THE 1989 TIN MACHINE TOUR

JUNE 14th - JULY 3rd 1989 (plus NOVEMBER 4th 1989)

 

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar

  • Reeves Gabrels: Guitar

  • Tony Sales: Bass

  • Hunt Sales: Drums, Vocals

  • Kevin Armstrong: Guitar

Repertoire:

Amazing | Heaven's In Here | Sacrifice Yourself | Working Class Hero | Prisoner Of Love | Sorry | Now | Bus Stop | Run | Tin Machine | Maggie's Farm | I Can't Read | Shakin' All Over | Baby Can Dance | Pretty Thing | Crack City | Under The God | You've Been Around

 

Tin Machine's first live performance was a secret warm-up gig in the spring of 1989 at a club in Nassau, while the album sessions were still in progress. "We weren't announced," said Reeves Gabrels. "We just walked up on stage and you could hear all these voices whispering, That's David Bowie! No, it can't be David Bowie, he's got a beard!" Following this low-key baptism and an appearance performing "Heaven's In Here" at the International Music Awards in New York on May 31st (after which Tina Turner's mother told a reporter that "I liked it better when David was singing songs!"), rehearsals continued in Manhattan for a small-scale inaugural tour. There were to be only twelve shows in all - three in America, four on mainland Europe and five in Britain - and all in venues with a capacity of no more than 2000. It was an intense reaction against the expansiveness of the Glass Spider circus. "Non-theatrical, definitely," Bowie declared. "Just a six-piece horn section and a trapeze artist!"

Joined on stage by their often overlooked fifth member Kevin Armstrong, the 1989 incarnation of Tin Machine cut a straightforward, monochrome dash in black trousers, white shirts and - at the beginning of the evening at least - jackets and ties. Otherwise the visuals were restricted to a few stark lighting effects. It was a studiously stripped-down garage aesthetic, but it was inevitably rendered theatrical by the very fact that the bearded, perspiring, chain-smoking vocalist within a fingertip's reach of the audience was a global superstar who had seldom played venues this small since 1973 - indeed one of them, St George's Hall in Bradford, was a veteran of the Ziggy Stardust tour.

The set-list, too, was entirely uncompromising. Bowie had made it clear that his current enthusiasms began and ended with Tin Machine, but nobody had seriously imagined he wouldn't throw in the occasional oldie - a hard-boiled "Scary Monsters" perhaps, or a guitar-heavy "Suffragette City". But it was not to be. Tin Machine stuck to their own songbook: the whole of the first album save "Video Crime", bolstered by a trio of new compositions and a couple of hoary 1960s covers. The absence of Bowie's back catalogue was a source of disappointment to some, but without a doubt it was the decisive factor in cementing Tin Machine's genuine band identity. In a move that was to develop further on the second tour, Bowie even surrendered centre stage to Hunt Sales for one number, a prototype of the Tin Machine II track "Sorry". This and other try-outs were indicative of the wholesale rejection of the scripted shows that had peaked with Glass Spider. "Thirty per cent of every night was improvisation," Gabrels told David Buckley, "and the Sales brothers were rooted in that."

David Bowie - Tin Machine 1989
David Bowie On Stage with Tin Machine 1989

In Amsterdam on June 24th, video screens were erected outside the 1500-seater venue to mollify the 25,000-strong crowd that had gathered in the hope of getting tickets. At this gig the little-seen "Maggie's Farm" video was shot, while the accompanying single and sundry live B-sides were recorded the following night at La Cigale in Paris. Excerpts from the same show were broadcast on Westwood One FM radio.

As might have been predicted from the album, the amplified cacophony that issued from the speakers was not for the faint-hearted. The show was sweaty, unpolished, bowel-shatteringly loud, and quite unlike anything Bowie had done since his days fronting The Lower Third. For the devotee it was exhilarating, for others something of a challenge, but it had its admirers among the press. "Mr Bowie couldn't completely give up theatricality any more than Johnny Cash could give up wearing black," wrote Jon Pareles in the New York Times. "The lighting, while not too fancy, provided more variation than the average club setup - white-and-shadow effects designed to emphasise how stark the setting was. And Mr Bowie has retained his easy grace onstage." Such praise was thin on the ground, however. Most critics would have preferred to hear "Let's Dance" and slammed the shows accordingly. Still smarting from the poor reception accorded to Glass Spider, Bowie's resolve hardened and he all but quoted the self-pitying lyrics of "I Can't Read" to one reporter: "I can't get anything right. I can't go big. I can't go small. Whichever way I go is wrong."

The tour ended on July 3rd, and a few days later Bowie opened the £1m Brixton Community Centre, partially funded by his charity concert at Hammersmith Odeon in 1983. He then took a holiday in Indonesia while Reeves Gabrels played guitar for The Mission's forthcoming album Carved In Sand. Later in the year Tin Machine reconvened in Australia to begin work on their second album, playing a one-off gig at Moby Dick's in Sydney on November 4th. Recording continued on and off until January 1990, when the project was temporarily suspended as Bowie unexpectedly announced his return to the stadium arena for his biggest solo tour yet.

The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg

The Complete David Bowie

by Nicholas Pegg

New Edition: Expanded and Updated

"This is the best Bowie reference book one could ever hope for"

Tony Visconti