Friends, artists and admirers gathered virtually on Saturday night to celebrate the late David Bowie’s birthday. The celebration was hosted by none other than Mike Garson, Bowie’s irreplaceable piano man and close confidant. Artists came together, whether in person or through pre-recorded recordings, to commemorate their beloved icon with performances of several cherished Bowie songs.
Though health restrictions prevented an in-person extravaganza, the editing of the show, made up of a few in-person performances and a few others pre-recorded, was immaculate. At times, one would have had to squint through the darkness of the screen to determine whether an artist was on a screen and projected onto the setting or actually standing onstage.
The show ran for three hours with over 35 performances, each one bringing a distinct and special quality to Bowie’s musical archive; more than a few artists left a permanent mark on the night with emotive, impactful renditions of songs close to the heart.
People could practically feel Bowie himself beaming with pride as he watched over Duran Duran opening with the eternal “Five Years,” dressed from quiffed-hair-to-shiny-lapel in Bowie-beloved attire. An ever-stoic class act, Mike Garson sat at the piano in dark shades and provided a special introduction for a few performers, including Billy Corgan— or, as Garson knows him, “William Patrick Corgan.” His sardonic, whiskey-soaked tone stripped down “Space Oddity.” The Smashing Pumpkins frontman appeared onscreen of an antenna TV set atop Garson’s piano, as an otherworldly projection from space set the scene behind the two.
Shining star of The David Bowie Alumni Tour and quintessential jazz musician Corey Glover delivered a soulful rendition of the playful “Young Americans.” Both Glover and Judith Hill, who put on a quite dazzling performance of “Lady Stardust,” collaborated with musicians and backup singers, most of whom were Zoomed in on hovering screens.
It was a grand sight to witness so many talented women singing Bowie’s songs, as Bowie himself was a major advocate for turning the industry spotlight onto female artists. Lena Hall and Lzzy Hale teamed up virtually for an edgy cover of “Moonage Daydream,” proving that two powerful female singers make for an unmatchable duo. With her distinctive raspy voice, Macy Gray—who opened for Bowie in the early 2000s—took on “Changes,” and entirely did it justice. It was heartwarming to witness friends and loved ones of Bowie commemorate his honor; former bandmate Gail Ann Dorsey, a member of the Bowie touring band since 1995, brought her own eclectic style to “Strangers When We Meet,” her heart-wrenching “Youuu, youuu, youuu” touching every listener in a lyrical embrace.
Others stayed true to Bowie’s style with mere recreations of his most classic tunes, namely Charlie Sexton, a good friend of and frequent opener at Bowie’s early shows. Sexton played guitar throughout the show for various acts, and also took front-and-center for a medley of “DJ/Blue Jean” that brought a much-needed serotonin boost to the melancholic environment. Peter Frampton, another rock icon, also brought magic back to the air with a groovy recreation of “Suffragette City.” Joe Elliott, who just dropped a Bowie-inspired song titled “Goodnight Mr. Jones,” had fun with his own reimagined version of the very classic “Ziggy Stardust.”
Sincere and heartfelt, an eyes-closed performance of “Quicksand” by Taylor Momsen felt eulogic in nature, accompanied solely by the ivory keys. Michael C. Hall and Gary Oldman shocked the crowd with their appearances, with performances of “Where Are We Now” (Hall) and “I Can’t Read” (Oldman) serving as slowed-down encomiums for the late singer. A standout alone was Andra Day and Judith Hill’s slow and fervent arrangement of “Under Pressure.” While the original with Queen is full of swagger, the two ladies came together for a deep and expressive reimagination that maintained the original’s lightheartedness.
Other young artists like Yungblud and Adam Lambert showed up to commemorate their beloved icon as well as show his archetypal influence in their own sound and style. Yungblud, a young British rockstar with a distinctive voice and a forthright advocate for individualism, took on the hefty challenge of covering “Life on Mars?” and took it in full stride. Even with a full accompaniment and backing vocals, the real focus was on the singer’s raw, ranging vocals that provided a modern, edgier take on Garson’s personal favorite Bowie gem. Boy George put on a promising, lengthy medley of “Aladdin Sane,” with a sprinkle of new-wave that Bowie would’ve appreciated in the modern age. Committed fully to the night, Adam Lambert showed up in a glitzy green suit and matching glittery eyeshadow to perform “Starman” with belting vocals and an overall dazzling delivery.
After a sincere introduction from Garson, Ian Hunter took the stage to honor his late friend in the best possible way: with a live performance of his song “Dandy,” which the Mott The Hoople frontman wrote in memory of Bowie. The lyrics are specific, personal and intimate: “Dandy/ This world was black-and-white/ You showed us what it’s like/ To live inside a rainbow.” The perfect cherry on top of a beautiful night of remembrance was Bernard Fowler’s reappearance onstage for “Heroes.” Fowler stuck to the classic’s true nature, with the added quality of love and appreciation for Bowie’s eternal archive.
Before the final performance, Mike Garson gave a much-needed speech regarding life after Bowie, and the hard times the whole world has faced in the past year; he ended the bit with cheers “to a better future, [which] was what David was all about.”