SEPTEMBER 22nd - DECEMBER 2nd 1972
David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar
Mick Ronson: Guitar
Trevor Bolder: Bass
Mick Woodmansey: Drums
Mike Garson: Piano
Hang On To Yourself | Ziggy Stardust | The Supermen | Queen Bitch | Changes | Life On Mars? | Five Years | Space Oddity | Andy Warhol | My Death | The Width Of A Circle | John, I'm Only Dancing | Moonage Daydream | Starman | Waiting For The Man | White Light/White Heat | Suffragette City | Rock'n'Roll Suicide | Lady Stardust | Round And Round | The Jean Genie | Drive-In Saturday | All The Young Dudes (November 29th ONLY) | Honky Tonk Women (November 29th ONLY)
With Bowie yet to score a chart hit in America, the US tour of autumn 1972 was a considerable financial gamble. RCA's American division remained uncertain of its level of commitment to its newest star, and Tony Defries instructed the entire Bowie entourage "to look and act like a million dollars", famously telling them in a pre-tour pep talk that "so far as RCA in America is concerned, the man with the red hair at the end of the table is the biggest thing to have come out of England since The Beatles - and possibly before The Beatles." By contrast with the steady snowballing effect of the seven-month UK tour, the tactics of the American campaign were to arrive with all guns blazing.
Having broken Bowie in Britain, Defries now proposed to relocate his centre of operations to America. In August 1972 he established a MainMan office on New York's East 58th Street, and began populating it with staff chosen more for their outrageousness than their business acumen. Tony Zanette, the Pork actor who had assisted Defries in his American dealings since returning to New York a year earlier, was now installed as MainMan's president, with fellow Pork veterans Leee Black Childers and Cherry Vanilla appointed vice-president and publicity officer respectively. "The most sensible thing to do was to hire actors to act the parts," claims Angela Bowie in her memoir, "so they wouldn't do anything in the stupid, old-fashioned dumb way it was always done...an actor playing a role is a lot better than some idiot doing it the way they've been doing it for thirty years because that's the way it's always been done. Fuck the way it's always been done, let's do it the way we want it to be done."
The original intention was to tour the full theatrical production stages at the Rainbow Theatre in August, but the idea was scrapped on grounds of cost. Nonetheless, outwardly the tour projected all the trappings of excess that Defries could coax from the cautious advances of the concert promoters. Expense accounts, hotel tabs, champagne and limousine bills were all forwarded to RCA. David and Angela arrived on board the QEII on September 17th, and were given a suite in Central Park's Plaza Hotel. The following day the band and entourage arrived at Kennedy Airport.
Bowie and Defries had agreed to open the US tour in Cleveland, Ohio, where local radio had been strong in its support of Bowie's last two albums and where a young devotee called Brian Kinchy had set up David's first US fan club, helping distribute cuttings and press releases around the country. In the late summer of 1972 Bowie had telephoned Kinchy from London to thank him for his support and, as Kinchy told the Gillmans, "When he said we may be starting in Cleveland I thought, Jesus!"
Only five days before the opening Cleveland gig, a fifth member of the band was recruited. Three temporary pianists had come and gone on the British tour, and the situation was once again vacant. At the suggestion of RCA's London executive Ken Glancey, Bowie and Ronson contacted Brooklyn jazz pianist Mike Garson, who had also been recommended by Annette Peacock, on whose album I'm The One he had recently played. At RCA's New York studios Ronson demonstrated the chords of "Changes" and allowed Garson to repeat them. "I must have played for eight seconds," Garson later recalled, "and Mick said, 'You've got the gig'." When asked by Defries to name his fee, Garson suggested what he thought was a realistic amount: "I reckoned that these guys must be on about $2000 a week so I'll only ask for $800," he told the Gillmans. "So I said $800 a week and he looked a little dazed but I couldn't tell what he was thinking. But he said, 'Fine', and I thought, what an idiot I am, I should have asked for $1500." Not until much later would Garson discover that Defries was paying the other Spiders no more than £30 a week.
