And he's off …
Bowie strikes televangelist poses as the band rock out behind him. It’s a powerful, unobvious and rather magnificent conclusion to a spectacular set. The band share a group hug – and he’s off. That was the first and last time I ever saw Bowie play live and I wish it had been more.
Thanks very much for watching this show along with me, and for adding your thoughts. Hopefully we’ll have a real Glastonbury to liveblog next year. Goodnight.
Emily Eavis tweets that this was one of her all-time favourite Glastonbury shows:
And in an ineffably Bowie move, his final song is I’m Afraid of Americans – whose title certainly feels prescient at the moment – from Earthling.
He’s enjoying himself so much that he’s now playing air guitar to Slick’s solo. Steam literally seems to be coming off the audience as Bowie says: “We made it. What a wonderful evening. Please be safe. We really love you a lot.”
Bowie has lit a cigarette and is leading the band in a version of Let’s Dance, which started out in a low-key jazz style and has locked into the irresistible strut that made it one of Bowie’s few UK No 1s.
Nick Honeywell kindly emails to say:
The more I watch this, the more I find myself thinking this must be the same year that Nine Inch Nails played Glastonbury. I remember being distraught when after all of maybe two songs, one of which was (to borrow a phrase from the Bowie coverage) a magnificently sleazy Reptile, the TV footage cut away from their set and never went back. I’d love to see their full and uninterrupted set, too.
And speaking of uninterrupted, I’m so pleased that the gap between the main set and the encore was left there. Much better than cutting away to fill the time with inane witterings from random presenters.
Having played so many of his anthems, Bowie performs the most anthemic (albeit ironically so) of the lot: “Heroes”. Beginning in a minimal, tightly wound style it cracks open in spectacular style with Earl Slick’s wailing guitar and a raw, unabashedly passionate vocal from Bowie. It’s an incredible moment in a show packed full of them.
Enjoying this view from the crowd which a fan posted on Twitter.
And after a quick change of jacket (I think) we’re straight back into it with a prowling version of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s meta exploration of rock stardom that turned him into a rock star.
And that was the end of the main part of the set. For me, watching it tonight just affirmed Bowie’s brilliance all over again.
Now it’s a pounding, high-drama take on another hit – Under Pressure, with Gail Ann Dorsey singing the Freddie Mercury part.
Drummer Sterling Campbell is battering his kit into the middle of next week. Every song so far has been performed with incredible focus and intensity – something that’s even more apparent from seeing it sober from my sofa, rather than half drunk from halfway across a muddy field as I did in 2000.
Despite the more challenging material, no one is going to the bar. At this point Bowie has the audience eating out of his hand.
“I’m really hot and sweaty, I wore a stupid jacket and I’m too vain to take it off,” Bowie informs the audience, who respond with chants of “Off! Off!” And after a run of classics, he piles into Hallo Spaceboy – the original tense, industrial album version, not the Pet Shop Boys remix/duet that was a single.
Bowie’s enjoying himself so much he just declaimed: “I feel lurved in this room”, stuck out his tongue and launched into Starman.
The band are well and truly in the zone, Gail Ann Dorsey looks imperious and Bowie is having the time of his life. Meanwhile, the audience is a pit of sweaty, joyous humanity of the kind I would really love to jump in right now.
Emm Gryner was in Bowie’s band that night and has tweeted this:
So the sound of a train speeding across the stage means it’s time for one of Bowie’s very greatest songs: the epic Station to Station, an art rock death march which turns into a full-on disco number and contains one of his iconic lyrics: “The return of the thin white duke, throwing darts in lovers’ eyes.”
Needless to say, Bowie’s set was included in our 50 greatest moments, which we published on Friday.
A perceptive thought on the way this show was filmed compared to the way Glastonbury is now ...
Nirvana’s spectral cover version brought The Man Who Sold the World back into Bowie’s set in the 90s, and it’s fantastic to hear it here – so mysterious, so addictive, so quintessentially Bowie.
Wow, I had forgotten that he played All the Young Dudes. Maybe I had passed out from sheer delight at this point.
I always think that Camille Paglia’s description of this song as “ominously elegiac” really nailed it. To her it was an anthem to the gay men she knew who died of Aids just a few years after the gay liberation movements of the 70s, and since reading this that’s also what it means to me.
This show really does sound great – so good that it’s amazing we’re only seeing it again in full now.
This version of Fame is so sleazy the audience would have needed a wash afterwards ... even if they weren’t already marinating (like me) in three days of accumulated filth.
