Glass Spider Tour

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Glass Spider Tour
Tour by David Bowie
David Bowie European Glass Spider Tour Promotional Poster.jpg
The European Glass Spider Tour promotional poster
North America
New Zealand
Associated albumNever Let Me Down
Start date30 May 1987
End date28 November 1987
No. of shows27 in Europe
44 in North America
15 in Oceania
86 total
Box officeUS$86 million
David Bowie concert chronology
Tin Machine tour chronology
Glass Spider Tour
Tin Machine Tour

The Glass Spider Tour was a 1987 worldwide concert tour by English musician David Bowie, launched in support of his album Never Let Me Down and named for that album's track "Glass Spider". It began in May 1987 and was preceded by a two-week press tour that saw Bowie visit nine countries throughout Europe and North America to drum up public interest in the tour. The Glass Spider Tour was the first Bowie tour to visit Austria, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Wales. Through a sponsorship from Pepsi, the tour was intended to visit Russia and South America as well, but these plans were later cancelled. The tour was, at that point, the longest and most expensive tour Bowie had embarked upon in his career. At the time, the tour's elaborate set was called "the largest touring set ever".[1]

Bowie conceived the tour as a theatrical show, and included spoken-word introductions to some songs, vignettes, and employed visuals including projected videos, theatrical lighting and stage props. On stage, Bowie was joined by guitarist Peter Frampton and a troupe of five dancers choreographed by long-time Bowie collaborator Toni Basil. With the theme "Rock stars vs Reality", the show was divided into two acts and an encore. The set list was modified over the course of the tour as Bowie dropped some of his newer material in favour of older songs from his repertoire.

The tour was generally poorly received at the time for being perceived as overblown and pretentious. Despite the criticism, Bowie in 1991 remarked that this tour laid the groundwork for later successful theatrical tours by other artists, and the set's design and the show's integration of music and theatrics has inspired later acts by a variety of artists. Starting in the late 2000s, the tour began to collect accolades for its successes, and in 2010 the tour was named one of the top concert tour designs of all time.

The tour was financially successful and well-attended, being seen by perhaps as many as six million fans worldwide, but the poor critical reception of the album and tour led Bowie to not only abandon plans for other elaborate stage shows, but to reconsider his motivations for making music.

Performances from this tour were released on the VHS video Glass Spider (1988, re-released on DVD in 2007).


In the four years prior to the release of Never Let Me Down, Bowie had worked on a series of miscellaneous projects that included collaborations with the Pat Metheny Group for "This Is Not America" and Mick Jagger for "Dancing in the Street".[2][3] He also continued acting and composing for film soundtracks such as Absolute Beginners (1985) and Labyrinth (1986).[2][4]

In 1985, after his successful performance at Live Aid and a live performance with Tina Turner for one of her shows on her 1985 Private Dancer Tour, Bowie collaborated with his friend Iggy Pop for his solo album Blah-Blah-Blah, producing and co-writing multiple tracks.[5][6] He then worked with Turkish musician Erdal Kızılçay for the title song of the 1986 film When the Wind Blows.[5] In late 1986, Bowie began recording sessions for his album Never Let Me Down, which was released in April 1987. He had not toured for his 1984 album Tonight, and the Glass Spider Tour was his first tour in four years.[7]


Preparations for the tour began as early as 1986, when Bowie warned his band to "be ready for next year."[8] Bowie was initially mum on his plans for his tour, saying only "I'm going to do a stage thing this year, which I'm incredibly excited about, 'cause I'm gonna take a chance again." When asked if he would elaborate on his plans, he replied "No! [Laughs.] Too many other acts are goin' out. I'll just be doing what I always did, which is keeping things interesting."[9]

"I've eaten, slept, and thought about nothing but this show for six months."[10]

—David Bowie, June 1987 in London

In announcing the tour, Bowie embarked on a series of promotional press shows covering nine countries in two weeks, including Canada, the US and seven countries in Europe. The press tour shows were typically delivered in smaller venues seating around 300 people, and local fans were often allowed into the events.[8] He used the opportunity to educate the press on his album and the tour, and the multiple dates allowed him to correct misinformation. At the London Glass Spider Press Conference, he clarified that "I didn't say 'lights, costumes and sex,' what I said was 'lights, costumes and theatrical sets'" in response to a question about what the audience could expect when seeing his new live show.[11] Press tour shows included live performances of some of the songs from the album Never Let Me Down.

