Katherine Reed (California State University, USA)


In 1974, an ambitious tour was designed for David Bowie. Historically, tours had been relatively staid affairs with simple staging. Here, though, a cityscape oozed huge multicolored drips, while catwalks and cranes moved around the stage. In the middle of it all, a rear projection setup would to bring the audience right into the performance. Collaborating with Broadway design veteran Jules Fisher and set designer Mark Ravitz, Bowie envisioned a stage show where his 1984-themed album Diamond Dogs could be brought to life, a real Telescreen inserting film footage and live-edited audience video into his onstage performance. This project ultimately failed, but its plans show the blossoming of a new pop star showcase: one that is inherently multimedia, and would dominate world tours in coming decades.

Drawing on archival materials from 1970s tours and interviews with Ravitz, this paper explores a moment at the beginning of the rock/pop star tour as we know it. For a generation of musicians like Bowie, alongside Broadway professionals, the mid 1970s were a time of experimentation during which elaborate staging and live video editing were becoming feasible for musicians’ tours. I argue that the staging experience of these theater professionals and the visual ambition of musical would-be auteurs like Bowie helped to launch a new multimedia performance format. Threads from this emergent 1970s performance practice influenced contemporary pop star multimedia live events, as well as the visual albums and emotion pictures of Beyoncé and Janelle Monaé.