As the band entered last-minute rehearsals, "Song For Bob Dylan" and "Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud" were dropped from the set-list. After the first handful of concerts "Starman" and "Round And Round" would also disappear; but there would soon be new additions, written on the road as the tour bus crossed America.
Bolstered by extensive publicity and wall-to-wall playing of the Ziggy Stardust album on local WMMS radio, the opening Cleveland Music Hall gig on September 22nd, supported by Lindisfarne, was filled to its 3200-seat capacity. Fan club organiser Brian Kinchy sat next to Defries and recalled that it was "an amazing show. People were just going crazy. They were singing, they were clapping, they knew the words...I was in awe." After a ten-minute ovation the audience rushed the stage, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer dutifully reported that "a star has been born". WMMS broadcast a recording of the gig the following week. In her 2015 memoir Reckless : My Life As A Pretender, Chrissie Hynde reveals that not only was she present at the Cleveland gig, but that she and her friends ended up driving Bowie to dinner in her mother's Oldsmobile Cutlass ("'This is a nice car,' he said politely").
The press response to the next concert, two days later in Memphis, Tennessee, was not so warm. The Memphis Commercial Appeal told its readers that Bowie "substituted noise for music, freaky stage gimmicks for talent, and covers it all up with volume". Even so, the 4335-strong capacity audience from Elvis Presley's home town "loved it. They screamed. They yelled. They danced on their seats and begged for more." In 2013, four minutes of silent Super 8 footage from this gig appeared on YouTube.
Four days later came the make-or-break concert of the tour, as the band returned to New York to play Carnegie Hall. The Pork company had been promoting the concert for weeks in advance, distributing free tickets while simultaneously spreading rumours that they were unobtainable. MainMan reported 400 applications for the 100 RCA press passes on offer. "We peddled David's ass like Nathans sell hot-dogs," Cherry Vanilla later told Village Voice. As the hype escalated, the concert became the show-business event of the season. Among the luminaries in the packed house were Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Anthony Perkins, Alan Bates, Todd Rundgren and the New York Dolls. Despite a bad cold, Bowie rose to the occasion and gave one of his finest performances yet. According to Melody Maker, "A strobe was turned on, and the familiar tones of Clockwork Orange music cut the air, very loud, and quite suddenly, there was Bowie in New York City...trying every minute, and working like fury. And glory did it work. Mick Ronson was playing rock guitar like it should be played. No frills, just a quick wrist. The audience just loved him."
In the New York Daily News Lilian Roxon reported that David, "a great songwriter and lyricist as well as a great showman and entertainer", had won over a "skeptical, cynical audience." She concluded: "A star is born. I have always wanted to write that in a review and now I can." The New York Times hailed "a solidly competent stage performer who brings a strong sense of professionalism to every move he makes...He understands that theatricality has more to do with presence than with gimmickry, and that beautifully coordinated physical movements and well-planned music can reach an audience a lot quicker than aimless prancing and high-decibel electronics."
Newsday's Robert Christgau, on the other hand, complained that Bowie was "currently trying to ride a massive hype into super-stardom" and politely enquired: "Does young America want to hear songs about Andy Warhol from some English fairy?" Critics everywhere were drawing parallels with America's own war-painted sensation Alice Cooper, but Ellen Willis of The New Yorker dismissed the comparisons as "wilful incomprehension. There is nothing provocative, perverse or revolting about Bowie. He is all glitter, no grease, and his act is neither overtly nor implicitly violent." Willis also displayed a perceptiveness rare among her peers regarding the most controversial aspect of Britain's latest import: "As for his self-proclaimed bisexuality, it really isn't that big a deal. British rock musicians have always been less uptight than Americans about displaying, and even flaunting, their "feminine" side...Bowie's dyed red hair, make-up, legendary dresses, and on-stage flirtations with his guitarist just take this tradition one theatrical step further."