Bowie was joined by long-time friend Peter Frampton on the tour. Frampton said "I don't have a book to sell; I don't have an album to sell; I'm just here as a guitarist. The pressure is off. I'm enjoying myself." Frampton and Bowie had known each other since their teen years when they both attended Bromley Technical School, where Frampton's father, Owen Frampton, was Bowie's art teacher.[12]

Bowie had a clear goal for this tour: to return to the theatrics that he had performed during his short-lived 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour.[13] He wanted this tour to be "ultra-theatrical, a combination of music, theater, and rock",[14] and he felt that his previous tour, while successful, had veered away from the theatrics that he preferred:

Bowie being lowered from the spider set's ceiling, to the opening song "Glass Spider" at Rock am Ring – 7 June 1987

[In 1983 for the Serious Moonlight Tour] the promoters were coming around and saying, "Listen David, we moved you from this 10,000 seater up to this 30,000-seater" ... and it grew and grew and there were 60,000-seaters coming up. ... Let's trim back on the theatrics and really go for giving them songs that they've heard on the radio for the last 15 years or so – songs they probably didn't realize when added up are a great body of work coming from this guy. ... Whereas with [The Glass Spider] tour coming up, I feel I've established that. What I now want to do is have the songs work for the performance. ... Certainly there will be obscure songs on it, at least for the general public. There will be songs from albums that weren't huge albums, but now those particular songs actually fit a section of the show. So when you put three songs together, you can create a vignette that works. It has a beginning and a conclusion and deals with one subject.[13]

Bowie indicated that he was "testing the waters" with this tour, and was potentially considering other large, elaborate stage shows if the tour was successful:

The songs have to work within the show—not the show working for the songs, if you see what I mean. That's why it's so different. And that's why it's so exciting, because that's the way I really like working. I mean, I like devising a show. I've got a show book that is almost like the bible you have when you're working on a play. It's written and structured with various thematic devices. Unfortunately, it's in revue form, because none of the songs were written for the show. That's the ultimate, of course. If this works the way I hope it does, then the next step for me will be to write a piece specifically for arenas and stadiums, which is almost like taking a musical on the road that has one narrative form all the way through, with a cast of characters, and is written for epic theater.[13]

Bowie decided that the theme for the show would be "the reality and unreality of rock,"[14] or, as one critic called it, "rock stars vs. reality".[15] Bowie said, "It's not just about a rock singer, it's about rock music, so it has a lot to do with the audience and how they perceive rock, and rock figures, and all the cliches, archetypes and stereotypes, and also family relationship."[14]

During the show itself, Bowie incorporated a wide variety of props: "I'm really attempting to do a lot of stuff! It incorporates movement, dialogue, fragments of film, projected images, it's what used to be called multi-media in the '60s."[14] Bowie described how he assembled the show, saying, "The idea was to concoct surrealist or minimalist stage pieces to accompany rock-and-roll songs. I wanted to bridge together some kind of symbolist theater and modern dance. Not jazz dance, certainly not MTV dance, but something more influenced by people like Pina Bausch and a Montreal group called [La La La Human Steps]. There are some symbolist pieces, some minimalist pieces, and some vulgar pieces, too – some straightforward vaudeville bits."[16]

When Bowie was asked what he thought his audience expected of him on this tour, he said:

I guess that they come along to see whether I'll fall down or something. I really don't know. I know that they get what they consider is a really good performance. I think that over the years I've proved that I do my best to provide them with some new vision of musical information on the stage. So I think there's probably that element in it, but I couldn't go any further than that. I really don't know what they want from me. I've never really been able to write for them. I've only written and performed that which interests me. So essentially they have an agreement with me and that's great. I mean, I've lost audiences many times over the years, and they've come back again for one reason or another. I've sort of got that mutual agreement with them. If it's not going very well then they stay away. Which is fair enough, you know.[17]

Bowie reportedly coordinated aspects of the tour via email, a rarity in the late 1980s.[18]

Song selection[edit]

Bowie elected to play less well-known songs on the tour and avoided some of his bigger hits.[15][19] He was eager to not repeat the formula that made the Serious Moonlight Tour a success, saying, "It seemed so easy. It was cheers from the word go. You know how to get a reaction – play 'Changes,' 'Golden Years' and they'd be up on their feet. You get the reaction, take the money and run away. It seemed too easy. I didn't want to do that again."[20] In a different contemporary interview he said, "I'm not doing 'Star' again. That was quite hard. I don't think I'm doing much Ziggy material on this tour! [laughs] Probably use a lot of that mid-70s material, but not the more ponderous things like 'Warszawa.' I tried that, and that was a bit yawn-making. There was one I was humming to myself the other day: [sings] 'Baby, baby, I'll never let you down' – oh lord, what's that one? Jesus, I can't remember it. ... 'Sons of the Silent Age!' [snaps fingers] Ah! That's right! Thank god I could remember it! So that for me now is a new song. I've never done that one onstage."[21] "Sons of the Silent Age" was performed every night of the tour.

