THE OUTSIDE TOUR

SEPTEMBER 14th 1995 - FEBRUARY 20th 1996

 

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Saxophone

  • Peter Schwartz: Musical Director, Keyboards

  • Reeves Gabrels: Guitar

  • Gail Ann Dorsey: Bass, Vocals

  • Zachary Alford: Drums

  • Carlos Alomar: Guitar

  • Mike Garson: Keyboards

  • George Simms: Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Repertoire:

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) | Hallo Spaceboy | Look Back In Anger | The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty) | The Hearts Filthy Lesson | Breaking Glass | I'm Deranged | A Small Plot Of Land | Joe The Lion | I Have Not Been To Oxford Town | Outside | We Prick You | Jump They Say | Andy Warhol | The Man Who Sold The World | Teenage Wildlife | My Death | Nite Flights | Under Pressure | What In The World | Strangers When We Meet | Thru' These Architects Eyes | The Motel | Boys Keep Swinging | D.J. | Moonage Daydream | Diamond Dogs | Subterraneans | Warszawa | Reptile | Hurt

By 1995 Bowie had been absent from the concert stage for three years, and early in the year he declared that he felt no inclination to tour again. Nevertheless, by September he had embarked on what would snowball into his most intensive period of touring for 20 years.

Pressed by his new label Virgin, David initially agreed to promote 1.Outside in America with "no more than six dates". In August, rehearsals began in New York with a seven-piece backing band. Joining 1.Outside personnel Reeves Gabrels, Carlos Alomar and Mike Garson were Serious Moonlight veteran George Simms and musical director Peter Schwartz, who had previously appeared in the Black Tie White Noise video. Drummer Zachary Alford, whose previous employers included Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and The B-52s (he appears in the "Love Shack" video), was recommended to Bowie by 1.Outside percussionist Sterling Campbell. "Zach is Sterling's best pal," explained David. "Sterling got a great offer from Soul Asylum to become an integral part of the band, and quite rightly he said, 'Look guys, I'd love to do the tour, but this is a real opportunity for me to join a group proper. But you might like this kid'." Alford would become a crucial contributor to Bowie's music, as would the final newcomer, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey. A solo artist with two albums to her name, Dorsey had played with Gang Of Four and The The, and was recording with Roland Orzabal's one-man version of Tears For Fears when the call came from Bowie.

David Bowie performing on The Outside Tour 1995/1996
David Bowie performing on The Outside Tour 1995/1996

By early September David had been persuaded to extend the American leg to 25 dates and make preparations for a European tour. As the itinerary grew to become Bowie's largest since Sound + Vision, he began issuing pre-emptive warnings that this was to be no greatest hits extravaganza. The set-list drew heavily from the new album, otherwise sticking to the more obscure corners of his back catalogue, in particular Low and Lodger. "Scary Monsters", "Breaking Glass" and "Jump They Say" were the only vintage A-sides in the original repertoire, while choices like "Joe The Lion", "Teenage Wildlife" and "My Death" were guaranteed to delight hardcore fans and bewilder everyone else. "The Man Who Sold The World", enjoying new-found fame in the wake of Nirvana's 1993 Unplugged performance, was drastically reworked in a trip-hop arrangement, while "Andy Warhol" was realigned as an electric bass number.

Opening for Bowie on some of the dates of the US tour was Reeves Gabrels, playing numbers from his new solo album The Sacred Squall Of Now. The main support act was Nine Inch Nails, the Californian hardcore outfit whose 1994 album The Downward Spiral (featuring Bowie sideman Adrian Belew on one track) had gone top ten in Britain and America. Vocalist Trent Reznor was among several cutting-edge American rockers who had joined Kurt Cobain in acknowledging a debt to Bowie, revealing that he had listened to Low every day during the Downward Spiral sessions. At the American shows David would make his first appearance during Nine Inch Nails' set, joining the group to perform "Subterraneans" (which remained exclusive to the Nine Inch Nails gigs), together with "Scary Monsters", "Hallo Spaceboy" and two numbers from The Downward Spiral, "Reptile" and "Hurt".

By aligning himself with Nine Inch Nails in America Bowie risked scorn, but secured exposure and credibility of the kind that his timely chumminess with Suede's Brett Anderson had created in Britain at the time of Black Tie White Noise. With artists like Reznor and the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan talking about Bowie in interviews - not to mention the rise of Marilyn Manson, scandalising middle America with his Alice Cooper-meets-Ziggy Stardust freakshow - the time was ripe for Bowie to reclaim the US market.

The UK tour opened at Wembley Arena, where Bowie's backstage visitors included Bill Wyman, Bob Geldof, Glen Matlock, Tony Blair and his 73-year-old former manager Kenneth Pitt. The support slot was filled by Morrissey, now promoting his album Southpaw Grammar. British critics were distinctly underwhelmed, The Times branding the show "an uphill slog", while the NME declared that "It is thunderous, but sadly not thunderously good," going on to admit that "a sweetly mysterious "My Death" displays grace and subtlety" but dismissing the show overall as a "grinding, grime-laced farrago."

