MELTDOWN 2002 AND THE HEATHEN TOUR

MAY 10th - OCTOBER 23rd 2002

 

Musicians:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Saxophone, Stylophone, Harmonica

  • Earl Slick: Guitar

  • Gerry Leonard: Guitar

  • Mark Plati: Guitar, Keyboards

  • Gail Ann Dorsey: Bass, Vocals

  • Mike Garson: Keyboards

  • Sterling Campbell: Drums, Keyboards

  • Catherine Russell: Backing Vocals, Keyboards

Repertoire:

Speed Of Life | Breaking Glass | What In The World | Sound And Vision | Always Crashing In The Same Car | Be My Wife | A New Career In A New Town | Warszawa | Art Decade | Weeping Wall | Subterraneans | Sunday | Cactus | Slip Away | Slow Burn | Afraid | I've Been Waiting For You | I Would Be Your Slave | I Took A Trip On A Gemini Spaceship | 5.15 The Angels Have Gone | Everyone Says 'Hi' | A Better Future | Heathen (The Rays) | China Girl | Let's Dance | I'm Afraid Of Americans | Ashes To Ashes | Fame | Hallo Spaceboy | Absolute Beginners | Fashion | Changes | Starman | Ziggy Stardust | "Heroes" | White Light/White Heat | Stay | Life On Mars? | Space Oddity | I Feel So Bad | One Night | Look Back In Anger | Survive | Alabama Song | Rebel Rebel | Moonage Daydream | The Bewlay Brothers

On February 11th 2002, two weeks before his performance at the Tibet House Benefit concert, it was announced that David Bowie had accepted the post of Artistic Director at Meltdown, the annual music and arts festival hosted by London's South Bank complex. Each of the nine previous Meltdown Festivals had been curated by a guest director hailing from the avant-garde end of the musical spectrum: George Benjamin, Louis Andriessen, Elvis Costello, Magnus Lindberg, Laurie Anderson, John Peel, Nick Cave, Scott Walker and, most recently, Robert Wyatt. Each Meltdown director is given free rein to assemble his or her fantasy festival, creating an eclectic programme of rock, classical and contemporary music, film , theatre and exhibitions, reflecting their own personal passions and interests. Previous Meltdowns had yielded memorable performances from a host of artists both mainstream and obscure: among the veterans were Nina Simone, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lou Red, Radiohead, Deborah Harry, Sonic Youth, Blur, Tricky and Kylie Minogue.

David Bowie's Meltdown 2002 (as the event was officially entitled) ran from June 13th - 30th, the main focus of attention being a non-stop schedule of concerts in the Royal Festival Hall and its smaller adjoining venue, the Queen Elizabeth Hall. For Bowie fans, the event was given an added frisson by the fact that the South Bank had played host to some crucial dates in David's early career: the Purcell Room had been the scene of his showcase concert on November 20th 1969, while the Royal Festival Hall itself had played host to a mime performance in 1968 and, more memorably, to the breakthrough Ziggy Stardust gig on July 8th 1972, at which David had been joined on stage by Lou Reed.

 

Bowie announced that he was excited by the opportunity to curate Meltdown: "I was very disappointed two years ago when I had to decline Scott Walker's invitation to perform, so I am thrilled that I get a second chance to contribute in whatever way I can." Glenn Manx, the South Bank's Producer of Contemporary Culture, pronounced himself "thrilled and honoured" by Bowie's acceptance of the post, describing David as "the quintessential Meltdown Director. His way of thinking makes an eclectic festival like Meltdown possible.

 

The main line-up for Bowie's Meltdown was announced in April 2002, with extra attractions added over the following month. Among the artists performing on the Royal Festival Hall's main stage were The Divine Comedy (June 17th), Coldplay with guest Pete Yorn (June 22nd), Suede (June 23rd), Mercury Rev (June 27th) and Supergrass with guest Bobby Conn (June 28th). The Queen Elizabeth Hall, meanwhile, played host to some rather more idiosyncratic artists, including an eye-opening double bill comprising cult singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston and Bowie's old favourite The Legendary Stardust Cowboy (June 15th), stand-up comedian Harry Hill (June 17th), Television with guests Luke Haines and Stew (June 19th-20th), Kimmo Pohjonen Kluster and the Lonesome Organist (June 18th), and Asian Dub Foundation playing their live score to Mathieu Kassovitz's film La Haine (June 21st-22nd). More mainstream offerings in the Queen Elizabeth Hall included an acoustic set by The Waterboys (June 26th-27th), while a more unusual choice was Matt Johnson's relaunched The The (June 25th). A late cancellation by Gorillaz and Terry Hall, who had been scheduled to perform at the Festival Hall on June 21st, made way for the last-minute addition of rising New York "electro-clash" exponents Fischerspooner.​

