by Rob Tannenbaum / Village Voice
21st January 1997
Now, I usually prefer a quiet dinner in a nice restaurant with a few friends. But this birthday was the 50th for David Bowie, whose music rises in quality according to its grandiosity, so at Madison Square Garden last Thursday, a day late (the Knicks, also 50, used the arena the previous night), Bowie staged a combination concert, Friars’ roast, pay-per-view taping, and bait-and-switch dodge.
Twice the 25 years that loomed as death on “All the Young Dudes,” Bowie easily held his star against the young acolytes, helped by his Alexander McQueen frippery–when Frank Black rolled up in untucked denim, Bowie cockily mocked his attire. Robert Smith was a furball; and though it was a thrill to hear Dave Grohl drum again, and Sonic Youth were perfect for the Iggy-ish cheap joke “I’m Afraid of Americans,” both left quickly. During Lou Reed’s miniset, Bowie flubbed the first verse of “Waiting for the Man.” The rumored didn’t show: Madonna, in town for Rosie O’Donnell that morning, had backed out earlier, and Iggy was in South America.
Bowie played none of his four biggest singles, and only “Heroes” from Aladdin Sane through Lodger. There were payoffs, like an edited “Dudes” and “Jean Genie” with Billy Corgan (who traded his ZERO tee for Dolce & Gabbana), but Bowie also insisted on three from ’95’s subpar reunion with Brian Eno, and new songs only his publicists had yet heard.
Earthling, scheduled for February 11 release, does to jungle what Graceland did to mbaqanga–it’s paternalistic, affectionate, and undeniable. Bowie showcased all but two of the record’s nine tracks. Cannily, he’d used his birthday, and the lure of hits and stars, to stage a listening party to promote his next record.