Bowie rocks Birthday concert with Earthling

while Evan almost freezes to death

By Evan Torrie

My mosh ticket

Here's my biased impression of the big event at Madison Square Garden, January 9th.

Pre-Concert Shenanigans

Well, although the concert was definitely worth flying from California, I have to say that I'm glad I could fly back after having four days of sub-freezing temperatures, snow, ice and wind. You East Coasters are welcome to your weather ;) David, for your 60th, please consider the West Coast (or better yet, the Southern Hemisphere ;))

I arrived early Thursday in New York after taking the red-eye, and turned up at Madison Square Garden in the early afternoon. Just a short line to start with, but we had to sit outside the heated foyer. The weather got progressively colder until it started snowing heavily around 3 p.m. This was a new experience for my brother (who had just flown in from New Zealand with its mid-summer temperatures in the 80s) and myself who had only once or twice before been in a city when it was snowing (and they were on the East Coast as well).

Time rolled around fairly quickly. At about 3:30 p.m., some technicians inside the foyer started rolling out two 50" TV screens, together with a Macintosh controlling the output from behind them. As I mentioned elsewhere, I had been contacted earlier in the week by David's management about having the Teenage Wildlife birthday card shown as a multimedia presentation at the entrance to the foyer. However, they had never gotten back to me as to whether they had actually gotten it done in time for the show. Suspecting that this was what it was, I walked in and asked the two guys setting it up what they would be showing... The reply?

"We're showing David Bowie's Web site"

Hahahahahaha... Well I guess I shouldn't make any comment about the official site ;) But as expected, around about 4:30, I peeked in behind and saw a picture on the Mac's screen that looked strangely familiar ;-) Then, eventually they fired it up, and on came the Teenage Wildlife birthday card, one greeting and one picture per page. They were supposed to be synchronized (I gave them all the right files to do so), but somehow it was screwed up, and the text didn't correspond to the right picture... oh well. I'm still wondering whether the technician's comment means that Teenage Wildlife is really David Bowie's Web site (hahahaha).

The line was still reasonable only a half hour before the doors opened at 7 p.m.... probably anyone in the line at that point would have made the front rows of the mosh-pit. I hope David doesn't get too popular, and this trend continues for his subsequent tour.

The Mad Rush

Never before have I seen such a ridiculous method of getting people into a mosh pit as I saw at Madison Square Garden! The doors opened, and they then held us for about 25 minutes at the gates inside the door, everyone crowded around, while the guards played their little power trips. Finally, they decide to let about 20 people through. When it came to my turn to be in the group of 20, we took off down the corridor, only to find that the corridor went on for a lot longer than I expected! Then, it turned into a series of stairs going up about 4 flights. Then we came out into the arena only to see that we were halfway up the side and we had to go to the other side to get to the mosh pit. So, then it was down a different flight of stairs. Then through a security check of the ticket. Then, along a dark corridor deep in the garden, through another security check for mosh where they then gave us a wrist bracelet, then finally back out into the open and walking around for a final security check and into the mosh pit! Whew! Talk about complicated and obtuse. I incredulously asked the security guard if this was the normal mode of operation, and she said "Yes". Of course, as luck would have it there was no frisking or checking for cameras, which was a pity because I had decided to leave my camera behind. Oh well.

Sugar Pill

I finally made it into the mosh pit about 7:45, only 15 minutes before the opening act Placebo was due to come on. When Placebo came on, the arena was nowhere near full... even the mosh pit still had not filled completely. Maybe it was just the weather, but everyone seemed to be late to get there. By the end of the show though, it seemed like the arena was completely full, so it must have been close to a sell-out.

I (surprisingly for those who know me ;P) enjoyed Placebo, although in the case of their lead singer, I was a little like David in Hallo Spaceboy, i.e. "Do you like girls or boys, it's confusing these days". Placebo did about a six song set, lasting about 30 minutes.

