Is It Any Wonder/ Fun/Funhouse


Is It Any Wonder (live, 1997).
Is It Any Wonder (studio?, 1997).
Fun (Dillinja Mix).

In the 17 years between Lodger and Outside, Bowie treated touring as a politician would re-election campaigns. He had three grand efforts (Serious Moonlight, Glass Spider, Sound + Vision) and two small-scale ones (Tin Machine), and he’d mounted the larger productions as global carnivals, with exhausting rounds of publicity to make the shows “events.” At the close of each, he’d been spent: it would take him years to play live again.

Then in the mid-Nineties he became a road dog, following up his lengthy Outside tour with a round of summer festival gigs in 1996, then spending another five months touring from Germany to Argentina in 1997. It was his most sustained period of live performance since the Ziggy Stardust days.

So by the Earthling tour, the novelty of a “revived” Bowie playing live had waned a bit. With essentially the same band that he’d had since 1995, he used some of the same stage props, and his set lists, despite the new Earthling material and a few revived pieces, weren’t radically different from those of the Outside tour. So the 1997 tour tends to be forgotten, or folded into the overall “Outside” period; none of the Bowie bios devote more than a couple of paragraphs to it.

What the tour was, however, was a chance for fans to see Bowie with essentially nothing left to prove, on a more intimate scale and with a lower price-tag (this time round, he mainly played mid-size ballrooms and clubs rather than try to fill arenas). The shows were more casual in feel and wider in scope than the Outside gigs. There was more overt use of DATs for supplemental beats, vocal choruses and synthesizer lines, which freed up the players: Gail Ann Dorsey shifted to keyboard at times, and she had two vocal spotlights (“Under Pressure” and the next entry). The tour wound up as the blueprint for most of his subsequent shows: a set list ranging across the catalog, performed by a tight, crack band with little choreography and no more “concepts.”


The Earthling tour was a compromise. In his “dress rehearsal” concerts (four gigs in Dublin and London), Bowie unveiled his original template for the tour. There were would be two sets, a traditional “rock” set and a “drum ‘n’ bass” dance set. So for instance, at the Hanover in London (2 June), the drum ‘n’ bass set began with “I’m Deranged,” moved through “Pallas Athena” and a revived “V-2 Schneider” and closed with “The Last Thing You Should Do” and “Telling Lies.”

The split sets got a mixed response. Reportedly, much of the audience at the first Hanover gig left after the “rock” set was over, prompting Bowie to open with the dance set the following night. Some journalists attending the shows wrote up the drum ‘n’ bass sets as if Bowie had been igniting farts on stage. (The Observer‘s Barbara Ellen: “we all have to stand around for an aeon to what sounds like the cast of Star Wars falling down a fire escape…for God’s sake man, you’re a living legend. In future, play the old stuff and stop trying so hard.”)

After a few German dates, Bowie scrapped the split-set plan,* with the drum ‘n’ bass pieces now interwoven with the rock songs. This arguably improved the shows, as Bowie could create an arc—starting shows playing “Quicksand” alone on acoustic guitar and building to the dance songs midway through, so that a “Last Thing You Should Do” would be chased by “Under Pressure.” This made the newer pieces seem less like alien artifacts and more elaborations on his earlier work.

During the drum ‘n’ bass sets, the band had played an instrumental jam which apparently had come out of rehearsals of “Fame.” It opened with a DAT-generated beat that Zach Alford supplemented on drums, and had occasional vocal hooks (included what sounded like a vocoded Dorsey singing “is it any wonder?”); Bowie played tenor saxophone, then switched to baritone. As the first link above shows, he was often barely audible over the barrage, though he managed to make the bari sax groan like a trumpeting elephant.

This piece’s subsequent life is one of the more confounding in the Bowie catalog. As he’d intended to release a live album from the Earthling tour, “Is It Any Wonder” seemed a likely candidate for inclusion, either as a live take or a studio remake (or both: take the alleged “live” version taped at the Paradiso in Amsterdam on 10 June 1997. I agree with the Illustrated DB site that this recording seems like a studio take with canned applause mixed in).

Then in 1998 a 3:31 studio take of “Is It Any Wonder,” now retitled “Fun” (or “Funhouse,” as Gabrels once called it) was issued to BowieNet subscribers on a CD-ROM (you had to log onto the site first before you could play the track—in the days of dial-up Internet, this may have consumed an entire evening). By now, Bowie had come up with a few random lyrics for the track, referencing his old work with Iggy Pop (“Funtime”) and throwing in a pinch of world weariness (“my summer turns to fall…and I’ll miss you”).

A remix of the track by Dillinja, presumably from the same era, was included on the 2000 CD. (Five other “Clownboy” mixes of “Fun” were made, though none were officially released). In all of its incarnations, the track never escaped being an enjoyable live filler promoted to being a fairly dull record.

First performed (“Is It Any Wonder”) at the Hanover, London, on 2 June 1997. “Fun” was likely recorded/mixed ca. January 1998 during the “Earthling Live” mixing sessions.

