Ghost In The Guitar: David Bowie Lives At Radio City Tribute Show
A touching celebration for the late icon.
I cried at the David Bowie tribute show. Not because I was overwhelmed by the historic venue or in awe of the incredible lineup of musicians, but because I was touched by the sheer community of it all. Thousands of people, who connected in some way with this man’s music, gathered at Radio City Music Hall on Friday (April 1) for an encore performance of The Music of David Bowie, a benefit concert that debuted to a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall just a night earlier.
It was here that, during a final rendition of “Space Oddity” with the New York City Children’s Choir, I realized the profound impact Bowie had our culture at large. When everyone—mothers, daughters, singers, songwriters, ushers, and music junkies, among many others—joined in to sing “And the stars look very different today,” it became pretty hard to keep it together. While everyone has dealt with the loss of the late, great icon in their own way, for me, this was a comforting closure—and a new beginning.
It’s not that the show was particularly well organized, because it wasn’t. It ran about 30 minutes longer than originally planned and the setlist shifted more than once to accommodate what I can only assume were a few unprepared acts. But when it was on point, it was on point. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe delivered a downright stunning performance of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)‘ “Ashes to Ashes,” and Blondie tore the house down with her subdued cover of “Heroes” (complete with a rather titillating introduction). Standing ovations became commonplace as the show went on, with Rickie Lee Jones’ “All The Young Dudes” and Perry Farrell’s “Rebel Rebel” garnering an enthusiastic response.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the two showstopping performances of the night were not Bowie classics, rather cuts from his latest album Blackstar. Amanda Palmer, Jherek Bischoff and Anna Caivi, with help from the Kronos Quartet, cooked up a haunting rendition of the LP’s title track, while the ghost of Bowie quite literally manifested in Donny McCaslin’s otherworldly saxophone work on “Lazarus.” Both tracks produced a warm, somewhat strange sonic energy that hung thick in the room as the show went on.
The Music of David Bowie was nothing short of a spectacle. And while events like this can often be upstaged or sidetracked by the celebrity talent (looking at you, Roots crew), the Radio City performances never felt cheap or opportunist. Instead, it was a true celebration of a man who’s art resonated deeply with millions of people around the world—a feat that can’t be undermined by any amount of “bitchassness.” As Wayne Coyne, dressed in what can only be described as an electronic space gown, mounted a Chewbacca lookalike for his cover of “Life on Mars?,” the penultimate track of the night, you could feel the audience’s collective grin. We were comforted by the weirdness, because that was Bowie. And in that weirdness, he lives on.