A common complaint was that Bowie was short-changing his fans by avoiding the greatest hits, a criticism he dismissed out of hand: "If they didn't know that I wasn't going to be [playing the hits], they must have been living under a rock." Later he told Q, "I know what happens when I play the classics. I know the outcome. So why would I want to do it again? Other than for financial remuneration, which frankly I don't need...In ten years' time, when I'm playing to halls with no audience whatsoever, my contemporaries can turn around and say, 'Well that's the reason we didn't do what you did.' But we'll see." This, surely, was the point. The Outside tour wasn't a greatest hits package for corporate hospitality outings; it was a new show for audiences interested in Bowie's progress as an artist.

Six numbers from the penultimate Wembley gig were later broadcast on BBC Radio 1. From London the tour moved to Birmingham, before the band flew to Paris to play "The Man Who Sold The World" at MTV's European Music Awards. There had been plans to perform the song as a duet with P J Harvey, but according to Bowie the collaboration "didn't work out...we both had different ideas on what the arrangement should be. It ended friendly enough but I doubt that we will get back together again."

The Outside tour opened in Hartford, Connecticut on September 14th, on a stage set designed by Gary Westcott which recalled the cluttered artist's studio from the "Hearts Filthy Lesson" video. Ripped, billowing drapes hung to the rear. A paint-strewn table and chair and a handful of stiff-limbed mannequins were dotted about the stage. Dangling overhead were surreal sculptures: a body in a sack, a crouched figure trapped in an armillary sphere, a set of rotating fluorescent tubes like animated sunbeds which descended to menace Bowie during "Nite Flights" and "Andy Warhol", and a metallic mobile spelling out a cryptic legend that would change from one night to another: usually it was the "All The Madmen" refrain of "Ouvrez Le Chien", but on some of the early dates the variations included "Strange KO", "Noise Angel" and "Man Made". For some numbers Bowie would sprawl across the table and chair; for others he danced like a puppet beneath the stark white lights. In "A Small Plot Of Land" he scurried across the rear of the set, reshaping the scenery by releasing a series of banners. The overall effect, very much in keeping with the set-list itself, was evocative of the avant-garde posture Bowie had adopted during his Lodger/Elephant Man/Scary Monsters period. His costumes favoured the same late-1970s aura of artist's-garret chic: usually he would appear in a paint-streaked jumpsuit, peeled away and tied at the waist to reveal a T-shirt or vest. Occasionally he displayed a few days' growth of stubble, and for the first time in many years his make-up was extravagant, expressionistic and there to be seen.

The opening Hartford show preceded the release of 1.Outside by ten days, and like several of the early gigs it left its audience bemused. A New York concert a fortnight later was reviewed for Mojo by Cliff Jones (later lead singer of Gay Dad), who reported that Bowie was pelted with bottles and pretzels by the nonplussed crowd: "Bewilderingly random solos and strange sinewy scales battle against a pounding techno backing while inhuman piano runs tumble from the speakers. Extremely unsettling but strangely thrilling, as though someone has randomly rewired the Rock Machine...in some indefinable way, Bowie remains a curious pioneer - and pioneers, as they say, get all the arrows."

During the US tour there were live performances on The Late Show With David Letterman and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, while on September 18th Bowie and Mike Garson attended a private charity function at New York's Manhattan Center to perform superb piano-and-voice versions of "A Small Plot Of Land" and "My Death". Added to the repertoire at the New York gigs a few days later were "Look Back In Anger" and "Under Pressure", for which Gail Ann Dorsey lent her considerable vocal talents to the Freddie Mercury role. "Joe The Lion", "What In The World" and "Thru' These Architects Eyes" were all dropped before the end of the American leg, which closed in Los Angeles on October 31st; Bowie hosted a Halloween wrap party where the guests included Brad Pitt and John Lydon. Thereafter the tour moved to Britain, where six days of rehearsal at Elwood Studios near Watford yielded four new additions to the set: "The Motel" (which now became the usual opener), "Boys Keep Swinging", "D.J." and "Moonage Daydream". On November 7th, during the rehearsal week, Bowie and Brian Eno attended Q magazine's awards ceremony to receive an Inspiration Award from Jarvis Cocker, who introduced them as "Mr Hunting Knife" and "Mr Liver Salts". Three days later the band performed "Strangers When We Meet" live on Top Of The Pops.