Then it was off with all their equipment, and on with the stage setup for Bowie. Crew members running all over the place, plugging in this and that, testing out Reeves' guitar while wearing Reeves' feathers. Tim Pope (the video director for the concert) came out and asked us all to be careful of the cameras which were swooping in overhead the mosh pit (if we'd raised our hands we would have hit them) - will love to see if I made it onto camera... with my "finger" Teenage Wildlife shirt ;) Another interesting setup was a series of stuffed plain white-faced dummies on the stage. The technicians played with projection cameras which shone various looped images of David's face directly onto the dummies' faces, giving the impression that the dummies were living persons always "looking left and right", and making various other grimaces ;-) This effect is apparently the province of an artist called Tony Oursler (sp?). The pinnacle of this effect was later on in the show when David did a live projection onto a floor-to-ceiling cocoon during Voyeur Of Utter Destruction.

Marketing Earthling

While the setup continued, the PA system played what would have been alien songs to most of the crowd... namely I'm Deranged, Law (Earthling On Fire), Pallas Athena and Dead Man Walking. By putting these two songs (Law and Dead Man Walking) in the pre-concert buildup (Pallas Athena is from Black Tie White Noise of course, while I'm Deranged is on the upcoming Lost Highway soundtrack), David managed to play all nine of the songs from Earthling during the course of the night!

While I had actually heard all of them, I would guess that 90% of the crowd had heard none of them, and probably only about 20-30 people out of the crowd of 18000 had heard all of them. This probably explains why some reviewers (and even me from the depths of the mosh pit) sensed the crowd as being a bit dead during the first half of the concert where he played the seven Earthling songs. Nevertheless, I guess this means that David is at least trying to push Earthling hard. Let's just hope that Virgin does the same.

On With The Show

Finally, it was time for the big event. Throughout the show, one special effect used was to project giant size figures from the Sound+Vision tour videos of David and the blonde-haired dancer (watch the video for Fame90) onto a scrim screen which covered the entire front of the stage. Since I had not seen the Sound+Vision tour (thanks David for not coming to the Southern Hemisphere yet again), this was new to me, although I would have preferred more variation in the sources.

David made his way out with the rest of the band, and they broke into the upcoming single release Little Wonder. I'm not a big clothes person (usually t-shirts and sweat pants for me;-)), except to notice that David wore the same type of outfit all night (i.e. black trousers and shirt, with various assorted frock-coats over the top, including the familiar Union Jack at one stage). David as usual was in fine form, coming right out to the front of the stage and making eye contact with us in the front of the mosh pit, as he did the familiar ex-Ziggy, now Little Wonder one leg bent forward and singing into the microphone stance. Reeves' guitar was turned up in the mix, as in previous live versions, but unlike the album version. Personally I like Reeves' screeches in this song ;)

Introducing it as he had on the European tours last year as "the song from the film Seven" (probably since most people would have heard it there rather on the radio in this country, as most stations only played it about 3 or 4 times when it was released! ;)), David then broke into The Hearts Filthy Lesson.

Special Guest #1: This was Frank Black, resplendent in my usual mode of sartorial elegance (i.e. jeans and t-shirt ;P). Hmmm... Can't say I was a Frank Black fan before, and can't say I was afterwards either. Maybe it was just the mikes turned down, but I could hardly tell he was singing on the songs he did; namely Scary Monsters, and Fashion. Actually this was a problem with most of the guests, only Robert Smith and Lou Reed got any decent vocals out as special guests as far as I could hear from the front of the stage.

Scary Monsters invoked the now customary "Oi, oi, oi" chant from David and the mosh pit responded with the one arm raised salute (hmmm, a fascist salute?? Are we back to the 70s?). I was just hoping the overhead camera wasn't going to get hit by a flying hand ;-)

Give Me The Eyes

Frank wandered off after a hug from David, and we were then treated to our Internet special, Telling Lies. To celebrate, the ceiling opened and down came about 6 or 7 white balloons with different coloured eyeballs, each one about 5-6 feet in diameter. Contrary to popular belief, the mosh pit did not actively try to break these apart. I was trying to throw it up into the air, when it popped directly over the top of my brother standing next to me (he's about 4 or 5 inches taller than me). The "smoke" which some people mentioned is, I believe, just the talc powder they put inside big rubber balloons. In any case, we grabbed it! A souvenir! Of course, then I had to stick it down my pants for the next 2 hours to protect it from the hordes around... now that's what I call extra rubber protection ;-)

Special Guest #2: The crew frenetically went to work, rolling on extra drum kits to prepare for the Foo Fighters. With the extra drums, I should have guessed that the next song would be Hallo Spaceboy. And sure enough, that wild drum beat with three drummers really started to rock the mosh pit.

