Sunday 18 March 2018

Six times David Bowie rocked Ireland

David Bowie concert at Slane 12/7/1987
Scanned from the Independent/NPA archive box 21
David Bowie concert at Slane 12/7/1987 Scanned from the Independent/NPA archive box 21
Ed Power

Ed Power

In his later years, David Bowie developed a firm affection for Ireland.

The singer, who has passed away at age 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer, famously headlined Slane in 1987, with a performance that introduced the muddy Irish masses to the head-spinning delights of a high concept rock tour. But his more interesting performances here arguably came as he pressed reboot on his sound in the 1990s and returned to the edgy art-rock of his early career.

Below we look back at Bowie's six most vital Irish performances.

Slane, Co Meath, July 1987

PL18107261David Bowie conc.jpg
David Bowie concert at Slane 12/7/1987

By the mid '80s, Bowie had reached peak "rock star". He'd moved conspicuously away from Ziggy Stardust's sexually fluid glam-pop and seemingly renounced the damaged art-rock of his Berlin phase. Instead, he rolled into Slane and his first Irish gig as just another rock idol – a smooth-crooning contemporary of Phil Collins and Robert Palmer, with a treasure chest of eager-to-please anthems.

Not that the Glass Spider Tour – named for a track from his 1987 LP Never Let Me Down – lacked for ambition or bombast. There were spoken word segments; a 'rock v reality' overarching theme and an eye-popping set-piece in which Bowie was lowered from the creaking "glass spider" set while crooning the tune of the same name.

"Pepsi sponsored the whole thing," wrote Rolling Stone's Andy Greene. "And some nights Bowie seemed to be sleepwalking through his hits. Guitarists Carlos Alomar and Peter Frampton didn't always mesh well together, and the giant spider hovering over the stage did look a little ridiculous. "

The Baggot Inn, Dublin, August 1991 (with Tin Machine)

Bowie's love affair with Ireland probably began when he brought his 'back-to-basics' rock project Tin Machine to the capital for pre-tour rehearsals. This culminated with a brace of quasi secret warm-up shows at the subterranean Baggot Inn. Signalling his determination to forge a new identity, he cheekily side-stepped his catalogue, instead delivering a lean nine-song set that included covers of Pixies' Debaser and Roxy Music's If There Is Something. 

The Point, Dublin, November 1995

Bowie was back, touring his strongest album after a period in the creative wilderness. But while Outside would eventually come to be regarded as among his strongest post-Scary Monsters releases, there was considerable grumbling as he brought the album to The Point midway through the '90s. As anyone who was there will recall, a set heavily tilted towards the new LP did not go down well with the faithful – though Bowie belatedly gave hardcore fans what they craved by throwing in Ziggy Stardust's Moonage Daydream towards the end. Of course, in hindsight it is clear that we were seeing a challenging and boundary-pushing artist at the zenith of their powers.

Olympia, Dublin, August 1997

The opportunity to see Bowie in the comparative intimate 1,300 capacity Olympia was truly once in a life time (or twice, with a second concert tacked on after the first sold out in minutes). As hoped, Bowie was in cracking form, delivering a rumbling two and a half hour set that encompassed all phases of his career. He began with a quasi-acoustic reading of Hunky Dory favourite Quicksand, then moved nimbly between Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane era (The Jean Genie) and material from his (unfairly panned) drum 'n base phase (Little Wonder and the fantastic I'm Afraid Of Americans).

One excited audience member even took her top off and flung it at Bowie's feet. "Hello mum," he wisecracked without missing a beat. Earlier that year, he'd given another warm-up show to a lucky attendance of several hundred at The Factory art-space – tickets cost a tenner and were sold at U2's Kitchen nightclub. 

HQ, Dublin, November 1999

Going one better than his small-scale Olympia dates, two years later Bowie was back again for a rare club gig. Over two nights he stepped with twinkling good-humour between classics such as Life On Mars? and Rebel Rebel and introspective newer tracks like Thursdays Child, one of the earliest Bowie compositions that find the singer contemplating his own mortality and the ravages of a life often lived in the fast-lane, with the hood down and the engine revving at full volume.

The Point, Dublin, November 2003

Bowie was by now a regular at the big barn on the docklands (he had also brought his Sound and Vision 'best of' tour there in 1990). Underlying his affection for the venue, and for Ireland, his two performances promoting the Reality LP were later released as a live album and DVD (A Reality Tour). Ill health would see him hang up his mic within 12 months. Thus these Dublin recordings stand as a final testament to Bowie's power and charisma as a life performer. That said, eye brows were raised when at the end of Rebel Rebel Bowie intoned "Tiocfaidh ár lá" ( though, as garbled by the Dame, it came out closer to "Trucky Allah").

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