|Tour by David Bowie|
A Sound+Vision Tour Promotional Image
David Bowie in silhouette
|Start date||4 March 1990|
|End date||29 September 1990|
|Number of shows||7 in North America
23 in Europe
7 in North America
2 in Asia
40 in North America
24 in Europe
6 in South America
|David Bowie concert chronology|
David Bowie's 1990 Sound+Vision Tour was billed as a greatest hits tour in which Bowie would retire his back catalogue of hit songs from live performance. The tour opened at the Colisée de Québec in Quebec, Canada on 4 March 1990 before reaching its conclusion at the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 29 September 1990, spanning five continents in seven months. The concert tour surpassed Bowie's previous Serious Moonlight (1983) and Glass Spider (1987) tours' statistics by visiting 27 countries with 108 performances.
Bowie's previous Glass Spider Tour and two most recent albums (Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987)) had all been critically dismissed, and Bowie was looking for a way to rejuvenate himself artistically. To this end, Bowie wanted to avoid having to play his old hits live forever, and used the release of the Sound + Vision box set as the impetus for a tour, despite having no new material recorded.
It was stated that Bowie would never perform these greatest hits on tour again. Bowie said "knowing I won't ever have those songs to rely on again spurs me to keep doing new things, which is good for an artist."
Bowie looked forward to retiring his old hits, stating:
It's time to put about 30 or 40 songs to bed and it's my intention that this will be the last time I'll ever do those songs completely, because if I want to make a break from what I've done up until now, I've got to make it concise and not have it as a habit to drop back into. It's so easy to kind of keep going on and saying, well, you can rely on those songs, you can rely on that to have a career or something, and I'm not sure I want that.— March 1990
He would state in another contemporary interview that "I want to finish off that old phase and start again. By the time I'm in my later forties, I will have built up a whole new repertoire."
It has been noted that Bowie is "famous" for claiming retirement in the past, so many critics and observers did not fully believe Bowie when he said he would not play these songs again.
Bowie spent the early few months of 1990 preparing for the tour in a rehearsal hall on Manhattan's west side.
It was announced that the set-list for any given performance of the tour would be partially determined by the most popular titles logged in a telephone poll by calling the number 1-900-2-BOWIE-90. Mail-in ballots were made available to vote by in territories where telephone technology was not available.
Bowie did in fact build the tour's setlist from calls to the phone number from all over the world, saying "What I ended up doing was taking about seven or eight [songs] from [the calls in] England, another seven or eight from the rest of Europe and the rest I made up from America so it's a good sampling of what everybody wanted in all the continents." The first shows of the tour held in March 1990 in Canada were performed before any telephone polls were completed, leading Bowie to guess at the list of songs the audience wanted to hear.
In the US, the songs "Fame," "Let's Dance" and "Changes" topped the list of songs requested by fans, while in Europe the songs "Heroes" and "Blue Jean" were the leaders.
The NME, in response to the telephone poll, ran a spoof campaign, Just Say Gnome, in an effort to have "The Laughing Gnome" included in the set-lists. Bowie had considered playing "The Laughing Gnome" "in the style of The Velvets or something" until he found out the voting had been perpetrated by the music magazine.
Édouard Lock (of La La La Human Steps) co-conceived and was artistic director for this tour. Bowie had originally wanted La La La Human Steps to be involved in his previous Glass Spider Tour, but was unable to secure them due to scheduling conflicts. Given the unfavorable attention that his previous solo tour drew, Bowie was keen to make sure the Sound+Vision Tour did things differently. He said:
It will be staged; there is no way I could ever consider really putting something on the stage that doesn't owe something to theatah (pronouncing 'theatre' in a thick British accent), but it won't be overtly theatre in as much as it won't be propped the same way. Going back to the way we worked towards the Station to Station show, which was basically a question of using a kind of Brechtian lighting pad and working areas and atmospheres of light, is very much the kind of feel it will have.— March 1990
He added that this tour is "nowhere near as ambitious as Glass Spider in size, but qualitatively, in essence, I think it's as theatrical."
In addition to the stark lighting and the backing 4-piece rock band, Bowie employed a new tool for this tour: a giant sixty-by-forty foot transparent gauze scrim. The scrim would occasionally be lowered in front of or behind Bowie, onto which images of Bowie and videos were projected. Bowie described it as being "like a giant Javanese shadow puppet show at times." Two large, round screens at each side of the stage also displayed the videos projected on the scrim.
The set was constructed by 80 workers who traveled with the tour, with the help of local workers who were hired in each city. A single set took 8 trucks to move (with an additional 4 buses for the workers), and required 9 hours to set up and 4 hours to load out each night.
Video recordings of La La La Human Steps' Louise Lecavalier performing dances in time to the music and images of Bowie singing, playing instruments, miming or otherwise performing to certain songs were projected on the scrim & screens during the show. For some dates, such as the performance in Montreal on 6 March 1990, some of the dancers from La La La Human Steps danced live on stage to some of the songs. Bowie was enthusiastic about the inclusion of the dancers on the tour: "You've never seen anything like them before. They're probably the leading avant-garde dance troupe in North America. Louise Lecavalier, their star, is like nothing else you've ever seen on stage. She's absolutely phenomenal. ... The dance troupe is unbelievable. It's where punk and ballet clash with each other."