The Carnegie Hall concert was among those taped by RCA for a proposed live LP, for which George Underwood even completed the sleeve artwork at the end of the year, but the plan would later be abandoned; the only track from Carnegie Hall yet to emerge on an official release is "My Death", included on RarestOneBowie and on a 2015 vinyl single.
The tour moved on to Boston, where the concert was also recorded, live tracks later appearing on Sound + Vision Plus and 2003's Aladdin Sane reissue. Boston After Dark dubbed David "the most important artist to have emerged in this decade". Returning to New York, the band entered RCA's studios to record David's new composition "The Jean Genie", which received its live premier in Chicago on October 7th. Detroit, St Louis and Kansas City followed, but by comparison with the rapturous receptions in the north, many southern venues seemed unwilling to accept this newly imported outrage. At Kansas only 250 people turned up, so David gathered them to the front and sat on the edge of the stage to give an intimate cabaret-style performance. According to Tony Zanetta's book Stardust, David reacted to the disappointment of small houses by drinking heavily: "He was so upset he got very drunk, and during the [Kansas] show, he fell off the stage into the house. But he didn't miss a note." If this account is true, it marks the earliest substantial instance of David cushioning himself with intoxicants on stage, something that would become a serious problem two years later.
As the tour moved from city to city it gathered the inevitable stream of groupies and hangers-on, and by the time it arrived in Los Angeles for the Santa Monica concerts on October 20th and 21st, an entourage of 46 moved into the luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel at RCA's expense. The first date was recorded for American FM radio, and would receive an official release many years later as Santa Monica '72. On October 27th and 28th the video for "The Jean Genie" was shot in San Francisco.
Although the tour had been due to end in California, Defries capitalised on its early success by adding new engagements. In Seattle there was another tiny audience to rival Kansas City, while some other planned dates were cancelled owing to poor sales. At Dania, Florida on November 17th Bowie unveiled another new composition, "Drive-In Ssturday", and at around the same time he added another touch to Ziggy's increasingly alien visage: one night in his hotel room he shaved off his eyebrows, having persuaded Angela to do it first so that he could see what it looked like. He later claimed that the eyebrow-shaving was a drunken act of ill-temper spurred by Mott The Hoople's decision to turn down "Drive-In Saturday" as their next single.
The cool Southern reception continued at Nashville, where Cherry Vanilla's lurid advance publicity about Bowie's homosexuality and her own Communist sympathies resulted in a right-wing demonstration outside the venue. The Nashville Banner, whose reporter stressed his aversion to "queers", described the 4500-strong audience as "subdued" and considered comparisons between Bowie and Presley ill-advised: "There is no similarity whatsoever, so far as talent is concerned."
Further north, the final few gigs did better business. Due to popular demand there were two sell-out performances back in Cleveland, this time at the larger Public Auditorium. On November 29th Bowie compered a Mott The Hoople concert at the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia, joining the band to perform encores of "All The Young Dudes" and "Honky Tonk Women"; footage of this occasion appears in the 2011 documentary The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople. The following night saw the first of Bowie's four consecutive dates at the same venue, concluding the US tour. Philadelphia would become one of Bowie's foremost American strongholds, nurturing a loyal fan base and playing host to the recording of David Live, Young Americans and Stage.
By the end of 1972 Bowie could hardly be said to have cracked the States (as yet his best US chart performance was a feeble number 65 for "Starman"), but the tour was a significant first step in a process that would take another three years to complete. In the short term its shocking expense would land MainMan in trouble with RCA. Everyone from Tony Defries downwards had lived far beyond their means; Tony Zanetta later estimated that the room service bill at the Beverly Hills Hotel alone came to $20,000. Ultimately RCA would recoup the costs of the tour from Bowie's own royalty share, while Defries retained his full 50 per cent. MainMan's wholesale milking of David Bowie had begun in earnest.
by Nicholas Pegg
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