All but two songs ("Too Dizzy" and "Shining Star (Makin' My Love)") from his album Never Let Me Down were played live during the tour, although "Shining Star" was among the songs rehearsed. Other songs rehearsed but not performed were "Because You're Young" and "Scream Like a Baby", both from Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980).[8] Several songs that Bowie had anticipated playing on the tour were abandoned before rehearsals even started, including "Space Oddity" (from David Bowie (1969)), "Joe the Lion" (from "Heroes" (1977)), "Ricochet" (from Let's Dance (1983)), and "Don't Look Down" (from Tonight (1984)).[21]

Songs performed during the tour were "chosen because they fit the performance"[11] and fit Bowie's goal to make a show that was much more theatrical and had strong dramatic content. When he was asked how he was going to make his rock show "dramatic", he replied, "You'll be surprised what you can do with a 6-piece rock band and a stage and a couple of lights."[22]

Set design[edit]

Bowie on stage at Rock am Ring – 7 June 1987

The tour's set, described at the time as "the largest touring set ever,"[1] was designed to look like a giant spider. It was 60 feet (18.3m) high, 64 feet (19.5m) wide and included giant vacuum tube legs that were lit from the inside with 20,000' (6,096m) of color-changing lights.[16][23] A single set took 43 trucks to move and was estimated to weigh 360 tons.[16] 16' x 20' (4.9m x 6m) video screens displayed video and images from the show to those in the audience who were further away from the stage.[24] The system required to run the show included two separate sound systems, 260 speaker cabinets, 1,000 lights with an output total of 600,000 watts,[8] and three computers.[25] Mark Ravitz, the set designer, had previously designed Bowie's 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour set.[26]

This was Bowie's first tour where wireless microphone technology was available, allowing Bowie considerable freedom to move around the stage during a concert.[8] This allowed him to interact with the dancers and musicians much more freely, and as such the set included 3-story high mobile scaffolding, onto which Bowie and his dancers would occasionally climb during the show.[27]

Each set cost US$10 million,[10][28] about $25.8 million in today's dollars.[29] Bowie himself invested over $10 million of his own money to help fund the tour,[1] and he paid $1 million a week[12] to maintain a staff of 150 people to maintain and build the three sets as the tour moved around the world.[10][25] In Philadelphia, where the tour opened in the US, the set was described as taking "300 people 4 days" to build.[30]

About halfway through the first leg of the tour in Europe, Bowie discovered that the full Spider set was so large that it would not fit in most indoor venues. He said, "It would cost me between $500,000 and $600,000 to alter the sets enough to bring the show indoors. ... I may decide to have a smaller 'indoor' set made somewhere during the tour."[17] He did in fact commission a third slightly smaller set, called the "Junior Bug" set, to be used at indoor venues where the full spider would not fit, such as New York's Madison Square Garden.[12]

Bowie thought of the whole set as a metaphor of life, describing the stage as having "a feeling of a ship, which is the voyage, with the rigging and the climbing and the ropes. And the bottom circular area is like the Circus of Lights, so it really is from birth, and the voyaging through life."[31]


Bowie assembled his band in early 1987 and were joined on stage by five dancers who were choreographed by Bowie's long-time friend Toni Basil. The band and the dancers spent time in 12-hour-a-day rehearsals in New York before moving on to Europe. Bowie shot the video for his single "Time Will Crawl" during these rehearsals; it previewed some of the elaborate dance routines that were used during performances of "Loving the Alien" (1985), "Fashion" (1980) and "Sons of the Silent Age" (1977).[32] Bowie described his rehearsal routine:

I prepare the day's work when I get up in the morning, and then I go in around 10 o'clock (a.m.) for rehearsals. Then it's constant rehearsals, both the visual side and the musical side, through about 8 o'clock (p.m.). At around 8 p.m. I look at the video tapes of what we've been doing during the day, and make adjustments if necessary. So there really isn't time to do anything else at all except Sundays, and then I sleep for most of the day. It's very intensive rehearsals, and physically it's quite demanding.[17]

"[The Glass Spider Tour is] the most physical tour that I've done ever. ... It's relentless, it never stops. I'm bruised as hell. I feel like a worn out rag doll."[33]

—David Bowie, 1987

Rehearsals with the full Spider set were staged in Rotterdam's Ahoy arena starting on 18 May before moving to De Kuip stadium for the dress rehearsals (27 and 28 May).[34][35] Due to relatively easy access to the venues during rehearsals, fans knew what the set list for the show would be before the tour even opened.[8]

Bowie stated that he was looking for dancers who did not look like typical MTV dancers and who knew both American street-dancing and European performance art.[31] Originally Bowie had hoped to have Édouard Lock of La La La Human Steps be involved in the show, but the group was booked with other commitments. Bowie later lamented that the Tour may have been viewed differently if La La La Human Steps had been involved: "It would have been a different ballgame."[36] La La La Human Steps would provide the choreography for Bowie's next tour, the Sound+Vision Tour of 1990.[36]

Concert synopsis[edit]

The show was divided into two parts and included a planned encore.

