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Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
A tale of two concerts: Bowie had a disastrous Slane - but a triumphant return to Reality
Even people who regard Bowie as a friend reckon his Glass Spider show was awful. He more than redeemed himself with his 2003 shows.

DAVID BOWIE FANS have been sharing their memories of his Irish concerts, after the singer’s death at the age of 69 shocked the music world this morning.

He appeared at a range of Irish venues over the years, in his various guises – from tiny spaces like the Factory and HQ (now the Academy), to the Olympia, to the country’s biggest stages at the Point and Slane Castle.

dub7 Classic Dublin Gigs / Facebook Classic Dublin Gigs / Facebook / Facebook

The reviews, over the years, were by no means entirely glowing: his Slane show, for instance, was regarded as something of a disaster.

In contrast, his two 2003 appearances at the Point went down a storm: Dublin-born Gerry Leonard, Bowie’s guitarist, was musical director for the tour and oversaw the DVD release of the Irish show – which became the star’s last concert documentary.

richard turner / Vimeo

July 1987 – Glass Spider

Some rock veterans are content to play it safe from album to album, sticking with the sounds and images that fans recognise: the Rolling Stones for instance – bar a few dozen age-lines and the occasional fresh bandana – look largely the same as they did 20 years ago.

Look away from what David Bowie’s up to for half-an-hour, though, and he could well have assumed an entirely new character by the time you’ve looked back.

It’s fair to say he was known as a risk-taker – so it’s no surprise that not all of those risks worked out perfectly.


The Glass Spider tour was the last ‘big thing’ Bowie did in the decade of excess that was the 1980s.

And it was VERY 1980s.

After his early successes in the Ziggy period, over Young Americans and with the experimental Berlin albums, Bowie cemented his reputation as a stadium-filler and pop superstar at the start of the decade. He reached number 1 for the third time with Under Pressure, his Queen collaboration, in 1981 – achieving his commercial peak two years later with the Nile Rodgers-produced Let’s Dance album and the Serious Moonlight tour.

There was also Live Aid, of course, and he popped up on MTV throughout the period. However, by the time the Spider tour came around, his output had flagged and the hits had lost something of their sheen.

Bowie’s previous two albums, Tonight and the Labyrinth soundtrack, hadn’t been his strongest – and Never Let Me Down, the one he was promoting on the 1987 tour, was (as he’s admitted himself) another disappointment.

The Glass Spider set was huge, with (as you may have guessed) a giant spider hovering over the stage, a troupe of dancers and other theatrics.

The production was panned by critics, and the fact that most of the Irish show took place in daylight didn’t help matters. As the Irish Independent later noted, the disappointment could be put down partly to the fact that the elaborately-staged show “was conceived as an indoor gig in the dark … rather than in a field in Meath in the sun”.

Speaking today, DJ and author BP Fallon described the Slane performance as ”one of the worst David Bowie gigs I ever saw”.

lola mir / YouTube

Watching tour footage back today (not from the Slane show, it’s probably worth stating) it really doesn’t seem all that bad. There are some strong performances of Bowie classics. As Rolling Stone observed back in 2013 “it’s nowhere near as terrible as the legend suggests”.

“Beyond the fact that the production seems tame by today’s standards, it was hardly the first time Bowie incorporated dancers and theatrics into his stage show.

His 1974 Diamond Dogs tour was equally over the top. He also busted out mime moves on the Ziggy Stardust tour in 1972/’73, and not much else about those shows can be considered restrained.

The critical reception led to something of a career rethink from Bowie – his next act was to form the band Tin Machine with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and Iggy Pop’s rhythm section the Sales brothers, embarking on a scaled back tour of clubs.

He wouldn’t release another solo album until 1993′s Black Tie White Noise – now regarded as the work that marked his career renaissance.

david bowie tin machine / YouTube

November 2003 – A Reality Tour

By contrast, Bowie’s early-2000s performances in Ireland were a triumphant return for the star – who had been re-energised in the previous decade, releasing a string of well-received albums.

While his sales had dropped off since his heyday, a new generation of fans had discovered his music in the wake of the mid-90s Britpop period, and collaborations with the likes of Brian Eno and Trent Reznor made him a favourite of alternative radio DJs.

bow14 Trading on his status as bona-fide cultural icon, Bowie appears alongside Ben Stiller in the 2001 movie Zoolander.

The reports on the Reality shows were already hugely positive by the time the singer rolled into Dublin for two back-to-back nights at the end of November. A relaxed-looking Bowie was clearly having the time of his life at the Point, alongside a stellar cast of musicians including Gail Ann Dorsey (who sang the Freddie Mercury part in Under Pressure) and the Clontarf-born Gerry Leonard.

Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2013, Leonard recalled they had a deep repertoire of songs to draw on for the concerts.

“We’d work up new songs in soundcheck all the time and work them until we were ready to have him sing with us. We got to do The Supermen and all this stuff that was really left-of-centre, but really great album tracks.

The fans were really going crazy for it.

“We did Suffragette City and Blue Jean, Bewlay Brothers and Fantastic Voyage and then we’d do All the Young Dudes and Changes and all his hallmark songs.

We were all over his catalogue. He had a love/hate relationship with Let’s Dance, but when we hit Australia and he hadn’t been there in years, he would do it. If we were playing Britain or something, we’d focus on more obscure stuff.

Alongside the barn-storming version of Under Pressure, fans also raved about the singer’s rousing performances of Rebel Rebel and Heroes, and his sparse, heartfelt rendition of Life On Mars.

DavidBowieVEVO / YouTube

A scheduled appearance at the Oxygen festival the following summer was cancelled due to health concerns, as Bowie began his decade long hiatus – eventually all-but-disappearing from public view until his startling 2013 comeback with The Next Day.

The Reality shows would be his last on Irish soil.


Read: David Bowie: 1947 – 2016 >

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