OCTOBER 5th 1991 - FEBRUARY 17th 1992
David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Saxophone
Reeves Gabrels: Guitar, Vocals
Tony Sales: Bass, Vocals
Hunt Sales: Drums, Vocals
Eric Schermerhorn: Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Bus Stop | Sacrifice Yourself | Goodbye Mr. Ed | Amazing | I Can't Read | You Can't Talk | Sorry | One Shot | Go Now | Stateside | Betty Wrong | I've Been Waiting For You | Under The God | You Belong In Rock N'Roll | Amlapura | Baby Universal | Debaser | If There Is Something | Heaven's In Here | Shakin' All Over | Shopping For Girls | A Big Hurt | Crack City | Pretty Thing | Tin Machine | Baby Can Dance | Waiting For The Man
Bowie's first live appearance of 1991 was during the encores at a Morrissey concert in Los Angeles on February 6th, when the two performed a duet of Marc Bolan's "Cosmic Dancer". They had first been introduced backstage at David's Manchester gig the previous August, marking the first in a series of encounters over the next five years.
Later in 1991, the release of Tin Machine II heralded an outing far larger than the band's low-key 1989 tour. This time the itinerary took in 12 countries and 69 performances after a protracted period of warm-up gigs and press shows. Rehearsals began in July in St-Malo, France, and continued the following month at the Factory Studios in Dublin. After brief jaunts to London to appear on BBC1's Paramount City and Wogan, and to record a live BBC radio session on August 13th, the band returned to Dublin to play secret warm-up gigs at The Baggot Inn and The Waterfront Rock Café. "We're still only about halfway through rehearsals but it's coming together," Bowie told The Irish Times, "Hence the reason for doing these gigs. It's a chance to try out new material and count the mistakes." The Sunday Tribune reported that the band "crashed out heavy metal guitar solos and riotous drum rolls over Bowie's thin, nasal vocals." According to The Irish Times, "There were times at The Baggot and The Waterfront when the music's sense of primal release harkened back to the days when Mick Ronson was bending the frets as Bowie's chief Spider From Mars."
Tin Machine then departed for America to play a gimmicky press show on August 25th at Rockit Cargo LAX, an end-of-runway unit at Los Angeles Airport. The gig was later broadcast by ABC Television, and footage of the event, complete with aeroplanes whizzing overhead, was used in the "Baby Universal" video. There followed a launch party for Tin Machine II on August 27th, at which Bowie fulfilled a lifetime's ambition when he met his earliest rock hero, Little Richard. "What I'd never realised," David later recounted, "is that he had an eye just like mine." After playing three more trade-only shows in America, Tin Machine flew to Milan for the tour's first night proper on October 5th.
Dubbed "It's My Life" after the publicity material's prominent use of the tattoo across Hunt Sale's shoulders, the tour was essentially a continuation of the band's previous no-frills staging. The lighting was a little more stagey, featuring a psychedelic lava-lamp swirl for "You Belong In Rock N'Roll" and some ghostly footlighting for "I Can't Read", but the biggest visual difference was Bowie himself. The bearded, middle-aged rocker of the 1989 tour was replaced by a clean-shaven and heavily tanned frontman who, for the first time since 1976, would often respond to the sweltering club temperatures by stripping off his shirt halfway through the set and continuing topless. Even when fully dressed, the band's attire was considerably less formal than the sombre charcoal suits of the previous tour: they now sported a summery selection of of Hawaiian shirts and brightly-coloured jackets designed by Thierry Mugler, David's favourite designer of the time. Less endearingly, it was not uncommon for both Bowie and Hunt Sales to arrive on stage sporting T-shirts proclaiming "Fuck You, I'm In Tin Machine". Can't imagine whose idea that was.
In addition to most of Tin Machine and all of Tin Machine II, the set-list included Pixies' "Debaser", Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You", for which Reeves Gabrels took lead vocal, and The Moody Blues' "Go Now", fronted by Tony Sales. Hunt, meanwhile, seized the limelight for "Stateside" and "Sorry". In addition to his guitar work, Bowie was now playing a great deal of saxophone, while Kevin Armstrong's place on rhythm guitar was taken by newcomer Eric Schermerhorn, later to play on Iggy Pop's American Caesar.