The Glass Spider set from above – 6 June 1987 in Berlin

Bowie entered the show to the song "Glass Spider", for which he was lowered from the set's ceiling while seated in a silver chair and singing into a telephone. The show's first vignette began with "Bang Bang", during which Bowie pulled an audience member out of the crowd, only to be rejected by the fan, who by the end of the song was revealed to be one of the troupe's dancers. Later in the show, for the song "Fashion", the dance troupe threatened Bowie with a street fight, which, by the end of the song, he accidentally wins. For the live rendition of "Never Let Me Down", the performance of which Bowie called "abrasive",[37] he was influenced by the minimalist choreography of Pina Bausch. He said:

I wanted one straight movement that starts upstage and comes all the way downstage and doesn't vary. I'm on my knees, with my arms in a kind of straitjacket, and a crawl for three-and-a-half minutes. A girl is with me, as if she's accompanying her pet in a park, but she has a cylinder on her back, and every now and then she's giving me oxygen. It felt like a very protective, a very sad little image, and it felt right for the song.[16]

For Part 2, Bowie appeared on the stage's scaffolding to "'87 & Cry", flew through the air in a Flying by Foy abseiling harness, and was subsequently tied up by riot police. On at least one occasion, the flying segment of the song was dropped due to a malfunction with the set. The movie footage shown behind Bowie during "'Heroes'" was shot by Bowie during his time in Russia in 1974. Of the footage, Bowie said:

There's a poignant image of a Mongolian with a hanky in his hand waving goodbye to his family getting on a train to Moscow and I loop that up so there's a never ending sequence of this old fellow dabbing his tears and waving bye-bye. That plays behind the action in black and white and it's alarmingly sad. It's like saying goodbye to heroism; it's like saying goodbye to a world of a 19th century ideal. It's irretrievable and now maybe we’re just looking for seeds of intelligence and not heroes. There's something about it that I really like. It's a piece of theatricality that I really adore. I’m really proud of it.[38]

The encore typically opened with the song "Time", for which Bowie emerged from the top of the spider's head with angel wings behind him, 60 feet above the crowd. The song was occasionally cut from outdoor shows when bad weather made the perch atop the spider too precarious to perform.[8][23][39]

Costume design[edit]

For the first act, Bowie was dressed in a single-breasted three-quarters length red suit with a red shirt and pants[8] designed by Diana Moseley.[40] The outfit included red Chelsea boots with silver details at the heel and toe.[41] One of the outfits that Bowie wore for Part 2, signed by Bowie, was put up for auction on 21 May 2016[42] and was sold for $37,500.[43] Bowie's outfit for the encore was a gold lamé leather suit complete with gold winged cowboy boots. One of these suits, also autographed by Bowie, sold at a Sotheby's auction in 1990 for $7,000 (worth about $15,700 today) several times its expected selling price.[44] That same outfit was again put up for auction in December 2016 with an expected selling price of $20,000–⁠$30,000, and was sold for $32,500.[45]


On tour, the band typically performed a roughly two and a half-hour set that varied only a little from night to night.

Notes and changes[edit]

  • An extended drum solo separated Part 1 and Part 2 and allowed Bowie time for a costume change.
  • Bowie would lengthen or shorten his performance of "Fame" depending on the crowd's reaction by including parts of "Lavender's Blue", "London Bridge", "War" and "Who Will Buy?" into the song.
  • "White Light/White Heat" and "Fame" were performed during the encore at some venues.
  • "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was only occasionally performed at shows during the North American and Oceania tours.
  • "Time" would only be performed if it was safe for Bowie to stand on top of the spider's head for the start of the encore. If it was raining the song would be completely dropped as it was unsafe.
  • "New York's in Love" was dropped after 10 June (Milan, Italy).
  • "The Jean Genie" was added on 8 July (Barcelona, Spain).
  • "White Light/White Heat" and "Young Americans" were added and "Zeroes" was dropped on 11 July (Slane, Ireland).
  • "Rebel Rebel" was added and "Dancing with the Big Boys" was dropped on 30 July (Philadelphia, USA).[8]

Opening acts[edit]

The opening act for the tour varied from country to country;[46] in North America some dates of the tour were supported by Duran Duran or Siouxsie and the Banshees.[47] The opening acts in Europe varied, and included such acts as Iggy Pop, Big Country, The Cult, Erasure, The Stranglers and Nina Hagen. The tour also played festival dates, on one occasion with Eurythmics headlining one night and Bowie headlining the next.[8]

Tour incidents[edit]

The tour took a physical toll on Bowie. Not only did he grow noticeably thinner over the course of the tour,[8] he found that he was exhausted before the tour even started:

