Not Just the Ticket — a ticketless show of note: Tin Machine, late August 1991

I’ll preface this entry by noting that while I’ve been running each entry off a ticket — thus the name of the series — not every show I’ve seen is one where there was a ticket or where one was saved. If I tried talking about each of those I’d rapidly get lost in the weeds, not being sure of dates or tours or more, but there are some shows that do deserve a little mention here and there. This is definitely one of them.

It was fair to say that everyone in the apartment at UCLA was David Bowie-obsessed. We were all music freaks to one extent or another — myself, Steve G., Jen, Xana — and we all definitely loved Bowie, each in our ways. Our collective answering machine message (and there’s a phrase that I just realized is utterly dated) had as its backing music “Suffragette City” (for the “Oh Henry get off the phone” bit, you see), and by the summer of 1991 I had rapidly kicked myself several times over the fact that I’d missed his appearance at Dodger Stadium the previous year for what he’d claimed was his retirement of his back catalog. Amazing what I fell for at that time.

Somewhere along the way I joined a fairly well-organized group of Bowie fans centered around a zine called Sound and Vision. Somewhere around here I’ve still got the back issues and their obsessive coverage of that 1990 tour, and always enjoyed each issue as it appeared. At some point in early 1991 the word surfaced following said tour’s conclusion that Tin Machine was due to release another album, and while I admittedly regarded the first album with a bit of hesistancy, hey, it was Bowie nonetheless, and now something more was due.

I can’t recall the exact circumstances, but at some point I received a flyer announcing a contest via the zine. Turned out that Tim Pope, known primarily for his string of videos for the Cure, was going to be directing a promotional concert appearance by the band to help launch the album in late August, with the resultant footage to be screened on ABC’s off/on again In Concert series, which played late night either on Fridays or Saturdays, I can’t remember which. The contest was designed to allow a number of fans to attend the show, each with a guest, with the caveat that while the zine could guarantee the passes, one would have to pay one’s way to get out to LA as needed. Since I was already there, I leaped at the chance and sent off my entry, whatever it involved, and crossed my fingers.

I was hanging around the apartment some weeks later — pretty sure it was something like late July — when the phone rang. It was one of the zine editors, introducing herself, and I almost immediately guessed, “Wow, I must have won! Why else would they call!” So I was pretty charged up.

Turns out things were about to get more charged up than I realized. As she explained, while the contest had attracted plenty of interest, not enough people had been able to book travel to LA to fill all slots. The upshot:

“Send me as many names as you can and they’ll be on the guest list.”

I think my jaw dropped.

I immediately booked all four of us at the apartment for this and promised the editor I’d get more names when I could. I remember when Xana came home later that day and I explained to her what happened the look of happiness when I made it sound like I’d won tickets turned to sheer shock and full-on squealing when I said, “So you’re definitely going to see David Bowie!”

After that it was a matter of getting a hold of friends. A LOT of friends. The numbers rapidly multiplied, as I contacted people, a lot of whom were fellow concert veterans I’ve already mentioned. Steve M., Kris C., Eric J. Lawrence, Angela, Kirsten, Aaron, David S., Jason, the list kept going and going and more and more people were added to the list over the next few weeks. It rapidly became a thing, and I seem to remember leaving phone message after phone message with the editor, or sending out letters or something — I had only just gotten an e-mail account through UCLA around that time and didn’t really appreciate what it was then, so this was about the only way to get the word going. I was crossing my fingers and hoping for the best but everything I heard back said it was okay — and to keep adding names. Clearly they wanted a hopefully obsessed crowd for this thing (who could blame them?).

The day arrived and all we knew was that we were supposed to meet at the Forum in Inglewood. I forget how we all got there but we did, in any number of cars and combinations, milling about a bit and dealing with demi-officious types from the label or the network or whatever trying to coordinate this thing. We were then separated into groups and put in chartered buses for wherever we’d be going for the show. I can’t recall who all was in my bus but it was me and my roommates, Angela, at least a few others, plus other hyperfans who’d ended up in this thing via the zine or wherever else. A BBC reporter was interviewing at least a couple of fans for radio coverage as we drove along, and the whole thing felt pretty fun. At some point we’d learned that this was going to be done at LAX, but we weren’t exactly sure where beyond that.

Then it happened. The bus stopped on some seemingly random street corner, the front doors opened, there was a slew of excited chatter near the front of the bus…and Tin Machine walked on.

Honestly I think there was a moment of shocked silence, then the cheers and applause began. Yup, Bowie was there and he happily made his way down the aisle, doing a bit of gladhanding as he went. I honestly think I was too bowled over to react, I just remember staring at him as he walked past our seats with a smile, looking towards someone he recognized in the back of the bus, and just turning to my roommate Steve G. in the seat behind me. He had a gaping shocked smile as we looked at each other and I have no doubt that was exactly how I looked too. Whoa my god, Bowie was RIGHT THERE.