David Bowie performing during The Outside Tour 1995/1996
David Bowie performing during The Outside Tour 1995/1996

After Paris the tour resumed in Dublin before returning to the UK. There was a minor sensation when Morrissey, whose support sets had been uncharacteristically lacklustre and occasionally ill-tempered (a sulky aside to the Wembley audience - "Don't worry, David will be on soon" - only succeeded in raising a mass cheer), disappeared before the Aberdeen gig and never returned. The support slot was filled on later dates by a variety of local bands. Five years later, Morrissey hinted at a falling-out with David, remarking that "I left the tour because he put me under a lot of pressure and I found it too exhausting. He wouldn't even phone his mother without considering the impact on his career status. Bowie is principally a business. He surrounds himself with very strong people and that's the secret of his power - that everything he does will be seen in a certain light." Not exactly renowned for his readiness to forget a grudge, Morrissey's bitterness over the episode seemed to increase rather than dwindle over the next few years. In Channel 4's 2003 documentary The Importance Of Being Morrissey he claimed that he had left the tour because he objected to Bowie's suggestion that his support set end with a crossover duet (as the Nine Inch Nails set had done on the American leg), adding that "You have to worship at the temple of David when you become involved. He was a fascinating artist in 1970, '71, '72, but not now." In March 2004, as he prepared to follow Bowie's footsteps as curator of the Meltdown Festival, Morrissey told GQ magazine that David was "not the person he was. He is no longer David Bowie at all. Now he gives people what he thinks will make them happy, and they're yawning their heads off. And by doing that, he is not relevant. He was only relevant by accident." However, a decade later Morrissey was striking a more conciliatory tone, claiming during an online question-and-answer session in 2014 that his attacks on Bowie had been "just for fun", and that Tony Visconti, who produced Morrissey's 2006 album Ringleader Of The Tormentors, had tried to bring the pair together in the same year to record a cover of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". "I loved the idea, but David wouldn't budge," declared Morrissey. "I know I've criticised David in the past, but it's all been snot-nosed junior high ribbing on my part. I think he knows that."

On December 2nd 1995 came the first in a string of television appearances with a performance on BBC2's Later...With Jools Holland. Bowie's muted demeanour during his interview with Holland may be put down to a hastily covered-up incident that had occurred during rehearsals. Sharing the show's billing were Oasis, whose vocalist Liam Gallagher was absent due to what the BBC described as a "sore throat". In fact what had happened was that Gallagher, in one of his tiresome attempts at rock'n'roll outrage, had declared Bowie to be "a washed-up old fart" and attempted to throw a punch at him. He was escorted from Television Centre and lead vocals were taken over by his brother.

The December 13th gig at the Birmingham NEC was billed as the "Big Twix Mix Show", a bumper event also featuring the Lightning Seeds and Alanis Morisette. "Hallo Spaceboy" was performed twice during the evening for the benefit of a film crew shooting the promo for the forthcoming single; this footage was later scrapped when the decision was taken to release the Pet Shop Boys remix. Excerpts from the Birmingham show were televised by the BBC, while recordings of "Under Pressure" and "Moonage Daydream" from the gig were released as B-sides.

On December 14th the band performed a live set for Channel 4's The White Room. In the New Year the tour moved to the continent, where "Diamond Dogs" was added to the repertoire during rehearsals in Helsinki. Over the course of the 23 European dates, the band performed live sets for Swedish, Dutch and French television; on Dutch TV's Karel Mike Garson gave a one-off rendition of "Warszawa".

The European dates concluded in Paris on February 20th. The previous night had seen the most prominent of the many television appearances that propped up the tour, as the band flew to London for the Brit Awards at Earls Court. The evening was dominated by the legendary Michael Jackson/Jarvis Cocker incident, but final billing was given to Bowie, who arrived on stage in a black Thierry Mugler suit, stiletto heels and a giant "SEX" earring to collect an Outstanding Contribution award from opposition leader Tony Blair. Amusingly the future people's Prime Minister arrived at the podium to the strains of "Fashion" ("turn to the left, turn to the right"), and in a fulsome introduction hailed Bowie as "an innovator - he's pushed the frontiers back, he's a man not afraid to go up the hill backwards." Bowie, whose chief motive was to perform his latest single ("I'm not big on the award bit at all," he said later, "I think it's rubbish"), was mercifully less grandiloquent: "Thank you Tony, thank you everyone else. I think I'll go and sing at you." Having performed "Hallo Spaceboy" with the Pet Shop Boys and a medley of "Moonage Daydream" and "Under Pressure" with the tour band, he was back in Paris the same night.

Setting aside those critics who felt cheated by the absence of familiarity (which would doubtless have bred only their contempt), the Outside shows saw a vigorous, vital Bowie throwing himself into music which he genuinely believed in. Brian Eno's diary records several telephone calls during the tour in which David was "full of excitement about his concerts" and had "the enthusiasm of a teenager." The band was arguably Bowie's strongest since 1976, with Zachary Alford and Gail Ann Dorsey in particular investing the 1.Outside material with renewed guts and power. Obscure oldies like "Teenage Wildlife", "D.J." and the re-orchestrated "My Death" were real highlights, evincing a perfect thematic sympathy with the new material. Hang the critics: the Outside tour was Bowie's finest in twenty years.

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