* The last show to use the template was apparently the Utrecht gig on 11 June. The following show, in Dortmund on 13 June, had an incorporated set and the French concerts (14-19 June) solidified what would be the main set of the European leg of the tour, with “Is It Any Wonder” often slated midway through.

Top: Ted Barron, “Crossing, Brooklyn, NY” 1997; Bowie does his best Rodin at the Q Club, Birmingham, UK, 1 August 1997 (via “bowieinleith”).

16 Responses to Is It Any Wonder/ Fun/Funhouse

  1. Mr Tagomi says:

    I think the website version went “Welcome to the funhouse”, which would explain why Gabrels called it Funhouse.

  2. postpunkmonk says:

    Mixing the flow certainly made for a much stronger setlist. Arbitrarily sequencing the music by its style into one of two sets was a bad idea that I’m glad Bowie recognized before I saw him on this tour. I can never forget the “Earthling” tour stop I saw at the Chili Pepper [Oct. 8] in Ft. Lauderdale that year. It was a gift this Bowie fan never expected. As it unfolded, we were shellshocked that it just kept on coming! Surely that was the final song… nope!

    I knew I’d never see quite the same caliber of Bowie concert ever again. Not in terms of setlists and certainly not in terms of intimacy. In fact, there were no more concerts for me. I’m fine with that! I later got the “” CD when I joined Bowienet in 2000, but never realized that “Fun [dillinja remix]” had any relation to what I’d seen in Ft. Lauderdale a few years earlier.

    • col1234 says:

      it’s the tour I most regret missing.

    • s.t. says:

      This was indeed a great tour. I think the show I saw clocked in at around 3 hours. Bowie bellowing powerfully throughout, while puffing on a cig at every single chance he got, was quite a sight. I’m glad I got to see the later set rather than the awkwardly segregated version. Were the jungle sets in these early shows the ones billed as “Tao Jones Index?”

      As great as the show was, the 2004 Reality tour sounds like it was wonderful as well. Bigger venues, yes, but splendid versions of his songs with mostly live accompaniment (at least judging from the album, the DAT backup seems minimal. Perhaps that’s not the case).

  3. Maj says:

    Sounds like the generic music they play at gigs between the supporting act and the headliner. Well, to me anyway.
    Would have been great to experience this tour, but really I can say that about pretty much any Bowie tour. I was lucky enough to at least catch him on the last one, even though he almost died on stage. Now, that’s an event!

  4. Joe The Lion says:

    I saw his Shepherd’s Bush Empire show. When I got into Bowie 7 years before, I couldn’t have dreamt I’d get to see him in such a cosy venue, let alone walking on stage barefoot strumming Quicksand. That gig remains one of the highlights of my life – he put on a more impressive show at Wembley for the Outside tour, and a slicker show for the Reality tour (the other 2 times I saw him), but we all had so much fun at this one.

    • s.t. says:

      Yes, seeing Quicksand as the opener was simply magical.

      Listening to live recordings from around that time (including the Birthday show), I now notice that the guitar chords used for Quicksand sound more basic than the original, and more like “Tired Of My Life” or even “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes. In retrospect this is a direct musical link to “Seven” from Hours, which I’ve long considered to be his “Linda Perry make-over” moment.

      • CosmicJive says:

        As with many of the older songs performed in later tours he changed the key in which he sang it in. I think it’s a couple of steps down and that’s probably why certain chords seem more basic. As far as I can remember the chord progression is pretty much the same.

        I think the Birthday Show version of Quicksand is excellent.

      • s.t. says:

        I think you’re right about his lower key, but it’s also his attitude. He’s going for simple, pretty and graceful in the later versions rather than the spiky poet of yesteryear. So it feels more like a friendly strum-along with notes of sadness…quite like “Seven.”

  5. sinj says:

    I was at the Hanover show, and the Shepherds Bush show and while the press did slate the two-set approach, it did give a certain intensity to the material that had been issing from the previous time I’d seen m (the Birmingham “twix mix ianyone?).

    It felt like a real event nand a lot of the audience were very receptive.

    The image of Bowie repeatedly serenading Iman as she sat in the balcony at SBE however is something I’ll never forget. She looked faintly embarrassed. Awesome noisy show though, possibly my favourite.

  6. I was at both nights at the Hanover Grand in London and loved every minute. I preferred the 1st night where the club set came second for a couple of reasons

    1) The whole evening started with Quicksand. Which was just sublime
    2) The club set was better suited to a post-gig, later hours atmosphere
    3) When he opened the “main” set on night 2, he had discarded Quicksand in favour of TMWSTW (95 version) as an opener. Didn’t work for me

    Reports of people fleeing are very similar to the Outside shows – which is to say much exaggerated. Numbers were diminished later on on both nights because of the vagaries of London public transport system – ie people had to get home or be stranded.

