David Bowie Tribute Shows Help Say Farewell

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Heart’s Ann Wilson

A range of artists as broad as the stylistic reach and influence of the late David Bowie gathered on Thursday night (3/31) at Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall and Friday evening (4/1) at Radio City Music Hall to salute the visionary rocker, who died in January. The results were reportedly heartwarming and respectful to Bowie’s spirit, if some moments more successful than others.

The Carnegie Hall concert originated as a charity fundraiser salute – part of an annual series presented by City Winery/Knitting Factory promoter Michael Dorf – planned while its subject was still alive. Ironically, its initial lineup was announced the same day as the news of Bowie’s passing was made public. In the aftermath, more artists joined the Carnegie show, and the second night at Radio City was added.

On Thursday night, observed New York Times pop music critic Jon Pareles, “Performing one song each, [the artists] grasped at some strands of Mr. Bowie’s achievements: his bounding riffs and encompassing melodies, the aphorisms and enigmas of his lyrics, his arty stratagems, his fashion sense…. Yet Mr. Bowie’s quintessential elegance – the seamless way he merged unruly passions and ideas with coolheaded calculation – couldn’t be reproduced.”

Thursday began with Cyndi Lauper offering a spirited take on “Suffragette City.” Cited for most theatrical was Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips in a flashing LED cape riding on the shoulders of someone in a Chewabacca costume singing “Life On Mars?”

Most observers found Michael Stipe’s reverently subdued “Ashes to Ashes” (with Karen Elson on background vocals) a moving highlight. Ann Wilson of Heart delivered a rousing “Let’s Dance,” Jakob Dylan molded “Heroes” into a folk-rock anthem, and both shows ended with Choir! Choir! Choir! with the New York City Children’s Chorus leading spirited singalongs on “Space Oddity.”

Watch Debbie Harry perform “Starman”…

That same song launched the following night, sung by Ann Wilson. The Radio City song selection delved into both the more obscure and recent Bowie numbers. Jakob Dykan performed “Sorrow” on this evening, and Debbie Harry sang “Heroes.”

The shows raised funds for a variety of children’s musical education initiatives.

Carnegie Hall setlist:

Cyndi Lauper, “Suffragette City”
Holy Holy, “Width of a Circle”
Robyn Hitchcock, “Soul Love”
Laurie Anderson, “Always Crashing in the Same Car”
Gogol Bordello, “Breaking Glass”
Debbie Harry of Blondie, “Starman”
Joseph Arthur, “The Man Who Sold the World”
The Mountain Goats, “Word on a Wing”
Michael Stipe and Karen Elson, “Ashes to Ashes”
J Mascis and Sean Lennon, “Quicksand”
Bettye LaVette, “It Ain’t Easy”
Perry Farrell (of Jane’s Addiction), “Rebel Rebel”
Cat Power, “Five Years”
Ann Wilson (of Heart), “Let’s Dance!”
Pixies, “Cactus”
Rickie Lee Jones, “All the Young Dudes”
Jakob Dylan, “Heroes”
The Flaming Lips, “Life on Mars?”
Choir! Choir! Choir! with the New York City Children’s Chorus, “Space Oddity”

Radio City Music Hall setlist:

Ann Wilson, “Space Oddity”
Holy Holy, “Width of a Circle”
Jakob Dylan, “Sorrow”
Esperanza Spalding, “If You Can See Me”
Donnie McCaslin Group, “Lazarus”
Ron Pope, “Moonage Daydream”
Kyp Malone, “The Bewlay Brothers”
J Mascis & Sean Lennon, “Quicksand”
Michael Stipe & Karen Elson, “Ashes to Ashes”
Pixies, “Cactus”
Joseph Arthur, “The Man Who Sold the World”
The Polyphonic Spree, “Slip Away”
Amanda Palmer, Jherek Bischoff, Anna Calvi & The Kronos Quartet, “Blackstar”
Mumford & Sons, “It Ain’t Easy”
Cat Power, “Five Years”
Rickie Lee Jones, “All the Young Dudes”
Perry Farrell, “Rebel Rebel”
Debbie Harry, “Heroes”
The Flaming Lips, “Life on Mars?”
Choir! Choir! Choir! with the New York City Children’s Chorus, “Space Oddity”

Best Classic Bands Staff

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