David Bowie sees The Rockettes live

David Bowie saw dance troupe the Rockettes on 13 February 1973.

The show was at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. He was accompanied by Bebe Buell, whom Bowie had met the previous night at Max’s Kansas City.

Bowie was impressed with one dancer who descended from the rafters on a silver gyroscope. Bowie decided he wished to use it as his own stage entrance for his own shows at the venue, on 14 and 15 February.

Following the Rockettes’ performance, Bowie and the Spiders From Mars rehearsed for their own shows at the venue.

David, Geoff and myself, along with Stuey ‘the bodyguard’ George, took a taxi to Radio City, where Stuey then went to the box office and collected four tickets for seats in the top balcony (seats in the topmost gallery, known where I come from as ‘the gods’). Nobody took any notice of David Bowie as we made our way to the cheap seats, and we were all enjoying the anonymity of our night at the show, away from the rest of the entourage. The rest of the band and crew must have wondered where we had got to so early on that first evening in New York.

The main feature of the Music Hall was reputed to be the appearance of the resident dancing-girl troupe, the famous ‘Rockettes’. The girls, there must have been two dozen of them, were pretty spectacular alright, dressed in sequinned and feathered outfits that would have shamed Mick Ronson, and they high-kicked higher than any BBC Television Toppers (a fifties thing dear reader, ask your granddad), however the venue itself was by far the star of the show.

It was a grand auditorium, as ornate as any theatre in the world, but there was more to it than that. The stage was not just a stage, there were several sections of stage, all movable by means of hydraulics, old technology certainly but faultless. Some sections of the stage would rise up from basement level and could become rostrums at the rear, while some moved front to back, or sideways on the stage space. Apart from the full range of lighting effects, the stage also had a selection of spectacular ‘steam curtains’. These were literally vertical blasts of hot steam, vented through grids in the stage floor itself. They erupted high into the air behind the Rockettes with a whoosh of old-fashioned exuberance and David immediately turned to me and Geoff and said, ‘We’ll use that.” What seemed like only moments later the show’s finale featured a kind of rotating gyroscope device, which descended slowly, glittering with light, from the centre of the roof of the stage. ‘And that,’ said David, in a whisper, ‘we have to use that.’

I had enjoyed the show, it had been a good old-fashioned variety show of the kind that I had presumed to have died out altogether, but I thought no more of steam curtains, gyroscopes and the like as we went to dinner at the hotel later that evening. David however, ever the true professional, had already discussed with his manager Tony Defries the possibilities that the spectacular Radio City stage effects had to offer, and arrangements were being made to use all the magic that we had seen that evening. If David wanted something, Tony made it happen, right there, right then.

John ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson
Bowie & Hutch
Last updated: 5 May 2023
David Bowie sees Biff Rose and Bruce Springsteen live
Live: Radio City Music Hall, New York
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