Monday, January 11, 2016

A night in 1990 with David Bowie

May 28, 1990. My best friend at the time Ron and I made the 40-mile drive to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. We were there to see the one and only David Bowie.

20160111_222455It was the Sound + Vision tour, where he famously said he was retiring his old catalogue. It would be the last tour where people would see him perform his classic hits.

We didn’t have tickets. Just cash in our pockets. As was common at the time, we bought two tickets from people who had extras to sell. Lawn seats. $15 a piece. The price probably seemed a lot at the time for 21-year-old James. Today it sounds like the bargain of the century.

We made our way to the lawn area, spying for empty seats in the more expensive seating areas. We walked by legendary music promoter Bill Graham who was talking with someone.

A short while later, the lights went down and Bowie appeared. He was small, illuminated on a dark stage, behind a transparent screen, upon which they were projecting imagery. He was wearing a simple black suit, white shirt and was playing an acoustic guitar. The song was Space Oddity.

That was our chance. We slipped into two empty box seats off to the side. Miraculously, the people who were supposed to sit there never showed up. At one point I felt a tap on my shoulder. Fearing it was an usher ready to send us back to the lawn, I turned around. It was a cocktail waitress asking if we wanted a drink.

As I commonly did at the time, I had a small notebook and pen with me so I can jot down the set list. From Space Oddity, he went right into another classic guitar song: Changes. It was spectacular.

He put down the guitar and then broke into the high-energy TVC 15. From there he went through an amazing string of songs, each one a gem. Rebel Rebel. Ashes to Ashes. Fashion. Life on Mars.

Next up: One of the ‘80s hits I was quite familiar with: Blue Jean. Then he surprisingly jumped right in to one of his top 2 1980s hits: Let’s Dance.

Now, I know there are many David Bowie fans who discount his ‘80s period. I don’t because that’s what opened the door for me to David Bowie. Yes, it was Let’s Dance, Modern Love and China Girl that got me hooked initially. But once I was hooked, I began to explore more of his earlier music and grew to love it too.

He closed the set with Pretty Pink Rose and Stay, before the show stopped for a surprising intermission.

When Bowie came out again, he was wearing the same pants, no jacket, a frillier white shirt and more make-up. I loved watching him. In fact, twice during the show, during some extended guitar solos, I was able to see him sitting off to the side. He smoked a cigarette, drank something and swayed to the music before rejoining the band.

He opened the second set with Sound + Vision, then went right into a string of even more seminal hits: Ziggy Stardust, China Girl, Station to Station, Young Americans and Suffragette City.

By the time he started singing Fame, the audience had gone crazy. He closed his second set with Heroes. I have no words for what I felt at that moment. Just so lucky to be there.

At that point he disappeared. The audience simply wasn’t having it. There would be more. MUST be more.

He didn’t disappoint, coming out for an extended encore that consisted of Panic in Detroit, Jean Genie, and finally, Modern Love. The night was magical.

It wouldn’t be the last time I saw Bowie. It would happen again October 28, 1995 at the Great Western Forum in L.A. — a double billing with Nine Inch Nails. But it was that night in 1990 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre that I’ll remember most.

Rest in peace David Bowie. I won’t forget you.