I think [tours like this] are extravagantly dangerous to do because they're so fucking tiring. Just the pressures of organising the event, and it's no longer a show, it's an event. Even before you go out on tour, you're knackered. There's God knows how many people running around, and everybody's doing something and people are forgetting to delegate jobs to the right people, and it's a mass of confusion and somehow it's all supposed to come together.[48]

A modern aerial view of De Kuip, where Bowie opened the tour

The tour played at large-capacity venues, and in Europe the tour alternated between indoor and outdoor, open-field venues.[8] Michael Clark, a lighting engineer for the tour, died at the Stadio Comunale in Florence, Italy on 9 June after falling from the scaffolding before the show commenced.[32] The following day on 10 June, another worker fell without lethal injury while helping build the set in Milan. Mobs of fans, some who had camped out overnight to get into the venue, rioted and had to be controlled by police.[8][49] Both shows in Rome (on 15 and 16 June) saw similar rioting as fans who could not get tickets to the shows clashed with police. On the second night, Bowie had to sing through tear gas as 50 people were arrested and 15 policemen were injured in the rioting.[50] As the band's plane was leaving Rome after their show on 16 June, a bomb scare forced the plane to return to the airport, only to discover that the local chief of police had used it as a ruse to get Bowie's autograph. Said Bowie of the incident, "I was not so much annoyed as stunned – that could only happen in Italy!"[51] The 27 June concert, originally scheduled to be performed at Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden had to be moved to nearby Eriksberg in Hisingen because a previous concert by Bruce Springsteen held at Ullevi Stadium incurred £2.7m (or about £8m today)[52] in damages. A fan trying to enter the Slane Castle backstage area by swimming the River Boyne drowned just before the show on 11 July.[8]

At one point during the European tour, guitarist Carlos Alomar ripped a ligament in his leg, an injury that caused him to change his on-stage character. Said Alomar, "[I] had to change my character into the mad, limping Mad Max reject with spiky hair. I went to a chiropractor and asked him for a lot of metal stuff -- leg braces, back braces and everything. Now I'll be adding more metal as the show progresses."[53]

Bowie was occasionally visited or had his shows attended by European royalty, including Princess Diana at the second show in Wembley Stadium; Sarah, Duchess of York at Sunderland; and Danish Prince Joachim and Crown Prince Frederik at Stadt Park.[8]

The Glass Spider Tour was the first Bowie tour to reach Austria, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Wales.[8] Some of the outdoor performances in Britain had to start early due to curfew laws, a problem typically avoided in other European shows, which reduced the impact of the lighting of the stage and set dressing, and bothered Bowie considerably.[8][31]

During the North American leg of the tour, a 30-year-old Dallas woman named Wanda Nichols claimed that Bowie sexually assaulted her at the Mansion Hotel after a show at Reunion Arena in Dallas.[54] Bowie denied the charges, calling them "ridiculous". He said Nichols was with him in his hotel room, but that anything that occurred between them was with her consent. A spokeswoman for assistant district attorney Hugh Lucas said on 18 November 1987 that the Dallas County grand jury no-billed Bowie after hearing two hours of testimony on November 11. "The Grand jury did not find enough evidence to warrant an indictment," the spokeswoman said.[55][56]

Ticket sales and attendance[edit]

"I try and do something I want to go and see really, that's the essence of whatever I do. This particular tour, for instance, I’ve really tried to put together all the elements, everything that I’ve been fascinated [with] in theater and rock, ever since the beginning of my career. It looks like the kind of show I really want to go and see myself. It's fast, colorful, vulgar, loud, subtle, quiet, dreamlike."[57]

—David Bowie, early 1987

Demand for tickets to the tour was high: the September 3 show at Sullivan Stadium in Massachusetts set a record for quickest sellout at that venue, a record matched by U2 and unsurpassed until The Who sold 100,000 tickets to two shows there in less than eight hours in 1989.[58] Star magazine reported that, for one venue,[a] Bowie sold $3 million in tickets to three shows in 90 minutes.[59] The concert drew the largest crowd ever to see a concert in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at the time.[60] Advance sales for the Australian leg of the tour was $8.6 million, surpassing even Michael Jackson's advance sales for the Australian leg of his "Bad" concert tour (estimated at $4.5 million).[61]

Writers have estimated that by the conclusion of the tour between two[62] and six[12] million people had attended, and David Currie, the author of a book about the European leg of the tour, suggested that three million fans saw the tour worldwide.[8]

Four of the tour's shows were among the top 20 highest grossing concert shows of 1987 in the US, and at the end of 1987 it was estimated that the entire tour grossed more than $50 million.[62] In 1991, it was estimated that each show of the tour grossed $1 million,[63] for roughly $86 million over the course of the tour, or approximately $222 million today, adjusted for inflation.

