 5th, 1974. It comes from Alan Yentob’s 1974 BBC documentary on Bowie titled Cracked Actor, however, the audio is taken from the Tower, Philadelphia in July 1974, which was remastered in 2005. It truly is remarkable to think as far back as 1974, Bowie was creating live productions which would still be high-end some 46 years on.