Bowie wanted to record the concert, something he hadn't always done before. He stated:
We're intending to film it for posterity; I should hope so. I've always regretted not having filmed things like the "Diamond Dogs" show. We never filmed the "Station to Station" show. Or the "soul" show with Dave Sanborn and those guys. I have absolutely no footage of those things. It's terrible. ... It's infuriating.— May 1990
Despite this, no official recording of the show has been made available to the public in either audio or video form. A number of performances were filmed and recorded for television and radio broadcasts:
|Recording Date||Location||Broadcast by|
|16 May 1990||Tokyo Dome|
|5 August 1990||Milton Keynes Bowl||BBC Radio 1|
|20 September 1990||Sambodromo de Rio - Rio de Janeiro||Rede Globo|
|23 September 1990||Estadio de Palmeiras - São Paulo||Radio Transamérica|
|27 September 1990||Rock in Chile Festival - Estadio Nacional de Chile|
Contemporary reception and reviews
Rolling Stone magazine described the 1990 summer concert season "a concert season to remember," and included the Sound+Vision Tour as one of its highlights. They said "Louise Lecavalier of Montreal's La La La Human Steps dance troupe provides avant-garde acrobatics, and several [musical] numbers are graced by stunning short films, including a clip for "Ashes to Ashes" that has to be seen to be believed. Otherwise, there are no pyrotechnics, no laser beams and, best of all, no glass spiders," the last a reference to Bowie's ill-received previous world tour. A review of an early show by Rolling Stone magazine was positive, saying "Bowie proved able to reclaim virtually his entire diverse oeuvre - even those songs that now seem furthest from him - through sheer vocal power and charisma" and complaining only that "the band wasn't always equal to the challenge, demonstrating too much respect for the songs' recorded arrangements." A review of the show's stop in Vancouver, BC said "Bowie hasn't sounded this good in years", praising the tour's focus on not only the songs, but on Bowie himself, and a review of the show in Seattle, WA called the visuals "a knockout" and praised Bowie as an innovator, only complaining that the music itself seemed "mechanical."
Some shows on the North American tour didn't sell out (such as in Seattle and some dates in Florida), but overall the tour was well-attended, selling out shows (often over multiple nights) in cities such as San Francisco, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Detroit.
A month later in Philadelphia, Bowie stopped his performance in the middle of the song "Young Americans" to speak out against music censorship, specifically due to the controversy over 2 Live Crew's album As Nasty As They Wanna Be, saying "I've been listening to the album by 2 Live Crew. It's not the best album that's ever been made, but when I heard they banned it, I went out and bought it. Freedom of thought, freedom of speech - it's one of the most important things we have."
The tour opened at the Colisée de Québec - Quebec City, QC on 4 March 1990 before reaching its conclusion in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 29 September 1990, spanning five continents in seven months. The concert tour surpassed the previous Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider Tour's statistics by visiting 27 countries with 108 performances. For the ten performances in the United Kingdom alone it was estimated the audience figure was 250,000 in total. The tour was estimated to have grossed $20M (or roughly $36M today, adjusted for inflation).
Bowie felt that a burden had been lifted by retiring the old hits he felt he was forced to perform, and said:
[Retiring my old hits on tour] was a very selfish thing to do, but it gave me an immense sense of freedom, to feel that I couldn't rely on any of those things. It's like I'm approaching it all from the ground up now, starting with 'Okay, we know what songs we needn't do anymore. What, of my past, did I really like?' You pick things that were really good songs, and you try to recontextualize them, by giving them current, contemporary rhythms. And we've been knocking around ideas like 'Shopping for Girls' from Tin Machine, 'Repetition' and 'Quicksand' from Hunky Dory. Certain songs that I probably haven't ever performed onstage. They're working shoulder to shoulder with the new material, and I'm starting to see continuity in the way that I work.— March 1997
Bowie would in fact retire most of his older hits from live performances, reviving only his personal favorites on later tours (starting with performances of "Heroes" in 1996).
Bowie specifically chose a smaller band to tour with this time around, stating in 1990 that:
It's a much smaller sound. It's not quite as orchestrated as any of the other tours. The plus of that is that there is a certain kind of drive and tightness that you get with that embryonic line-up, where everybody is totally reliant on the other two or three guys, so everybody gives a lot more.
- David Bowie - vocals, guitar, saxophone
- Adrian Belew - guitar, backing vocals
- Erdal Kizilcay - bass guitar, backing vocals
- Rick Fox - keyboards, backing vocals
- Michael Hodges - drums
From David Bowie
From Hunky Dory
From Aladdin Sane
From Diamond Dogs
From Young Americans
From Station to Station
From Let's Dance
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