Contemporary critical reviews[edit]

The European leg of the tour seemed to garner mostly unfavorable reviews from the media,[8][64] although there were positive reviews as well.[1][30] Chris Roberts, a writer for Melody Maker, later said that there was "overwhelming peer pressure" among his fellow musical critics to review the tour unfavourably.[65] Bowie was frustrated how the reviews in Europe changed from initially positive to negative, blaming the early start of the tour in some outdoor venues for the poor reception. He said, "the biggest mistake that was made on that tour, was opening in the daylight. The whole reason for the entire damn show was lost." He noted that reviews from indoor shows, where the set and lighting were more effective, were quite positive.[66]

"I think it's [The Glass Spider Tour] something that's very unique, and I think you either love it, or it's not your cup of tea."[1]

—Peter Frampton, August 1987

The US media seemed kinder, with papers in Orlando, Florida and Boston, Massachusetts writing positive reviews.[12][20] The Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune were both mixed in their reviews.[39][67] The review of Bowie's first show in New York was mostly negative, calling the show "spectacular", but adding that "overkill reigns" and lamenting "a dizzying overload of visual activity."[27] A review in the Christian Science Monitor was mostly positive, highlighting the dazzling visuals and complaining that the dancing was only occasionally inspired.[10] A local paper in Portland, Oregon had a positive review that said that the dancers, music, set and band combined into an "overall effect [that] could rightly be called spectacular. It is performance art and rock opera; it is a stunning assemblage worthy of any stage or arena in the world."[24]

Despite criticism in the press, Bowie at the time said that performing on this tour was the most fun he had ever had on the road because it was the "most inventive" tour he had ever been involved with.[68]

Live recordings[edit]

Despite stating during the press tour that there would be no live album from the tour,[11] the performances at Sydney Entertainment Centre – Sydney on 7 and 9 November 1987 were filmed and released on video as Glass Spider in 1988. An edit of this show was subsequently aired in the US in an ABC TV concert special, ABC's first concert special since airing Elvis Presley's Aloha from Hawaii in 1973.[61] A 2007 DVD re-release of the show included an audio recording of the performance at Olympic Stadium, Montreal on 30 August 1987, which was re-mastered and released on Loving the Alien (1983-1988) (2018). The 6 June 1987 Platz der Republik (Reichstag – City Of Berlin Festival) performance was broadcast live on FM radio.

One critic found that the 1988 and 2007 DVD reissue video releases rendered the intended meaning of the show largely nonsensical, as several songs and vignettes that made the show's message explicit were excised from the release.[15] However Bowie biographer Nicholas Pegg said that the concert film was "hugely enjoyable" despite the show's flaws, and that the video "leads the field for those wishing to see David Bowie delivering a rock-theatre spectacular."[32]

Commercial sponsorship[edit]

Bowie agreed to what at the time was considered a controversial[69] commercial sponsorship agreement with PepsiCo,[20][70] which was later seen as helping to pave the way for other big money tours by other artists.[71] For his part, Bowie recorded a TV commercial with Tina Turner to the tune "Modern Love" in May 1987 while he was preparing for the tour.[34]

Of the sponsorship agreement, Bowie said, "We did a commercial sponsorship thing only for North America with the Pepsi-Cola company. As far as I'm concerned, what it's allowed me to do, having them underwrite the tour, is to be able to produce a far more extravagant show than if I were just doing it myself. It means that instead of just having 1 or 2 sets I can have 3 or 4 sets made, and they can travel independently and they can be far more complicated."[72]

Bowie had originally planned to take the Glass Spider Tour to Russia, albeit with the band only and no dancers or elaborate props, but with the money and extra stage provided by the sponsorship, Bowie felt he could take the full tour to Russia and South America. However, these plans failed to come to fruition, and the tour never reached those regions.[73]

Tour legacy[edit]

Bowie found himself under great stress during the tour, and after the tour ended in New Zealand, he reportedly had one of the Spider sets burned, saying "It was so great ... We just put the thing in a field and set light to it. That was such a relief!"[74] In 2016, road manager Peter Grumley claimed to have purchased and stored at least one of the (unburned) sets in his West Auckland warehouse.[75]

The entire tour was so physically demanding and such a large production that Bowie said at the time that "I don't think I'll ever take a tour quite this elaborate out on the road again. It's a real headache to put it together".[68]

Bowie became engaged to Melissa Hurley,[76] one of the dancers from the tour, but the two split up without being wed after four years.[77]

"[The Glass Spider Tour] was the first time I'd had the opportunity to spend that kind of money and do shows like that! The first time since Diamond Dogs, anyway ... I thought, Right! Let's really spend some money! I had all these thwarted dreams of what I'd tried to do with rock 'n roll in the early '70s, and I was trying to do all that a bit late."

