David Bowie’s live performances were something to behold and it’s said that the singer, who passed away at the age of 69 on Sunday evening, had a certain affection for Ireland. We mined the Irish Times archives to find the reviews of some of his biggest shows in Ireland since he first headlined Slane in 1987. The reviews are reproduced here in an edited form.
11 July 1987 at Slane Castle, Meath
Review: Joe Breen
There is little danger of David Bowie’s first concert in Ireland going down in his or our memory as an outstanding occasion. Yet the casual atmosphere which hung over Slane Castle’s natural amphitheatre on Saturday was not totally the fault of him or his much maligned “Glass Spider” show. For almost two and a half hours they put on a very credible and entertaining performance - certainly much more exciting than many had forecast - but ultimately it must be judged a failure because it didn’t manage to capture the imagination of the bulk of the audience .
When Bowie closed the show with “Fame”, his American number one from his “Young Americans “ period, the end was not greeted with rapturous acclaim , as could have been expected, but by half-hearted applause. Even the encores failed to stir the lethargic audience who only offered token support for songs like “Modern Love”.
Bowie is an old enough hand in this business to realise that there are few gains to be made in forcing people to eat bread when what they want is cake, especially when, like him , you have plenty of sweet slices at your disposal.
Invariably, the old songs pleased the audience most, and there were none better received than “Jean Genie”, his paean to his friend, Iggy Pop. This was one of the few occasions when the audience and the concert threatened to come alive, but soon enough we were back to languid applause.
Perhaps the sparks didn’t fly because it was a night-time show played in the day light when the lighting effects were worthless, or perhaps the problem stemmed from Bowie’s insistence on mixing the old with the new.
Finally, the question must be asked about Slane itself. Are there any rock legends left who can fill the vast venue with both people and excitement? The reported presence of Mark Knopfler there on Saturday maybe hints at the possibility of Dire Straits taking on the challenge. Time will tell.
9 and 10 August 1990 at The Point Theatre, Dublin
Review: Dave Fanning
This was better than anyone expected, and at least as good as we’d hoped. With an awesome yet deceptively simple stage show designed for outdoor arenas or at least for venues that can hold 15,000 plus, Irish fans were treated to the best in sound and vision from the man who electrified the ‘70s and who, let’s face it, has slummed it throughout the ‘80s.
But the self-importance of presenting a “Greatest Hits” package did not manifest itself in the form of half-hearted renditions of perpetually resonant songs or embarrassing attempts at high-concert dramatics.
Instead, Bowie felt he had a right to give a selection from his impressive scrapbook, honest, impassioned and sometimes crudely-honed (usually courtesy of guitarist,
Adrian Belew) interpretations. The result was usually electrifying and often exhilarating.
From the opening - an acoustic driven “Space Oddity”, delivered more as a basic song than some sort of prophecy - he set the standard for the evening. “Rebel Rebel” and “Ashes to Ashes” followed and we all settled down to the most satisfying rock cabaret we are ever likely to see.
The silk screen, lowered and raised repeatedly, predominantly featured enormous projected images of Bowie and a female dancer. Technically, this was pretty awesome and thankfully, it was never intrusive.
The music was always upfront and the sheer spectacle which was rounded out by the industrial stage props and the huge TV screens at either side (which, incidentally, were comically over-the-top in the perfect synchronicity stakes) left Bowie driving a stake through the heart of The Glass Spiders.
The music always had a very definite sense of historical authenticity. He was able to shift personae without relying on costume changes or physical manipulation and the stylish period touches were well judged.
Overall, there are reasons to be cynical, especially when discussing sequencers, samplers and tapes, but I wasn’t in a cynical mood and I’m going back for more tonight.
16 August 1991 at The Baggot Inn, Dublin
Review: Dave Fanning
The music was forced to take second place. The idea of Bowie in the Baggot was just too much of an event and even the fact that the queue only stretched down Merrion Row meant that it was obviously a reasonably well-kept secret (unlike tonight ‘s second gig down by the Liffey).
On stage on Friday, supporting The Blue Angels, there was no nonsense and no frills as Bowie’s Tin Machine bashed through the set with a combination of sophisticated cool and total abandon. The quartet’s fiery brand of punky blues was held together by the Sales brothers’ rhythm section, where Tony played bass and Hunt thrashed a stripped-down, over-sized drum kit.
