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.