—David Bowie, 1991[48]

Critics have often compared later David Bowie tours to this one,[36][64][77][78] commonly echoing this later review: "[Bowie] mounted a stadium-sized production combining the excitement of rock with the perils of Broadway. ... An incredible spectacle, but the effect was overwhelming. Each additional theatrical device served to distract, ultimately flattening the impact of the music."[79]

In 1989 while working with Tin Machine, Bowie said "I overstretched. ... There was too much responsibility on the last [Glass Spider] tour. I was under stress every single day. It was a decision a second. It was so big and so unwieldy and everybody had a problem all the time, every day, and I was under so much pressure. It was unbelievable. ... I put too many fine details into something that was going to be seen (indicates tiny figure with his finger and thumb) this big."[74]

In 1990, while giving interviews for his Sound+Vision Tour, Bowie said that he was pleased that the tour was regarded as "innovative", noting reviews that pointed out how the tour had "areas of it that surely would change the way rock was done."[66]

In 1991, while preparing for his second tour with Tin Machine, Bowie reflected on the Glass Spider Tour's theatrics and presentation, suggesting that many tours and acts that followed benefited from this tour:

The Stones' show, Prince's show, Madonna's show... all of them have benefited from [this] tour. ... I like lots of it [the Glass Spider Tour], but ... the whole thing should have been a lot smaller. Three-quarters of it was really innovative, and I've seen a lot of it in other people's shows. ... One day, if you get the chance, get a copy of that show on video and take another look at it, because in the light of what's been done since, there's some interesting shit going on.[48]

In the late 2000s, the tour began to be re-examined by critics, and the tone of the coverage began to change. In 2009, an article in the BBC News singled out the Glass Spider Tour's innovative set and marriage of music and theatre as an inspiration to later acts, including Britney Spears, Madonna, U2 and others. Stage designer Willie Williams said the Glass Spider Tour was a template for those acts: "There will be one set of costumes and they will do a few songs, then there will be another big scene change and move on to the next thing. Bowie crossing rock 'n' roll with Broadway [in the Glass Spider Tour] was where that began."[80] In 2010, the Glass Spider Tour won an award for being one of the best concert designs of all time (alongside other such notable tours as U2's 360° Tour [2009–2011] and Pink Floyd's Division Bell Tour [1994]).[23]

"When we [toured for] Young Americans, they booed the hell out of that. Why? They [the fans] wanted Diamond Dogs [Bowie's previous album]. When we did "Serious Moonlight", they booed the hell out of that because they wanted the 70s stuff. When we did "Glass Spider", they wanted "Serious Moonlight". The audience was never going to catch up to the man."

Carlos Alomar (2016), on the fans' and critics' mixed reaction to the Glass Spider Tour[81]

In 2013, new critical reviews began to take note of some of the tour's strengths and innovations and proposed that the tour was better than its reputation suggested. Although critics still found some elements of the tour questionable (including the set itself and the prevalence of Bowie's newer material), the tour was praised for Bowie's strong voice, musical arrangements and choice of relatively unheard "jewels" in the set list.[71][82] Peter Frampton credited his participation in this tour for helping to revive his own career.[83]

In 2017, a review in The Atlantic, while admitting that it had some flaws, called the show "spectacular, beautiful, charmingly pretentious, and weirdly magical."[65]

The show on 6 June 1987 was played close to the Berlin Wall. The show was heard by thousands of East German citizens across the wall[84] and was followed by violent rioting in East Berlin. According to German journalist Tobias Ruther, these protests in East Berlin were the first in the sequence of riots that led to those around the time of the fall of the wall in November 1989.[85][86] Although other factors were probably more influential in the fall of the wall,[84] on Bowie's death in 2016, the German Foreign Office tweeted "Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall."[87]

Ultimately, given the negative reaction to the Never Let Me Down album and this tour, Bowie found himself creatively exhausted and in low critical standing.[88] Bowie decided to return to making music for himself,[89] and, having been put in touch with Reeves Gabrels through his publicist for the Glass Spider Tour,[90] Bowie formed his band Tin Machine in 1989[71] and retired his back catalogue of songs from live performance with his Sound+Vision Tour in 1990.[91]

Tour details[edit]

Tour design[edit]

  • Allen Branton – Lighting design
  • Mark Ravitz – Set design
  • Christine Strand – Video director[23]

Band equipment[edit]

Peter Frampton played two natural-finish maple body Pensa-Suhr Strat types, hand-made by New York-based John Suhr. For the song "Zeroes", he used a Coral electric sitar, given to him in the late '70s and previously owned by Jimi Hendrix. Carlos Alomar played on six Kramer American series guitars and one custom Alembic. Multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay played Yamaha DX7, Emax, Korg SG-1 and Yamaha CS70 keyboards. He also played a Tokai Stratocaster, a Yamaha GS1000 bass and a Pedulla fretless bass. Additional instruments played included a set of Latin Percussion timbales and white congas, a cowbell, 6- and 8-inch Zildjian cymbals, Promark drum sticks, a Simmons SDS-9, a cornet and a 17th-century Italian viola. Richard Cottle played on two Prophet 5s, an Oberheim, a Yamaha DX7, DX7-IID and KX5 keyboards as well as a Selmer alto saxophone. Carmine Rojas used two Spector basses, and Alan Childs played on Tama Artstar II drums and used various combinations of Zildjian A, K, and Platinum series cymbals.[21]