Aside from the predictable complaints from those who wanted to hear Bowie's golden oldies, the critical response was far from bad. According to the Manchester Evening News, "Bowie booted into touch the critics who have tried to squeeze the life out of Tin Machine's so far brief career." Melody Maker described David as "lean, newly tanned and unusually relaxed," adding that "this year's Bowie is a very different proposition from the neurotically nervy character who shuffled a trifle uneasily through his farewell-then-greatest-hits tour."
The most significant event of the tour came in Paris at the end of October when David proposed to his new love. The Somalian-born model and actress Iman Abdulmajid was best known during the 1980s as the face of the Tia Maria commercials, and was now setting up her own cosmetics company and carving out an acting career in films such as No Way Out and Star Trek VI. Something of a Bowie fan, Iman had seen several of David's concerts before the two were introduced at a dinner party in October 1990 by a mutual friend, hairstylist Teddy Antolin. "I make no bones about it," David later said, "I was naming the children the night we met. I knew that she was for me, it was absolutely immediate." In the ensuing year Iman had made a cameo appearance in The Linguini Incident and joined David on a six-week Italian holiday, and now the couple were travelling together on the It's My Life tour. Chartering a boat on the Seine as the setting for his proposal, David arranged for a musician to serenade Iman with Doris Day's "April In Paris", and as the boat passed under the Pont Neuf he dropped to his knees, sang "October In Paris" and proposed marriage. "I knew I had to sing to express how I felt in the best way I can," he said. "Luckily, it worked...it was not something we had discussed at any length and she was not expecting it. She was shocked, but she didn't hesitate for a second." News of the engagement broke in early November.
Meanwhile the tour pressed on. The Hamburg gig on October 24th was filmed for the video Oy Vey, Baby: Tin Machine Live At the Docks. A performance of "Baby Can Dance" from the same gig, not included on the video, later appeared on the compilation album Best Of Grunge Rock. By the time the tour reached Britain a new tradition had been established whereby fans would throw packs of Marlboro cigarettes, Bowie's preferred brand, on stage. On November 11th at the Brixton Academy (only a couple of minutes' walk from David's birthplace on Stansfield Road), a flying Marlboro packet struck him in the eye, necessitating a brief cessation and Bowie's first appearance in an eyepatch since the days of "Rebel Rebel".
Brixton Academy was the final European venue for the tour, which recommenced four days later at Bowie's beloved Philadelphia Tower Theater. While in America there were performances on Saturday Night Live and The Arsenio Hall Show, and all proceeds from the Chicago gig on December 7th were donated to the city's Children's Memorial Hospital. Marking the final Vancouver concert with a one-off revival of "Waiting For The Man", Tin Machine went their separate ways over Christmas, reconvening for a final 13-date Japanese tour that began in Kyoto on January 29th and ended - as did Tin Machine's career - in Tokyo on February 17th.
Over a year later Bowie was still talking about Tin Machine as a going concern, claiming that the band intended to reconvene for a new album at the end of 1993. In reality, when the tour ended it was all over bar the live album. A string of concerts in Chicago, Boston, New York, Sapporo and Tokyo had been recorded for Oy Vey, Baby which, like the Hamburg video, accurately commemorated the It's My Life tour as a loud, confrontational exorcism of Bowie's fast-evaporating creative crisis.
Subsequent reports have revealed that Hunt Sales's recreational habits were a major catalyst in the band's demise. In the wake of David Buckley's Strange Fascination Bowie confirmed the rumours: "I guess it's now out because somebody's written about it in a book," he said in 2000, "but one of our members had a serious drugs problem...and that really destroyed the band more than anything else. It got to a situation where it was just intolerable. You didn't know if the guy was gonna be dead in the morning...we just couldn't cope." He added that the tour was "a nightmare" as a result.
In any case, it seems more than likely that larger issues were at play. Tin Machine had, in Reeves Gabrels's words, fallen "on the grenade of Let's Dance", muffling Bowie's 1980s explosion and clearing the creative decks for a man now obviously itching to resume his solo career. "Once I had done Tin Machine, nobody could see me any more," David said some years later. "They didn't know who the hell I was, which was the best thing that ever happened, because I was back using all the artistic pieces that I needed to survive and I was imbuing myself with the passion that I had in the late seventies." Bowie's artistic renaissance didn't happen overnight, but by 1992 the light at the end of the tunnel was shining brightly.
by Nicholas Pegg
New Edition: Expanded and Updated
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