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Great Concerts: David Bowie’s 50th Birthday Celebration – Jan 9, 1997 Madison Square Garden

BOWIE 1-9-1997


This post is the beginning of a new series here at Media Decay that will be almost like a recommendation area for concerts.  Basically it’s writeups of some particularly special concerts I’ve either attended or heard.  One feature of these is that I’m going to do my best to include at least some audio from the shows in these posts, although if a show is available commercially this will be more complex.  I hope you enjoy the first installment of this series and come back for more.  It should be monthly. Click a song title to stream that song.


The first installment is all about David Bowie.  A consummate showman and the definition of rock star, I’ve managed to see him live twice before he retired from music (if you didn’t know Bowie is retired from music due to his heart being fucked).  The very first time I got to see him was this show, perhaps the best concert I have ever experienced (and I’ve been to a lot of concerts).


The date was January 9th 1997.  The place NYC’s legendary Madison Square Garden where many years before Bowie had already put on one of the greatest shows of all time that would be released as the movie Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars.  This show was to celebrate the legendary rocker turning 50 (his actual birthday was the 8th).  As a way to celebrate this milestone he decided that he wanted to share the stage with acts that he’d influenced and who had influenced him in return.  We’ll get to who exactly that was in a minute.


The show began with a then pretty unknown Placebo opening.  If I remember correctly it was about a 30 minute long set.  They were alright, but mostly ignored.  Then pretty shortly after they left the stage the lights went out and out of a cloud of smoke like a god appeared the man himself to an odd ghostly soundtrack.  This was during the Earthling period so there was a lot of stuff from that played but it wasn’t about his latest album, it was about all of his work.  The show opened with Eartling’s Little Wonder, a great tune that was Bowie playing with electronica.  He then did Hearts Filthy Lesson from the Seven soundtrack before bringing out the first guest.

Frank Black shares the stage with Bowie

Frank Black shares the stage with Bowie

Frank Black of Pixies fame.  Frank shared singing duties on Fashion and Scary Monsters.  Already this could be considered a great show and it had barely begun.  Frank Black on Scary Monsters was pretty great.  Fashion was a little more awkward.


Scary Monsters


After that he brought out The Foo Fighters to do Hallo Spaceboy.  When I mean he brought out the Foo Fighters, he really brought out the whole band, while his band still played.  Also Dave Grohl chose to sit in on drums, leading to 3 drummers playing at once, making a massive wall of rock.  This song has never been better.  Dave Grohl actually was playing so hard he popped his snare open after the first hit.


Hallo Spaceboy


After that sonic assault, all but Grohl left the stage.  Grohl played guitar for Earthling song Seven Years In Tibet.  A little trivia, shortly after the end of Nirvana Grohl toured with Bowie as his drummer for a little while, due to Bowie being so impressed with his Nirvana playing and particularly the handling of Man Who Sold The World on Unplugged.  So it is odd that the very next song after Grohl left the stage was The Man Who Sold The World, done without any guests.


After that he brought out Robert Smith from The Cure to do The Last Thing You Should Do with him. Smith also joined him for a beautiful rendition of Quicksand.




A few songs later it was time for his next guests.  This time Sonic Youth joined to play I’m Afraid of Americans.  He followed that with a few other songs, most notably a really incredible version of Under Pressure featuring his beautiful, bald, shoeless, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey doing the Freddy Mercury part and slaying it.  After a rousing version of Heros he brought out the biggest guest yet. Lou Reed of The Velvet Underground, who he introduced as the king of New York.


Reed shared the stage for not only Queen Bitch, but Reed’s songs I’m Waiting For The Man, White Light/White Heat, and Dirty Boulevard.  This was just great.


I’m Waiting For The Man


White Light-White Heat


50 Candles is a lot.

50 Candles is a lot.

Bowie continued solo for Moonage Daydream and then his wife Iman came out to sing Happy Birthday and give him a cake.

Billy Corgan shares some stage time


But this show wasn’t over yet.  Bowie had one more guest to bring out. For the first encore he brought out Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.  Corgan performed All The Young Dudes and Jean Genie.