The tattooed drummer even took a vocal or two as the back-to-basics Bowie stepped aside. There was nothing from
Bowie’s past catalogue, but slapdash versions of Roxy Music’s “If There Is Something?” and The Pixies ‘ “Debaser” fitted in neatly with the mayhem.
With a set based primarily on fleshing out rehearsals for the music on the imminent second Tin Machine album, it’s easy, on a night like this, to celebrate and compliment Bowie on his efforts to dispel the Bowie phenomenon by trying to be an equal partner in a four-piece kick-ass outfit.
In many ways, the voice of music’s champion chameleon is just too distinctive to front a credible rock-thrust band, but on the night exuberance was the winner, and if the aggressiveness of his band (and particularly the assured guitar playing of Reeves Gabrels) is captured on this second album, then maybe he’ll win us all over yet.
24 November 1995 at The Point, Dublin
Review: Kevin Courtney
David Bowie is dead - that was the simple message which came across last night at The Point in Dublin, as the avant-garde artist formerly known as Ziggy dismembered his own legend and strewed its bloody parts around with cold, calculated abandon.
Bowie has been desperately trying to shake off his 70’s skin, shrugging his hits from his shoulders as though they were monkeys on his back. He tried to escape into bland, disco-centric dance pop, as though the MTV screen could conceal him; he even hid behind a group identity, but the tin was too thin to protect him. Now, he’s finally hit on the solution: turn and face the strange, cut it into little pieces, and call it confrontational art.
Not that Bowie in concert circa 1995 is particularly bad- last night’s gig was a well crafted showcase for the Thin White Duke ‘s inimitable imagination , and the songs from his latest album, Outside, though not up to his past genius, are complex, challenging works in themselves.
Bowie began his set on a downbeat note, easing the crowd into the material from Outside, and giving them a grace period to pick up the plot of his latest opus. Heart’s Filthy Lesson, The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty) and I’ve Never Been To Oxford Town may have unwieldy titles, but they settled lightly on the ears, giving cause to hope that tonight’s show might actually become a memorable exhibition. Scary Monsters kept us in touch with the familiar, but new versions of Andy Warhol and Man Who Sold The World reminded us that we were no longer in the 70’s.
Bowie’s movements were fluid and forceful, and his body language was a mixture of defiance and self-sacrifice. His every grand gesture underlined the demise of pop.
In this context, Boys Keep Swinging seemed like a skeletal chant, and Hello Spaceboy sounded like the final farewell of Major Tom. He needn’t have bothered doing Jacques Brel’s My Death - we got the message, and many of us had already given up and gone home.
Under Pressure was poignant in the light of Freddie Mercury’s recent musical exhumation, while Moonage Daydream was like a sudden shooting star from Mars. Bowie’s been dead too long, and the resurrection might have come just a little too late.
17 May 1997 at the Factory Studios, Ringsend, Dublin
Review: Kevin Courtney
David Bowie graced Dublin with a surprise show at The Factory in Ringsend on Saturday, treating 300 lucky space cadets to a bass-heavy explosion of old tunes and new beats. The Thin White Duke seems to enjoy doing secret gigs in Dublin.
On Saturday night, however, not only did we get to bask in the close presence of a rock legend once again, we also got to hear some classic Bowie songs along with some of the better offerings from his recent albums, Outside and Earthling.
Bowie’s current band also features Aladdin Sane alumnus Mike Garson on keyboards and samples, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and drummer-percussionist Zachary Alford, but before the band launched into the festival set which they’d been rehearsing this past month there was the small matter of Bowie’s current musical fixation for the new model dance genre known as drum ‘n’ bass. The first hour of the set was an extended experiment in psychotic loops and block-busting bass, and only the hardcore clubbers could endure the stomach-pummelling bass frequencies which throbbed from the speakers.
After a short break, Bowie gave songs from Earthling their first live airing, but the tiny crowd gave a big cheer for Fashion, perfectly upgraded to suit the band’s bass-heavy sound. Gail Ann Dorsey shared lead vocals with Bowie for Under Pressure, but Heroes and Scary Monsters were handled with panache by the Dame himself.