The mosh had been fairly well behaved. With Hallo Spaceboy though, the first surge came from behind as some in the mosh pit tried to push their way to the front. Luckily my rugby training came in handy, and I managed to scrum and hold my position ;-)... Always fun when you're bigger/stronger than most others (not usually the case for me except at concerts with teenagers) ;-)

Next, the unknown to most of the crowd Seven Years In Tibet assaulted the ear-drums. The mosh calmed down a little ;) The Foo Fighters rolled off again, and we were treated to the Outside tour arrangement of The Man Who Sold The World, with the same stage setup (i.e. Bowie singing alone sitting/reclining on a table).

Cure Me

Special Guest #3: Introducing him as "the lead singer of one of Britain's most eccentric bands ever", David welcomed Cure lead singer Robert Smith onto the stage, complete with his customary "my hair is really a bird's nest" haircut and his white powdered, lipstick painted face. Actually, I really liked Smith in this concert. He was my favourite of the special guests, because of his ability like Bowie to smile, sing and give cute facial expressions at the same time (and he also had a half-decent voice). Very satisfying.

The duo were both playing guitars for their two songs, side by side, starting with The Last Thing You Should Do which is probably the most suited song for Smith from the Earthling album. Then, following up on Bowie's acoustic performance broadcast on Radio 1, the second of the brace of songs was Quicksand, where Bowie and Smith took turns singing lines from the verses, and then joining together for the chorus. I love Quicksand (another one of my "I like it because of the lyrics" songs -- "I'm not a prophet or a stoneage man, just a mortal with the potential of a superman"), and once again I thought this was tremendously appropriate for Smith.

And the award for special effects goes to...

Smith sauntered off, and Bowie came back with Battle For Britain off the new album. I really enjoy this song (one of my favourites off Earthling), mainly because of the lyrics, "I've never been a winner in my life...". Then it was time for the special effect of the evening. During Battle For Britain, a crew member had wheeled onto stage what looked like one of those goofy "stick your head in and take a picture" pieces of board that you see at boardwalks where you can put your face and hands in a picture. Except on this, they aimed a camera at the face cutout.

As the band started into Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty), the crew raised a large white cocoon shaped object from the floor to the top of the stage... it must have been about 20-25 feet tall. Then, midway through the song, David ran round to the cut-out board, and placed his face in the cutout. The camera projected live onto the cocoon as David sang the rest of the song while giving his patented "deranged look", looking left and right, blinking his eyes, effectively emulating the filmed loops that were also showing on the smaller dummies on stage. I was amazed that he could keep his eyes that open with the bright lights shining in his face! I, for one, was mesmerized by the effect.

Buy Earthling!

Special Guest #4: Sonic Youth rolled onto stage for only one song, the new version of I'm Afraid Of Americans. With I think 5 (or was it 6?) guitarists playing at once, this was pretty intense. It makes a great live version too!

After Sonic Youth rolled off, Bowie completed the evening's Earthling soundtrack by singing Looking For Satellites. As I said earlier, this meant that at some point during the entire evening, every song from the new album had been played. I'm not sure how this went over with the majority of the crowd, but it was great for me, since I had just heard a pre-release version of it a couple of times.

Classical Music

After the heavy promotion, it was time to get back to the classics which David has been performing on recent tours. The Gail Ann Dorsey vocal version of Under Pressure really got the crowd going, particularly since I bet most of them had not heard the revamped version. Then, the scrim lowered again, and Bowie came out in front, while the band stayed behind to play "Heroes". After a short break, before which Bowie said "there are two more guests to come", who should we see emerge but special guest #5.