All The Young Dudes


To be honest I’m not a big fan of Corgan’s and he sang obnoxiously on these songs, but they were still pretty great.  After that there was a second encore.  It was Bowie sitting solo on stage and doing Space Oddity.  A perfect ending to a perfect night.


The bands

The bands


Full Setlist:

  1. Intro
  2. Little Wonder
  3. The Hearts Filthy Lesson
  4. Scary Monsters
  5. Fashion
  6. Telling Lies
  7. Hallo Spaceboy
  8. 7 Years in Tibet
  9. The Man Who Sold The World
  10. The Last Thing You Should Do
  11. Quicksand
  12. Battle for Britain
  13. The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
  14. I’m Afraid of Americans
  15. Looking for Satellites
  16. Under Pressure
  17. Heroes
  18. Queen Bitch
  19. I’m Waiting for the Man
  20. Dirty Blvd
  21. White Light/White Heat
  22. Moonage Daydream
  23. Happy Birthday
  24. All The Young Dudes
  25. The Jean Genie
  26. Space Oddity


Shows don’t get much better than that.  Bowie was at the top of his game this night and the performances were all spectacular.  Also the entire thing was filmed for a Pay Per View special that aired a few months later, which is why the audio is so good.  The special also included 2 songs not performed that night I Can’t Read and Repetition.  If you have a video of this special I would kill to get my hands on a DVD.  Hell I can’t even find a VHS.  The good news is that I have the full audio of the show and it’s here for you to grab:

Part One

Part Two


The next time I saw Bowie was on his Reality Tour, which coincidentally they just announced they’re putting out on CD in January and you can pre-order through Amazon right now:


7 Responses to “Great Concerts: David Bowie’s 50th Birthday Celebration – Jan 9, 1997 Madison Square Garden”

  1. Andy says:

    Thanks! Been looking for this concert in its entirety for years.

  2. Mitsuko Richins says:

    You covered several interesting things in this post. I came across it by using Google and I’ve got to admit that I am now subscribed for your blog, it is quite fine ;D

  3. Aliboz says:

    Hey, get your facts right. The Ziggy Stardust motion picture was recorded at Hammersmith Odeon, in Londond. Sorry to bitch about a thing like that, but for me it’s important.

  4. Karsten says:

    I just bought the DVD, the show looks fantastic.
    It would have been great to have been there.

  5. Meursault says:

    Great review of what was a very unique evening. The video was done in typical Bowie fashion – way WAY ahead of his time. He had staffers either handing out video cameras in the pit (where I was for the gig) or they themselves were using them. I believe they were wearing masks so they stood out. Anyways, this was in 1997; when you see the performance (or outtakes) its how you imagine we catch up with great gigs today as people post audience-videos shot today with our cameras. This was remarkable. I saw the finished video recently and if you didn’t know they approached it this way, you would just assume that they chose different audience clips to insert.

    In addition to that, at the end of the VHS, if memory serves, there is a mini Tin Machine reunion (as the credits roll) of sorts in the dressing room, playing slowly through a song (I don’t recall which one).

    Also worth a mention – this show spawned a few musical partnerships; Reeves got invited to play guitar on The Cure’s next single for Galore, Wrong Number, and performed at a few of the US Winter Holiday shows later in 1997. Reeves eventually got invited to join The Cure.

    Brian of Placebo and Robert of The Cure have taken turns joining each other’s bands on stage (I believe If Only Tonight We Can Sleep Brian w The Cure & Boy’s Don’t Cry Robert w Placebo).

    What I really liked about the article was how the author high-lighted Scary Monster’s; for me, it was absolutely the best song of the night, even being the rather passionate Cure fan that I am.

    One last little bit of fun: at the press conference before the show, Robert was speaking about the old song he would be singing (one new, one old) and it would be Quicksand from Hunky Dory; anyways, he revealed that he had ‘…learned it phonetically and during rehearsals Bowie had to keep stopping him to learn the words properly (sic).’

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