Bowie Bash

Classic Rock, March 2022

For one night only in January 1997, David Bowie and personally invited stars celebrated his 50th birthday with a show at Madison Square Garden. Here's how the stardust was sprinkled...

Before The Show
Nate Mendel (bassist, Foo Fighters): It was kind of a milestone for us, because it ended up being the last time William Goldsmith, our first drummer, played with the band. It was our first time in Madison Square Garden, first time we met Bowie, first time that we probably played a stage anywhere near that big. We were about halfway through the recording of The Colour And The Shape, so it was pulling us out of the studio, going to New York, meeting a legend and just having all these firsts. It was pretty monumental. We were excited to be there.

Nate Mendel: I don't recall exactly how the songs we ended up playing came down. I assume, based on where we were at the time, that it was probably more of an assignment; they weren't gonna ask the Foo Fighters what they wanted to play!
In comparison to what we would do now, which is listen to a song on an iPhone in a car on the way to whatever we're going to do, we'd rehearsed a bit. We were doing Hallo Spaceboy, and we came in having prepped a little.


Nate Mendel: The day of the show, I remember seeing everybody backstage and being kind of intimidated but feeling the positive vibe in the room. Everybody was very supportive. I was quickly able to kind of get over those nerves of having been asked to do this thing. Bowie was so gracious and kind and approachable, so I just remember good vibes. And seeing my first rock legend snorting cocaine in the bathroom also. Like "Oh, I've heard about this, I've read about this in books, and there you are doing it."
Who was it?
Yeah right!

Brian Moloko (vocalist, Placebo): It was celebrity central backstage. Prince in high heels, Christopher Walken looking scary. I gave Moby a beer from our cool box, and accidentally head-butted Naomi Campbell's chest while enthusiastically turning a comer. I also snogged Dave Grohl. As you do.

Nate Mendel: Then we took that photo where everyone's in black and looking like they're in a rock band. And I get seated directly behind Bowie for the photo, which is unfortunate because I'm in a white button-up short-sleeve shirt that's like ten times too big for me. It's a bad look, and it's a very prominent look due to the scope and the sizing and the colour. Every once in a while my wife will pull up the photo and just have a good laugh.

On Stage

Nate Mendel: I was a little nervous, but I remember it going well, actually being fun in the moment. I was able to focus on the fact that: "I'm twenty feet away from Bowie and we're playing a song together, and it's actually fun and it's working." As opposed to: "What am I doing here?" and "Let's not fuck up!"

Reeves Gabrels (guitarist / musical director): Hallo Spaceboy was a surprise, with three drummers. I didn't realise just how thunderous that was gonna be.

Mike Garson (pianist): You want to hear something interesting that David wanted for Hallo Spaceboy? So it was Dave Grohl and his other drummer from Foo Fighters at the time [William Goldsmith], and David wanted me on drums instead of the other drummer that played with Foo Fighters, together with Zack, our regular drummer. I thought to myself: "This is ridiculous. I can play a little drums, but these guys need to have a real drummer." So I said: "Let me go back to the keyboards", and it was those three drummers.

The After Party
Nate Mendel: It was just like you'd imagine a Bowie party to be - super-stylish, in a loft, everybody famous in the world is there. David said to us: "Nice job, kids. Keep at it and maybe you'll figure this shit out in a few years." I'm kind of paraphrasing, I'm sure he said it more artfully than that.

Words: Niall Doherty

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