Just when we were beginning to get used to Bowie’s recent, robust output, the man suddenly whipped out an acoustic guitar and dug up the organic spirits of Quicksand and Queen Bitch, getting all bluesy for The Jean Genie, then going into rock ‘n’ roll overdrive for Lou Reed’s White Light/White Heat and I ‘m Waiting For My Man.
Bowie topped off his surprise party with All The Young Dudes, forgetting the words of the second verse and laughing loudly at the renewed innocence of it all.
8 and 9 August 1997 at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin
Review: Kevin Courtney
Like Major Tom in the song, David Bowie has been lost in his own space for the past few years, but with his new album, Earthling, the Thin White Duke is trying to make his way back to solid ground, using drum ‘n’ bass as his landing vehicle. He’s got a lot to prove, and at the Olympia last night he made a very compulsive case for the rehabilitation of Ziggy Stardust.
Bowie chose his own song, Changes, as the intro music, and he reacquainted the audience with the old Bowie by taking out an acoustic guitar and doing a straight-strumming version of Quicksand.
Bowie wore sandals and white shirt, looking as he did on the Let’s Dance video, but sounding much less anodyne. The stage was backed by a cloth screen on which video images were projected in triplicate - a kind of miniature, avant-garde version of the PopMart screen.
“Have you got a few minutes?” asked Bowie with a mischievous grin, watched by his wife, Iman, who was sitting in one of the boxes. “I’d like to spend some time with you.” A drum ‘n’ bass version of The Man Who Sold The World signalled the start of a 2½ hour set, and Queen Bitch reassured everybody that Bowie wasn’t going to ignore his back catalogue.
The Jean Genie started out as a slow blues refrain, while I ‘m Waiting For My Man was a Velvet Underground goldmine. Having sweetened the audience with a little gold-dust, Bowie and band launched into two of Earthling’s better tunes, I’m Afraid Of Americans and Battle For Britain (The Letter), and the big surprise was how good these new songs sounded live.
Fans of the old stuff might have left by [THE ENCORE], but the rest of us were rewarded with an incendiary encore, topped off by a drum ‘n’ bass take on Laurie Anderson’s O Superman, with vocals by Dorsey.
Bowie whipped out the sax for an equally radical V-2 Schneider, and then alleviated the shock of the new with a raucous finale of All The Young Dudes. Bowie at 50 - still carrying the news.
22 and 23 November 2003 at The Point, Dublin
Review: Kevin Courtney
Bowie’s on sale again and, for two nights in a row, the fans are buying. The Point is stuffed on Saturday night for Bowie’s Reality tour, but are we just living out a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy, or does the Thin White Duke still rule?
Happily, Bowie performed plenty of his classic songs from the 1970s, and some of his better hits from the 1980s, but the reality is that he also played a lot of material from latter-day albums such as Earthling, Hours..., Heathen and his most recent platter Reality.
If, however, you went to the bar or the bathroom during these songs, then you missed a whole dimension of Dave, not to mention half the gig.
At 56, Bowie is looking lean, trim but still superbly iconic; his skeletal grin beaming down on the Dublin audience as he attempts to greet us as Gaeilge.”Conas ataw shin?” he asks, very nearly getting it right. “Gurramahagive!” he cries, hitting the mark this time.
Fame gives us a taster of classics to come, but a cover of The Pixies’ Cactus packs more of a sting. China Girl gives guitarists Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard a chance to spar, while The Loneliest Guy lets pianist Mike Garson loose and lets Bowie show some emotion. Under Pressure allows bassist Gail Ann Dorsey to show her vocal prowess, as she handles Freddie Mercury’s part with kid gloves - not my favourite Bowie song but definitely a high point of the show.
Sometimes, the old songs didn’t fit the new band very well; Ashes To Ashes was a pale ember, while Changes seemed to slip like quicksilver into thin air. Life On Mars, however, was triumphant.
Visually, Bowie kept it linear, with one wide screen behind the band, and a second screen above the crowd, giving us close-ups of Bowie’s bone-structure. He strolled suavely along a raised walkway for Bring Me The Disco King, and jumped around on it for Hallo Spaceboy.
This multi-dimensional show ended with a trilogy of Five Years, Hang On To Yourself, and Ziggy Stardust, all from his seminal album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. What a starman.