1996 Bridge Benefit

Just a month after he wrapped up a ballroom mini-tour in September 1996, and with a new album (what would become Earthling) completed, Bowie was back on the road, with a pair of appearances at Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit gigs.

There, he served up a light-hearted, almost joke-laden ten song set that spread across brief versions of the R&B pounder "I’m A Hog For You, Baby" and the vaudevillian "You And Me And George," through the expected "Heroes" and "Man Who Sold The World," and a lovely semi-unplugged "Aladdin Sane," and onto a triptych of songs he once swore he’d never want to perform again.

Before the howls of betrayal could arise from the ranks, however, you needed to check out what he did to them first. "Jean Genie" was rewired around Tin Machine’s "Heaven’s In Here," and sounded all the fresher for it. "China Girl" emerged an acoustic demo for Iggy’s solid concrete prototype, and "Let’s Dance" was so completely remodeled that the closest comparison would be the utter deconstruction of "All The Young Dudes," with which he’d tormented audiences back in 1974. And if any proof was required that, after so many years of uncertainty, Bowie had relaxed back into his creativity, and rehabilitated his repertoire, this was the night it was delivered.

In 1990, Bowie considered himself a prisoner to his catalog. By 1996, he had again mustered mastery, playing songs because he wanted to perform them, not because an audience expected or demanded them. From hereon in, his past was his playground, and he hadn’t sounded this relaxed in years. Later shows in later years would bring out greater surprises. But this is where it all began. - Dave Thompson

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September 29, 2006