Special Guest #5: The man of New York himself, Lou Reed walked out with David onto stage, and they both picked up guitars to take centre stage. I had previously been told what they had been rehearsing, so it wasn't a surprise to me when they started with Queen Bitch! David's voice was great on this, and it was one of my favourite songs of the evening. Then, what had been a long time coming (was it really 1972 when David last performed it live??), David and Lou sang Waiting For The Man, the Reed-penned song which David had performed extensively live back in the early 70s.

While the security guard was looking the other way, I stripped off one of my Teenage Wildlife t-shirts, rolled it into a ball and threw it up on stage. Unfortunately, I had rolled it too well, because it failed to unroll, and instead landed in a clump right in front of Lou Reed's feet ;) It stayed on stage for about 3 songs, Reeves almost tripping over it at one point... Damn, I wish it had unrolled and shown Teenage Wildlife for everyone on TV to see ;) There goes my advertising dollars ;)

Then, in the only non-Bowie associated song of the evening, Lou and David sang Lou's Dirty Boulevard, and finally finished up Lou's set with David's 1996 version of White Light White Heat.

Lou walked off, and the scrim lowered again. David came out to the front, and amongst flashing red and green lights, started out with "I'm an alligator!". Yes, Moonage Daydream! While he was singing, giant shots of him from the Life On Mars video in full Ziggy-garb (blue eye-shadow and orange hair... well, he still has the orange hair after a few in-between dye-changes ;-)). For the "Far out... In out" line, David gave us all the pelvic thrust treatment. Hel2, I hope you didn't faint at that point ;)

We want more!

David said goodnight at the end of Moonage Daydream and the band walked off the stage. Of course, an encore was forthcoming, as the crowd started singing Happy Birthday. Bowie came out and was presented with a cake (by someone who I presume was a good looking member of his crew ;)), and upon trying to blow out the candles, they immediately relit. Looking over at Reeves, he joked that Reeves must have used the trick auto-relighting candles ;) David thanked the crowd and said something to the effect of:

" I don't know what I'm going to do next, but I promise it won't be boring! "

The cake disappeared off stage, and the final special guest came out of the shadows.

Special Guest #6: Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins came on to sing All The Young Dudes and The Jean Genie. I thought he did a great job on Jean Genie, and the crowd obviously thought so too, as I looked up at the stands from the mosh and saw almost everyone on their feet and dancing to "Jean Genie, let yourself go!".

The finale

As the band walked off the stage again, the scrim lowered, and a single light illuminated a sole microphone behind the screen, letting us know that there would be one more song to come (at a Bowie concert, it ain't over till Beethoven plays ;)). The question was, what would it be??

David walked out behind the scrim with an acoustic guitar in hand, and a giant black and white Bowie from the Sound+Vision tour played on the screen, and amazingly, in sync, started singing Space Oddity. A synthesizer backed up Bowie, but the rest was just Bowie, his voice, and his guitar. A very touching moment, which ended the show. After saying goodnight for the last time, the lights came up.

After all

After making the torturous trip back out of the mosh pit, it was time to head over to the Pennsylvania Hotel to meet up with a lot of Teenage Wildlifers. Thanks to everyone who made it. I think I saw about 30-40 of you, and tried to say Hello to everyone. It was great to finally meet people such as BowieGrrrl, Aimee and Steve Barritz.

I headed back to the hotel to collect some t-shirts, and we then went out to a bar, and then to dinner. Dinner was fun, although it's not every night that I eat at 3:15 a.m. in the morning ;) Minerva was my favourite... hmmm, those thigh-high boots. Next time, we'll all have to be wearing our Teenage Wildlife t-shirts, hahaha.

Random tidbits

Some random events from the evening, which I couldn't quite remember when they happened. No doubt I will when the video comes out.

Well, all in all, a great concert! Let's hope that the effects continue for the Earthling tour. Hope you enjoyed my account ;)

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This document last updated Wednesday, 01-Dec-1999 18:21:51 EST
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