Monday, January 18, 2016

Bowie at his Best (Part 3): David Bowie's 10 greatest individual performances

Welcome to the third installment of my mini series "Bowie at his Best"!

David Bowie sings during a 1978 show in Berlin.
A brief recap: In part 1, this diehard obsessive Bowiehead chose and reviewed David Bowie's top 10 albums and 25 greatest songs. (Tough, tough choices!) In the second installment, I've reviewed my five favorite live albums/concert videos and Bowie's five greatest performances in his best films. (Again, not easy.) 

Before part 2 -- about my favorite Bowie live albums and concert recordings -- really got rolling, I shared why the critical darling and fan-fave HUNKY DORY didn't make the cut on my favorite DB albums.

Also, with the reviews of Bowie's best professional video recordings, I share my thoughts on his secret weapon in concert (and in the studio too, to be fair and honest!): The insanely talented musicians in his bands.

In this, Part 3 of "Bowie at his Best," CCC digs into his top 10 individual live performances. (Check back at CCC for the fourth part, featuring Bowie's finest cover tunes and music videos.)

Bowie performs as his most famous creation,
Ziggy Stardust, in Los Angeles in 1973.
MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES
Except for "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)," "Absolute Beginners" and the video for "Dancing in the Street," these songs aren't included in the top-five live albums and concert videos I've chosen in Part 2. Also, these tunes — with the exception of a live track off Bowie's 1978 STAGE double-live album — were one-time performances.

Keep reading for brief reviews of each these memorable performances. (You'll have to track these clips down on YouTube or a bootleg. Hey, I can't do ALL the heavy lifting around here …!)

Make sure you post a comment at the end of this article. And don't worry about length — talk it out! OK, Bowieheads, Bowie freaks and Bowiephiles, let the healthy debates, discussions and conversations keep rolling. …

Top 10 individual (mostly) live performances

Needless to say, choosing one's favorite and most memorable performances from a career that lasted five-plus decades is overwhelming. It also goes without saying this list could be twice as long and even now I'm sure I've overlooked a few performances. Or ten!

Bowie and his back-up singers take the stage during the July 13, 1985 Live Aid concert.
Bowie's Live Aid set — July 13, 1985 at Wembley Stadium in London — is a definite highlight among highlights of the one-day fundraiser concert featuring more music legends than you can imagine. (How did he get Thomas Dolby to play keyboards for him on that gig? Niiiice networking, David!)

But to include four songs in this list is a bit like cheating …! You can watch Bowie's energetic 17-minute 40-second set here. … You're welcome — just come back here when you're done and thank me.

Regardless, these are the live (mostly) one-time, wow-inducing performances that luckily have been captured on video. These gigs — most of which coincidentally are duets — have stayed with me in my three decades-plus as a diehard, obsessive Bowiehead:

“Dancing in the Street” (1985 video duet with good friend Mick Jagger done for Live Aid): Bowie and Jagger look like they've never had so much fun chewing up the screen while filming this video.

Look for DB giving his buddy a good-natured frown when Jagger pushes him out of the way to compete for more screen time. Two iconic performers. One great tune.

“Imagine” (Bowie ended his 1983 world tour by performing this John Lennon song.): Bowie dedicated this song to his good friend three years to the day after Lennon was assassinated. It's the only time he ever performed the powerful ballad.

Fittingly, coincidentally or even by plan, Bowie became a recluse not unlike Lennon in his final years before releasing one final mind-blowing album. I'd like to think Bowie was taking time to be a father to his daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones, now 15, — much like Lennon did for his son Sean.

“Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” (1983, SERIOUS MOONLIGHT concert video): Using stage lights to add the right touch of moodiness and his hands to highlight the "punches" by his band, Bowie shows why he commanded every stage he took. Certainly Bowie at his best and most dramatic.

“Tonight” (1985 live duet with Tina Turner): The man always knew how to make an entrance! Listen to the Birmingham, England crowd go nuts as soon as Bowie takes the stage. Nothing like upstaging the main star! This live performance is far superior to the studio version on Bowie's 1984 TONIGHT album, performed as the duet it's intended to be in the studio version. The two performers play off each other well and their chemistry is hot, hot, hot.

(Stick around for and/or look for the clip of Bowie and Turner closing her "Private Dancer" show with "Let's Dance" — starting with a cover Chris Montez's 1962 hit single, followed by Bowie's classic. Again, you're welcome!) 

“Stay” (1975 from the “Dinah!” TV show): This is Bowie getting his groove thing on — complete with massive bell-bottoms — to one of the funkiest tunes he ever wrote. This is DB at his Thin White Duke coolest. A TV legend herself, Dinah Shore calls him "one of the most influential stars in the rock-star spectrum" and shares how Bowie rarely does his any live TV gigs in her introduction. (Look for the interview Bowie did with Shore.)

“TVC 15” (1978, from Bowie’s STAGE double-live album): DB and his band sound like they're having a blast performing this song.

“Absolute Beginners” (BBC RADIO THEATRE, LONDON, JUNE 17, 2000 bonus disc for the BOWIE AT THE BEEB collection): When Bowie released this single for the film of the same name in 1986, I fell in love with it. The arrangement and performance in the 1987 "Glass Spider" concert video is great, but there's something special about Bowie's dramatic performance here that takes this exquisitely written ballad to a new level.

“Young Americans” medley (with Cher from her 1976 TV show): Nothing but unbridled fun! Bowie and Cher get their red-headed 1970s groove on in this medley.

Listing each tune wouldn't do justice to the variety; hearing one song blend into another is a treat for pop music lovers. Cher's deep alto is a great complement to Bowie's baritone. Check out them doing The Bump! Listen for the two singers sharing a quick laugh over DB missing his cue near the end.

“Under Pressure” (duet with Annie Lennox during the 1992 Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert): Who can out-weird David Bowie? Annie Lennox with her odd choice of raccoon makeup! The Eurythmics lead singer matches the late Mercury's operatic voice note for note. It's no wonder the two charismatic performers stole the show with their chilling performance — one for the ages. Something tells me this inspired Bowie to make his 1981 hit with Queen a set-list regular from his 1995-'96 world tour onward.

and of course, how could I forget …

“Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” (1977 TV duet with Bing Crosby): Bing and Bowie has a great alliterative ring to it — but their harmony sounds even better. My sister, who in no way is a Bowie fan, says it's just not Christmas until she hears this song. It's no wonder this soon became a holiday classic after this unlikely duet aired on TV.
Yours truly has this hard-to-find single on 7-inch.

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