Bowie’s awesome bassist Gail Ann Dorsey’s long dress and sandals combo is also cooler than cool.
It’s Golden Years, the third song from Station to Station he’s played so far. That’s half the album. Not that I’m complaining – I picked it as my favourite album for a series our music desk did a few years ago.
Bowie takes an abrupt left-turn into his drum’n’bass-inflected 1997 single Little Wonder. People took the piss out of this at the time as bandwagon-jumping, but I think it’s worn pretty well.
This is a very apposite point from below the line:
Half the audience – now realising that this is basically the setlist of dreams – is jumping up and down and ecstatically roaring along to one of Bowie’s finest riffs and his 1974 kiss-off to the glam era.
Hilary emails me to say:
“He can’t set a foot wrong for me! So stylish, such great songs. So missed.”
By this point in 2000, the BBC broadcast had switched to something else, meaning that viewers were deprived of a set that’s just getting more pleasurable with every song. This is an effortlessly spacey, sexy Ashes to Ashes.
Now Bowie is telling us about his first Glastonbury appearance, where he hit the stage at dawn. “This Dutch girl jumped up with me and started singing Oh! You Pretty Things with me. You’re not here tonight, are you dear? Please don’t come up.”
Corrected! They are not lighters ...
Bowie leaps into the middle of the 80s and plays the great, and now somewhat overlooked, single Absolute Beginners.
“I’m very fearful tonight, as I was struck down with laryngitis, so if any of you know the words, for gawd’s sake sing them to me – I’m counting on you.” Well, that’s one way to introduce Life on Mars? which is giving me goosebumps all over again.
The fancy frock-coat has come off! Revealing another frock-coat underneath. He must have been bloody boiling up there.
A few people below the line were also at this show ...
Bowie introduces his longterm guitarist Earl Slick before they tear into the malevolently funk of Stay from Station to Station, recorded right at the peak (or maybe depths) of Bowie’s LA cocaine period.
“Glastonbury, you’ve got a very, very lucky face, all of you!” And Bowie plays Changes, which he notes he also played the only other time he performed at Glastonbury, in 1971. He’s gone full London in his accent, and the crowd are jumping up and down in what is already a pretty ecstatic communal moment. You can tell he knows it’s going well, too.
Wild is the Wind having wrongfooted the audience, Bowie kicks things up a notch with China Girl, which he wrote with (and for) Iggy Pop and then did himself on the Let’s Dance album. The lyrics – “Visions of swastikas in my head, and plans for everyone!” – are still intriguingly twisted, even though the music represented Bowie’s early-80s lunge for the mainstream.
It’s a bold and typically Bowie move to start with the stately Wild Is the Wind, the final track on his incredible 1976 album Station to Station, and perhaps the opposite of the high-octane opening the audience might have expected. Nonetheless, it’s intense, and his voice swoops through the challenging melody – first recorded by Johnny Mathis and written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington for the 1957 film of the same name.
Bowie with slightly lockdown hair ... certainly the longest it had been since the early 70s.
You’ll note the lack of flags and incredible preponderance of lighters in the audience. That was how we expressed our appreciation in the pre-smartphone era. And, after a jazz version of Greensleeves as intro music, here he comes ...
While Blur are on some context about Bowie’s standing at the time. After Tin Machine and Black Tie White Noise, he’d put out three experimental albums – Outside, which was so abrasive I used to play it at closing time in the record shop I worked into get customers to leave; Earthling, which was drum’n’bass-influenced; and then Hours, which was a gentler, if still experimental experience. Hours didn’t even get into the Top 40 in the US (though it reached the top 10 in the UK), and Bowie’s Outside tour had been an uncompromising, Nine Inch Nails-influenced show studded with very few hits. So Bowie wasn’t universally admired – at least in the incarnation he inhabited at the turn of the millennium.
This show definitely marked some kind of reconciliation with his past. Even his hair and clothes expressed it. As Cousins writes:
At just after 10pm, Bowie appeared on a backstage camera, looking nervous but determined. Moments later, he was on stage, sporting a three-quarter-length Alexander McQueen frock coat, wonderfully wide Oxford bags and long hair swept to the side à la Veronica Lake. Where had I seen this outfit before? It struck me there and then, that Bowie was referencing his own performance at this very same spot almost 30 years earlier, and that he looked just as groundbreakingly beautiful and “gay” now as he did back then. For all his reputation as one of rock’s great shapeshifters, Bowie had decided to headline Glastonbury as … himself!
