People Have the Power/ Get Up Stand Up

01tibet

People Have the Power (Tibet House Benefit 2001: Patti Smith with Bowie, Tony Visconti, et al).
Get Up Stand Up (Tibet House Benefit 2003: Ziggy Marley with Bowie, Lou Reed, Ray Davies et al).

Among the most sublime live performances Bowie gave in the early 2000s were at a trio of concerts for the Tibet House Benefit. Held annually at the end of the long New York winter at Carnegie Hall, the benefit shows have had the likes of Lou Reed, Philip Glass, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and Bowie as performers and arrangers.

Bowie’s three consecutive appearances (2001-2003) produced the most striking arrangements of his later performing years. “Silly Boy Blue,” sung with the Tibetan monk chorus that he’d always envisioned for the song, was a marvel, one of the song’s finest performances, while the Scorchio Quartet-dominated version of “Heroes” is one of that warhorse’s more haunting interpretations.

In 2002, Bowie sang the as-yet-unreleased “I Would Be Your Slave” with the Scorchios and Tony Visconti on bass, then offered a colossal “Space Oddity” driven by the combined Scorchio and Kronos quartets, Philip Glass on piano and the late Adam Yauch on bass (if one’s to make any criticism, it’s that Sterling Campbell’s drums are a bit leaden).

And for his last (to date) performance at the Tibet House benefit, Bowie played “Loving the Alien” for the first time since the Glass Spider tour, with just Gerry Leonard for accompaniment, and Bowie wending back into the song as if trying to catch sight of its first inspiration. “Heathen” was the now-standard gorgeous interpretation with the Scorchio Quartet. He also sang a duet with Ray Davies (see next entry).

At the end of each show, Bowie showed up at the close for the group sing-a-long. These tended to be somewhat ragged affairs, with a happy touch of Christmas pantomime to them. Twice Patti Smith took the lead with her “People Have the Power,” while in the 2003 show, the finale was a group-sung version of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh’s “Get Up Stand Up,” the great third-world anthem whose righteous anger seems more justified with every passing year.

If Bowie ever does return to live performance, I wouldn’t be shocked if it starts at Carnegie Hall one winter.

Performed (“People”) 26 February 2001, 22 February 2002; (“Get Up”) 28 February 2003, Carnegie Hall.

Top: Andreas Neumann, “Tibetans Playing Dice on the Street,” Lhasa, 2001.

8 Responses to People Have the Power/ Get Up Stand Up

  1. princeasbo says:

    “Get Up” seems an incongruous choice for someone whose political leanings seem more or less libertarian.

    • col1234 says:

      not so much a distributionist song as it’s attacking religious hypocrisy/clericism etc, no? so it’s a bit in line with some of the Heathen songs.

    • ofer says:

      Could you elaborate on the libertarian leanings?

      • princeasbo says:

        I suppose I was thinking in general terms of Bowie’s oeuvre as representative of an expression of autonomous personal liberty, rather than one of collective social rallying. And the sight of establishment figures, even eccentric ones such as DB and Ray Davies, adopting/co-opting an anthem of the downtrodden still strikes me as incongruous.

  2. Maj says:

    Oh wow, didn’t even know about some of these performances. Thanks a BUNCH for this write-up Chris! x

    (That version of Silly Boy Blue is absolutely sublime,btw.)

  3. Galdo says:

    Well, I just NEED a bootleg of those performances. I never know about these such amazing renditions / covers.

  4. Ramzi says:

    These performances basically reaffirm my belief that David Bowie is the best person to currently exist. So many beautiful moments (obviously also the work of Visconti and the orchestra): Silly Boy Blue and Heroes; the transformed guitar break of Space Oddity; the beginning of Heathen.

    The way the light is shining on his face in the 2001 recording makes him look ageless.

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