Live: Spectrum, Philadelphia

David Bowie performed at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on 28 April 1978, as part of the Isolar II Tour.

It was the 22nd date of the tour, which began on 29 March in San Diego, and the first of two consecutive nights at the venue.

Bowie’s guitarists were Carlos Alomar and Adrian Belew. Simon House was on electric violin, Sean Mayes played piano, and Roger Powell was on keyboards and synthesizers. George Murray played bass guitar and Dennis Davis was on drums.

We were staying at the Hilton Inn next to the gig, the 15,000 seater Spectrum. I missed being in town but there was still a great feeling of being back somewhere familiar. This had been the first American city to make David a star. Now we were back to make his second live album (Stage) here.

We went across early for a special sound-check. Tony Visconti was there in the recording truck parked in the vast back-stage area. The sound was taken unmixed straight from the rig, plus a mike suspended high in the auditorium for ambience.

David doesn’t like too much crowd noise on a live album – he feels it’s in bad taste but I miss this on Stage as it seems part of the show. I’ve always been a sucker for live gigs and crowd reaction.

I didn’t miss any that night in Philadelphia. The atmosphere as we came on-stage was electric and joyous. Usually there’s a smattering of crazy costumes but tonight it was a bright-eyed fancy dress parade which soon became a Roman carnival.

The stage light blazed back at us off make-up and tinsel – jagged lightning and white mime faces, henna and bleach jobs plus some of the classiest most sensational of sexy chic evening wear – slashed skirts and dark stockings, fur and feathers, leather and skin – and more skin as bikini tops were abandoned to the dance. There was an air of sensual arousal and some of the smiles that turned up to David were as glittering as his own.

My mind was split between the effort of concentrating – trying not to take my usual handfuls of notes, imagining poor Tony thinking, How are we going to hide that? But I soon abandoned myself to the fun, the crowd squealing with delight from the slow gong beats of ‘Warszawa’ to the disco bump and grind of ‘Fame’. Dave Fudger did an excellent review of this gig in Sounds. It’s a strange feeling for me to drop into the crowd with him for a moment:

“After eleven songs he speaks to the audience: ‘Hello.’ Pause for cheers.
‘We’ll be seeing you again in ten minutes. Will you be here?’ (Of course they will be!) ‘Thank you for coming.’
Then he’s off with the band and the lights come up. Through the smoke haze it’s just possible to read the illuminated TASTYKAKE ad on the opposite side of the hall. To recorded intermission music by the Rutles, Iggy and Lou Reed (Bowie’s choice) the kids play with frisbees, beach balls and giant balloons, or consume hideous hamburgers, milk-shakes, soft drinks, popcorn, ice-cream and more grass.”

The second half with Ziggy was predictably an explosion. Here in Philadelphia, I had seen Ziggy in ’73. That first night I had been astonished to see the Man, just about to go on, in a black leather Japanese-style outfit with legs so wide and stiff, like wings, he could hardly walk. That’s silly, David, I thought. But he waddled onto the strobe-lit stage, the flame of his red hair the only colour in that silver flicker, Beethoven’s ‘Song Of Joy’ gave way to ‘Hang On’ then he stood, arms outstretched, while two girls in black ran on and tore the suit off him. (‘It’s held together with poppers but I nearly fell over some nights when they didn’t pull together!’) He emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon in a blaze of white silk… Ziggy played guitar…

This time, his white trousers are scarcely less baggy than those black leather but he has no trouble moving. It was a joyful romp and he even did the space-face specs to a roar of delight. Aaaah – Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am must have bent the needles in the recording truck.

Finally – It’s not the side effect of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love! All the lights blazing forth on the orgy before us, we bounced back for the encore then leapt for the limos as if the crowd were at our heels for the short dash back to the hotel. There from my window I could see The Spectrum rising like the Rome Coliseum from acres of arc-lit cars as the black ant-like crowd streamed out, heading for the night’s traffic jam or the subway… or, of course, the hotel.

Sean Mayes
Life On Tour With Bowie

Bowie had previously performed at the Spectrum on 18 and 25 November 1974 during the Diamond Dogs Tour, and on 15 and 16 March 1976 during the Isolar Tour.

He returned to the venue on 18, 19, 20, and 21 July 1983 for the Serious Moonlight Tour; and 9, 10, 12, and 13 July 1990 for the Sound+Vision Tour.

The setlist

Last updated: 16 October 2023
Live: Capital Centre, Landover
Live: Spectrum, Philadelphia
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