A month after wrapping up his summer festivals tour of 1996, Bowie took part in Neil Young’s annual benefit concert for the Bridge School. Playing two nights at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, Bowie joined the likes of Pete Townshend, Patti Smith, Pearl Jam and fellow Bromleyite Billy Idol.
Playing acoustic guitar and supported only by Reeves Gabrels and Gail Ann Dorsey (both plugged in), Bowie’s set lists were among his most retrospective since the Sound + Vision tour. Opening the first night with a quiet, gorgeous “Aladdin Sane,” in which Dorsey took much of the vocal and Gabrels somehow managed to play Mike Garson’s piano solo on guitar, Bowie then played “Jean Genie” for the first time in six years. Dorsey tapped out Trevor Bolder’s bassline like a code-breaker; Gabrels aimed for the heights of Mick Ronson and missed. Bowie dug into the song. Its old power seemed to surprise him; here it suddenly was, bloody with life again, making him marvel he’d ever written it.
Then some light relief. After reminding Gabrels of how to play the lead riff, Bowie sang a chorus and a bridge of “I’m a Hog For You Baby,” a 1959 Coasters single. In the spring of ’59, the Coasters had hit with their Saturday-morning-serial single “Along Came Jones,” so their producers/songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wanted to push them back into a “more funky” direction for the follow-up, Leiber recalled. It was a balancing act that Leiber and Stoller were adept at: rock ‘n’ roll songs broad and jokey enough to make the pop charts but that still had a sharp R&B edge.
So on “I’m a Hog For You Baby,” Leiber and Stoller went as dirty as 1959 would tolerate (they were good at threading the needle: these were the guys who wrote a song about VD that your grandmother could sing). Playing with the idea of a teenage boy as a root hog (not much of a stretch), “Hog for You” is single-minded in its dedication to lust (“this little piggy’s comin’ over your house/he’s gonna nibble on YOUR SWEET LIPS!“), with its poor teenage narrator lying tortured in his bed at night, his frustrations and releases given voice by a grunting saxophone and a single-note guitar solo.
It might’ve been too much on the nail: “Hog For You” was the first Coasters single to not make the Top 10 in two years, and it marked the start of the group’s commercial decline. Still, the following generation of rock ‘n’ rollers treasured it, with covers by Dr. Feelgood, Clifton Chenier the Grateful Dead and, most of all, a 1966 single by the Groupies that sounds as if it was cut by Cro-Magnons. Bowie’s “Hog for You” is a lark and throwaway but he gets into the proper spirit, even tweaking Leiber’s lyric to spell things flat-out, much to the delight of the audience.
The glee of Bowie’s “Hog for You” was in keeping with the rest of the sets: he seemed renewed during these shows. He played his revised “I Can’t Read,” turned “Let’s Dance” into a blues and “China Girl” into a mood piece that called back to the Iggy Pop original; he closed the second show with his favorite slab of rock ‘n’ roll: “White Light/White Heat.”* He would spend much of 1997 on the road (as we’ll see), working out the new Earthling material. But the Bridge Benefit was a hint of the hardened, jubilant retrospective Reality tour six years later.
Performed 19 October 1996 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, CA. The only performance officially released from Bowie’s sets was “Heroes,” which appeared on The Bridge School Concerts Vol. 1.
* In the second show, Bowie played “You and I and George” in place of “Hog For You.”
Top: “Gijon,” “London, 1996.”