    I passed by the same address a few days ago and the club is long gone – but on the night I could scarcely belive it. The size of the place made the 1989 Tin Machine gigs look like Arena shows

    There was just so much good stuff about these club gigs and Chris has done a great job (yet. again) and I look forward to Oh Superman and the other entries. The fact that this period warrants so many odds and sods is a reminder of what I loved about that era. By ’97 it was kind of a given that Bowie would be along in a few months with another show and it felt like the early ‘70s. That was a GREAT feeling to have

    The downside of that was by the time he played Glastonbury in 2000 I didn’t go because I had seen so much Bowie in recent years I didn’t think it would be anything special – bad idea klaxon

    Once the ’97 tour progress to a unified, single setlist the opening salvo blew people away – Quicksand, Jean Genie, Waiting For The Man, Queen Bitch etc etc. It was a great time


    Whilst the small venues and proximity were great, there was a sense that it was a bit too familiar. The “showman” Bowie wasn’t so pronounced. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course but having witnessed the Outside shows I did miss the craft, the emotional distance from the performer even

    The music: I loved the experimentation, the energy and most of the songs. But live, it sometimes meant sidelining the front man. He liked to talk about competing with The Prodigy at festivals around that time (and seeing them both at Phoenix 96 he did a great job) but in longer, smaller venues, prodigy fans get to watch Keith going crazy and various dancers doing “stuff. Bowie just went to the side of the stage in the dark. Again, nothing wrong with that per se but… y’know. It’s Bowie we came to see and things sometimes veered towards anonymous

  7. Roman says:

    I was at the Dublin rehearsal gig at Windmill Lane Studios. It was tricky to get tickets as they were given out at a specific night in a then ultra cool nightclub – The Kitchen (owned by U2). The night the tickets were distributed, the bouncers wouldn’t let in the obvious Bowie fans – as they were older (late 20’s and up) and a bit train-spottery in dress. However, I, being a bit of a poser, regularly went to The Kitchen. A young guy stood near the exit and handed out tickets to the chosen few as they left the club. The tickets didn’t mention Bowie – just the support act – Quadraphinia, I think. I saw several people given tickets with no explanation and they clearly had no intention of going to the gig as they didn’t know the band/DJ. I felt sorry for the fans outside that night, as they waited all night, taking sneering abuse off the bouncers and were never let in. (I met one of them later and he told me all about it).

    The gig itself is still the stuff of legend in Ireland. Once we arrived we got a voucher for two beers (Carslberg). While chugging them back, Quadraphenia (a drum and bass DJ) played a set in a small-ish bar. In the background there was a rumble as another dance set started off somewhere else in the building. Gradually people drifted off to investigate. By the time I left the bar and entered a very small hall, Bowie and the band were midway through Pallas Athena. I – and nearly everyone else – had missed I’m Deranged. There were only about twenty people standing in front of Bowie. By the time the room filled, there were about 200 people max. The stage was only about three feet off the floor, with no gap between performer and audience.

    Bowie was amazing, played for three hours but was clearly on edge at times. At one stage, while Bowie introduced a song someone in the audience roared out, “C’mon Bowie, ya funky-f&*ker!” It seemed that David misheard the cat-call and breaking off from his speech, first of all looked stunned and then glared into the corner of the room where the voice came from. Another time he was introducing one of the Earthling songs and someone shouted, “Play Heroes,” and Bowie snapped, “Don’t be stupid.” Though ironically he did play Heroes that night – one of the few times on the whole tour.

    The lead singer and drummer of Def Leperd were there – and FYI, they don’t do queues at urinals. They blatantly skip to the front, nod at whoever is next inline, and then step in front of them.

    Afterwards I reviewed the gig on some now-defunct/inactive Bowie site. My one criticism was that I hated Waiting for the Man and ripped it to shreds. Bowie didn’t play it on the real tour, UNTIL he played Dublin proper months later. I like to think that it wasn’t a mere coincidence, but was in fact a two-fingered gesture to yours truly. 😉

  8. The Ziggurat says:

    NOT RELATED TO THIS SPECIFIC ARTICLE: Depending on how Bowie’s career progresses, the new Arcade Fire single, “Reflektor” (/possible inclusion on Bowie’s part on their new album) could very well be the last article for this blog.

    And what a potentially epic way to end the whole thing! Potentially.

    col1234 – for your article archive/research, which I’m assuming you must have:

    “[N]o saxophone though.”

    • s.t. says:

      I dunno, Visconti made it sound like there’s likely another album coming, the Reality to TND’s Heathen.

      Good song, but I wish Bowie was more prominent a presence, like he was on TV on the Radio’s “Province.”

  9. CosmicJive says:

    I always liked the drum & bass set, wish we had a proper recording of one. I’m not sure about the other sets, but the Amsterdam and Utrecht sets both ended with ” Is it any wonder” and not “Telling Lies”. At both gigs that song was performed in the regular set. The drum & bass set also contained a live version of the Moby mix of “Dead Man Walking”. In Utrecht he even played both the Moby version and his own. Maybe also worth mentioning that at certain shows the live version of “Fame” would segue into “Is It Any Wonder” ( So far my Earthling Tour Trivia;-)

    BTW “Fun”, as it was released on the LAW website, wasn’t performed in Amsterdam, they played “Is it any wonder”. What I think they did with ” Fun” is they took the basic backing track of the Amsterdam “Is it any wonder” removed certain parts overdubbed a new phased rhythm guitar part, a new vocal track and some new additional sounds. It’s an interesting song. Sadly it remains unreleased:(

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