If you want to talk to me direct about this show, you can tweet me @alexneedham74 or email firstname.lastname@example.org ...
In Ben Beaumont-Thomas’s piece from Friday about the 50 greatest Glastonbury moments, Michael Eavis lifted the lid on how this set came about.
“Bowie’s agent, John Giddings, phoned me and said David wanted to play,” Michael says. “So I said: ‘What’s he doing now, can we listen to the stuff he’s playing?’ He was doing a show in Manchester Arena, so I took the kids up. We walked into the box in the arena, and people started cheering below, and I thought: ‘My God, how do they know who we are?’ Turns out Eric Cantona was just behind me. I didn’t really like the show – it was a very experimental stage in his life and he was all over the place. We didn’t know a single song. I thought: ‘What’s the point of going with this?’ I phoned John back and said: ‘Can’t he play some songs we know?’ So he said: ‘We’ll do another show in London for you, then, of all his hits.’ And we loved it – it was so good. I told John I could afford £90,000. John said: ‘Is that all? How are we going to tell David?’ Well, that’s your job, John. And it was a done deal. The whole crowd went crazy on it – it was a wonderful show.”
Let's all meet up in the year 2000 … and watch David Bowie
It’s June 2020 and we’re not at Glastonbury thanks to the pandemic. But we can still watch sets from previous years thanks to the BBC, which has been filming the festival since 1997 (Channel 4 broadcasted it for the three years before that).
The BBC has chosen David Bowie’s 2000 Glastonbury show to headline Sunday night. It’s the first time the two-hour set has been broadcast in full. Back in 2000, Bowie refused to allow the BBC to broadcast more than the first four songs and an encore. As the former BBC head of music Mark Cooper wrote a couple of year ago, in a piece about the night for the Guardian, he had to stop broadcasting the show just after Bowie did Life on Mars?, and cut instead to Jamie Theakston sitting by a campfire backstage.
To be fair to Bowie, back then the live broadcast of Glastonbury wasn’t quite the amazingly recorded, glorious-sounding beast it is now. In 2000, you’d go home raving about a set you’d watched in the fields of Avalon, only for your friends to retort: “Well we saw it on the telly and it sounded absolutely shit!”
Which brings me to my own memories of this show, which concluded my first-ever Glastonbury. I was working as features editor of British style magazine the Face at the time, and we had a staff excursion to the festival. Because we were a monthly, there wasn’t any point in writing about it, or indeed doing any work at all (unlike the other 11 times I’ve been, when I’ve been covering it for NME and, from 2007, the Guardian), so we were free to sample Glastonbury’s many delights.
It was a pretty wild weekend. It was the last festival before the impregnable wall went up, and some 250,000 people were estimated to be there – a huge number of whom had just jumped the fence. The after-hours entertainment was a far cry from the sky-high production values of Shangri-La – the Face crew spent most of our time sweating it out in the Rizla tent, where DJs like David Holmes played all night – the highlight of his set came when he played the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen followed by Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11. Or you could hang round the wine bar – a truck dispensing plonk at all hours – and dance to the music blasting from its stereo.
After a thorough investigation of everything Glastonbury had to offer, by the Sunday afternoon I was flat on my back in the dance tent, listening to Kelis cover Smells Like Teen Spirit, and overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for this extraordinary coming together of people to listen to music, dance, take a gong bath, drink psychedelic pear cider, meet hippies in the Stone Circle and basically have a holiday from the worries of normal life. And I still had Bowie to come!
I can remember what Bowie was wearing, his very entertaining between-song chat, and the very last song, but the details of the set itself have become hazy with the passing of time. Suffice it to say that he did a show stuffed with hits, and that at the time it felt like the perfect end to a weekend of unadulterated bliss. The drive home the following morning was sheer hell, and I’ve rarely felt more ill than I did the subsequent week. But it was worth it.
So let’s see whether it’s still as great as I remember it, 20 years on.
As for the Guardian’s review of this show … it was a little scanty. Caroline Sullivan wrote:
With the country’s biggest live draws, Oasis and Radiohead, booked elsewhere, it was left to the less sexy Chemical Brothers, Travis, and David Bowie to headline Glastonbury’s 30th anniversary. Less sexy, that is, in terms of whipping up excitement, for however festival friendly Chemicals and company may be, they lack what Travis’s Fran Healy called “that ‘wooargh’ thing”.
That’s the only mention of Bowie in her piece. Let’s hope he isn’t turning in his grave at the claim that he was less sexy than Radiohead.