“I have no idea where I’m going from here, but I promise I won’t bore you,” said David Bowie onstage at his 50th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden in New York (Thursday, January 9). With such special guests as Frank Black, Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan, Foo Fighters, Lou Reed, Robert Smith of The Cure and Sonic Youth joining him for different songs throughout the 24-song performance, the sold-out show (a benefit for Save The Children) will be seen as a pay-per-view special March 8 – just a few weeks after the February 11 release of Bowie’s new Earthling album on Virgin.
Writing in the New York Daily News, Jim Farber said the show “kept one eye firmly on the future. Instead of serving up dewey-eyed rehashes of sounds from eras dead and gone, Bowie – aided by an ornery mix of musical friends – shook classic numbers to their core. He also devoted roughly one-third of the show to recent and brand new material.”
Also toasting Bowie at the show and a post-concert dinner hosted by his wife Iman at the downtown space of Julian Schnabel – who directed Bowie as Andy Warhol in the film Basquiat – were a wide variety of names: Beck, Moby, Courtney Love, the former Prince, Charlie Sexton, and Fred Schneider; actors Matt Dillon, Matthew Modine, Jeffrey Wright, Christopher Walken, and Michael Wincott; and fashion’s Donna Karan and Naomi Campbell.
At the show, Bowie opened up with Earthling’s forthcoming single “Little Wonder,” whose “arrangement had the feel and sound of many of his classics,” wrote the New York Post‘s Dan Aquilante. From there, Bowie was joined by former Pixies founder/vocalist Frank Black for “Scary Monsters” and “Fashion.” Foo Fighters came onstage for Outside’s “Hallo Spaceboy” (which featured three drummers including the Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl) and Earthling’s “Seven Years in Tibet.” Next: Robert Smith joined Earthling’s “The Last Thing You Should Do” and the Hunky Dory chestnut “Quicksand,” performed acoustically with both Bowie and Smith on vocals and guitars. Later, feedback heroes Sonic Youth charged into Earthling’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” Bowie brought Lou Reed onstage, introducing him as “the King of New York,” launching into Hunky Dory’s “Queen Bitch,” the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For The Man” and “White Light White Heat” and Reed’s “Dirty Boulevard.” Billy Corgan came on for the Bowie classic “All The Young Dudes” and “Jean Genie,” playing guitar and singing. Bowie closed the show intimately, singing “Space Oddity” alone, as 14,500 fans cheered him on.
After the show, Billy Corgan told Lisa Robinson of the New York Post: “When I was 10 years old, growing up in the Midwest, I bought David’s Ziggy Stardust album. I really believed he was an alien. I always have been a fan, and still am a fan.”
Uninterested in resting on his previous achievements, David Bowie keeps moving forward. “More than most performers his age, Mr. Bowie has repeatedly staked his career on the new,” noted Jon Pareles in hisNew York Times review of the show. “In the new songs Mr. Bowie sang, he uses jungle as an overlay of double-time energy and implacable noise, revitalizing what might have been stately arena anthems. With Reeves Gabrels on guitars, who filled spaces with screeches and siren notes, and Mike Garson on keyboards, sprinkling shards of Romantic piano grandeur, the band revamped some old songs – notably “The Man Who Sold The World,” now a haggard dub-reggae confession – and subtly updated others.”
The Boston Globe‘s Jim Sullivan observed: “The startling triumph of this set was that Bowie’s new material is his strongest in years. He’s got hyper-fast “Jungle” rhythms snaking in and out of these resplendant melodies, making the music both edgy and immediately accessible.”
Summing up the evening was Dave Ford of the San Francisco Chronicle, calling the show “a volitile musical cocktail: shrieking sonic maelstroms, poignant ancient ballads, deep Jungle grooves, startling duets.”