Tour dates[edit]

Date (1987) City Country Venue Attendance
Promotional press shows
North America
17 March Toronto Canada Diamond Club
18 March New York City United States Cat Club
20 March London United Kingdom Player's Theatre
21 March Paris France La Locomotive
24 March Madrid Spain Halquera Plateaux
25 March Rome Italy Piper
26 March Munich West Germany Parkcafe Lowenbrau
28 March Stockholm Sweden Ritz
30 March Amsterdam Netherlands Paradiso
27 October Sydney Australia Tivoli Club
Glass Spider Tour
30 May Rotterdam Netherlands Stadion Feijenoord 60,000[8]
31 May 60,000[8]
2 June Werchter Belgium Rock Werchter Concert Site
6 June West Berlin West Germany Platz der Republik 80,000[93]
7 June Nürburgring Rock am Ring
9 June Florence Italy Stadio Comunale 50,000[49] – 65,000[8]
10 June Milan Stadio San Siro 60,000 [94]
13 June Hamburg West Germany Festwiese Am Stadtpark
15 June Rome Italy Stadio Flaminio 40, 000[95]
16 June 40, 000[95]
19 June London United Kingdom Wembley Stadium 70,000[10]
20 June 70,000[8][10]
21 June Cardiff National Stadium 50,000[8]
23 June Sunderland Roker Park 36,000[96]
27 June Gothenburg Sweden Eriksbergsvarvet 45,000[97]
28 June Lyon France Stade de Gerland
1 July Vienna Austria Praterstadion
3 July Paris France Parc départemental de La Courneuve
4 July Toulouse Stadium Municipal
6 July Madrid Spain Vicente Calderón Stadium
7 July Barcelona Mini Estadi
8 July
11 July Slane Ireland, Republic of Slane Concert 50,000[8]
14 July Manchester United Kingdom Maine Road
15 July
17 July Nice France Stade De L'Ouest
18 July Turin Italy Stadio Comunale di Torino 65 0000
North America
30 July Philadelphia United States Veterans Stadium 50,000[30]
31 July
2 August East Rutherford Giants Stadium
3 August
7 August San Jose Spartan Stadium 29,000[98]
8 August Anaheim Anaheim Stadium 50,000[99]
9 August
12 August Denver Mile High Stadium
14 August Portland Civic Stadium
15 August Vancouver Canada BC Place Stadium 35,000[100]
17 August Edmonton Commonwealth Stadium
19 August Winnipeg Winnipeg Stadium 25,000[101]
21 August Rosemont United States Rosemont Horizon
22 August
24 August Toronto Canada Canadian National Exhibition Stadium
25 August
28 August Ottawa Lansdowne Park 29,000[60]
30 August Montreal Olympic Stadium 45,000[102]
1 September New York City United States Madison Square Garden
2 September
3 September Foxborough Sullivan Stadium 61,000[103]
6 September Chapel Hill Dean Smith Center
7 September
10 September Milwaukee Marcus Amphitheater
11 September
12 September Pontiac Pontiac Silverdome
14 September Lexington Rupp Arena
18 September Miami Miami Orange Bowl
19 September Tampa Tampa Stadium
21 September Atlanta Omni Coliseum
22 September
25 September Hartford Hartford Civic Center
28 September Landover Capital Centre
29 September
1 October Saint Paul St. Paul Civic Center
2 October
4 October Kansas City Kemper Arena
6 October New Orleans Louisiana Superdome
7 October Houston The Summit
8 October
10 October Dallas Reunion Arena
11 October
13 October Los Angeles Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
14 October
29 October Brisbane Australia Boondall Entertainment Centre
30 October
3 November Sydney Sydney Entertainment Centre
4 November
6 November
7 November
9 November
10 November
13 November
14 November
18 November Melbourne Kooyong Stadium
20 November
21 November
23 November
28 November Auckland New Zealand Western Springs Stadium

The songs[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The source does not identify the exact venue for which the record-making sales occurred.


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Works cited[edit]

  • O'Leary, Chris (2019). Ashes to Ashes: The Songs of David Bowie 1976–2016. London: Repeater Books. ISBN 978-1-91224-830-8.
  • Buckley, David (2005) [First published 1999]. Strange Fascination – David Bowie: The Definitive Story. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0-7535-1002-5.

External links[edit]