He ended up sitting and talking with the BBC reporter a seat or two from us, and at one point signed an autograph for the then recently released collection Early On, Rhino’s handy compilation of all his earliest singles in the run-up to his full debut in 1967. Yeah, I was jealous of whoever got that. Lots of chatter and sometimes whispered conversation with my group and all around us — we couldn’t NOT talk about him but we didn’t want to be, you know, in your face or anything. Not at all.

Damn, it was Bowie, RIGHT THERE!

The location of the show was indeed at LAX, located near the edge of the whole complex where they’d built a little stage that ended up framing jets landing in the background (from side to side, not directly head on, for rather obvious reasons). When the bus arrived we all bundled out, Tin Machine heading off one way to get ready and the rest of us directed to a stage area where a number of folks were already. Sure, they might be closer, but hell, we’d just been on the damn bus with Bowie, we did NOT care. It wasn’t a huge crowd anyway — two hundred people perhaps, something pretty small along those lines — and while the whole thing was a made for TV experience and we were essentially unpaid extras (I don’t even think they provided water), hell, were we caring? Not at all.

I remember being with Xana, Jen, Eric and Angela in the crowd as we were facing nearly stage center and after whatever introductory hoohah there was Tin Machine took the stage and broke into a brief set of songs, mostly from the second album about to come out but concluding with “Heaven’s In Here” from the debut. It was a fine enough performance, not deathless — much like the band — but not bad at all. The rhythm section of Tony and Hunt Sales did their thing — though Hunt’s blooooze vocal assault on “Stateside” was definitely one of the more unlikely things Bowie’s ever dealt with, so I’m glad that was a one-off — Reeves Gabrels looked like the son-of-Fripp guitar geek he was and Bowie, well, Bowie. There ya goddamn go. The man was a pro, and the weird tension between trying to create Sonic Youth-referencing art noise and working his listener-friendly way as a frame to it all was all part of the experience. It wasn’t a sprawling mess of a rock show, he was just too polished for that, and he’d already seen it all anyway. Somehow the romp through Roxy Music’s “If There Is Something” made sense as a result, turning a song from the group seen to be one of his few real rivals in the seventies in his own nod and random celebration; it wasn’t the creative weirdness of the original by any means but it was a good enough bar-band-gone-high-fashion rework.

Near the end of the show Steve M. and others appeared, explaining that somehow they’d been delayed by who knows what weirdness on the organizers’ end, so they unfortunately had missed most of the show. I remember feeling pretty bad for them and still do, it shouldn’t’ve been that way! After it ended we all bussed back to the Forum, but most of us immediately went over the apartment — we’d noticed that there were local ABC news crews around as well as the actual camera people, and our hunch was right: there was a short story about the show on the news broadcast that evening at 11. I am pretty sure you could see the back of my head in the crowd at one part, but unfortunately the tape I made’s misplaced so unless something turns up on YouTube or the like I’ll never know.

A few weeks later, at around the same time Chris Roberts published an extended article about the show in Melody Maker (at one point described the surreally wonderful experience of getting to sit around backstage with Bowie as he tuned his guitar for a bit), the show was broadcast and most of us reconvened in the apartment to have pizzas and beer and whatever else and see how it all turned out. The Tin Machine footage was intercut with someone Bowie mentioned in a bumper was one of his own current musical favorites — Morrissey, from the show that became the Live at Dallas video release. I was (and remain) a fan, as were a number of folks there, but others gathered at the apartment not so much, so the range of reactions was amusing to say the least.

What there was of the Tin Machine set played was fun enough, most of the songs aside from “Heaven’s In Here” took a turn, with the final song broadcast being “If There Is Something.” At one point Xana swore she saw herself and after it was done we rewound and rechecked the tape a few times and yep, there they were — Eric J. Lawrence doing a little dance in one corner of the frame, showing the stage and the crowd in front of it up and from the side, and next to him Xana and Jen, watching Bowie’s every move on stage and with a huge smile on Xana’s face in particular, pure happiness through and through. Who could blame her?

Can’t seem to find this footage anywhere on the Net yet, sadly, but I’ll keep looking. So no ticket, nothing tangible from that experience — but damn, was that ever cool.


3 Responses to “Not Just the Ticket — a ticketless show of note: Tin Machine, late August 1991”

  1. Phil Freeman Says:

    I had a somewhat similar (but much smaller-scale) experience when the Rollins Band filmed the “Tearing” video at the Ritz Theater in Elizabeth, NJ in ’92 or thereabouts. They ran through that song about 5-6 times, while allowing the assembled fans to create the wildest pit possible (including stage diving, which was NEVER permitted at a real Rollins Band show), but between songs Henry bantered with the crowd and the band played a couple of surprising covers – Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” and Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” A fun afternoon.

  2. Barb Says:

    I was at this show, but alas I was on the bus Tin Machine did not board!!!!!

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