David Bowie's Meltdown 2002
David Bowie with The Legendary Stardust Cowboy - August 18th 2002
David Bowie on stage in Boston 2002

There were initial mutterings from some quarters that Bowie's Meltdown programme was more conservative and mainstream than those of previous years (in May Bowie was even moved to publish a defence of his Meltdown line-up in The Times after journalist Stuart Maconie had accused him of pandering to the masses), but on close inspection Bowie had in fact gone farther into the left field than many of his predecessors. Nobody who attended the frankly indescribable Daniel Johnston/Legendary Stardust Cowboy evening could possibly accuse Bowie of making concessions to popular taste, and for every Coldplay or Supergrass there was a Baby Zizanie, a Peaches, a Polyphonic Spree or a Bollywood Brass Band. "My choice of billing reflects both my populist and fringe tastes in music," declared Bowie, and nowhere was this clearer than in the series of free concerts sponsored by BBC Radio 3 on the Festival Hall Ballroom stage: they included such unlikely acts as Swedish punk-funk outfit (International) Noise Conspiracy, Teutonic obscurantist Uwe Schmidt (here adopting the name Senor Coconut to play a series of salsa reworkings of Kraftwerk songs), and Terry Edwards And The Scapegoats, who played a set of ska interpretations of Bowie numbers, including "Speed Of Life", "Sorrow", "Cat People", "TVC15", "Rebel Rebel" and "Boys Keep Swinging".

Even more unusual were Lonesome Organist Jeremy Jacobson, a one-man band of bizarre home-made instruments, and Finnish duo Kimmo Pohjonen Kluster who, on the evening before their Queen Elizabeth Hall performance, played an extraordinary Ballroom set of reinterpreted Bowie classics including "Abdulmajid", "Warszawa", "Sense Of Doubt", "We Prick You" and "Life On Mars?". Pohjonen's part-vocal, part-accordion music was played live over pre-treated samples made by percussionist Samuli Kosminen. "My music is obscure, psychedelic and sometimes beautiful," said Pohjonen, "like Finnish weather." Another notable coup was the revival of the Langley Schools Music Project, the 1970s brainchild of music teacher Hans Fenger, whose legendary recordings of Canadian schoolchildren singing pop classics like "God Only Knows" and "Space Oddity" were released on CD in 2002 as Innocence And Despair. Invited by Bowie to relaunch the project, Fenger collaborated with children from eight Lambeth schools for their free Ballroom performance on June 21st, which duly culminated in "Space Oddity".

These Bowie covers were not the only tributes to Meltdown's curator: The Divine Comedy included an excellent cover of "Ashes To Ashes" in their set, while Television's Tom Verlaine, whose "Kingdom Come" had been covered by David on Scary Monsters back in 1980, returned the compliment with an encore version of "Psychotic Reaction" in which he sang snatches of Bowie lyrics over an ethereal backing.

In addition to the programme of concerts, David Bowie's Meltdown included Sound And Vision, an exhibition of work by young artists selected from the Bowieart website, and Digital Cinema, an eclectic choice of films created in the digital medium which were screened throughout June at the neighbouring National Film Theatre. "I can guarantee that if you've not seen digi-film before, you are in for an astonishing few hours," said David, whose selections included mainstream titles like The Pillow Book and 24 Hour Party People alongside obscurities such as Oshii Mamoru's Japanese virtual-reality fantasy Avalon and Zacharias Kunuk's Inuit epic Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.

The Meltdown programme began and ended with the festival's only fundamentally Bowie-oriented evenings: on June 13th the London Sinfonietta, conducted by Marin Aslop, performed Philip Glass's Low and "Heroes" symphonies at the Royal Festival Hall, while the closing date of June 29th, billed as "The New Heathens Night", was to be a headlining concert by the man himself. For Bowie, however, Meltdown was only part of an ongoing package of gigs to promote the release of Heathen. Preceded by a handful of live appearances in New York, the Heathen tour proper would begin at Meltdown before embarking on a series of summer festival dates.

Rehearsals began in New York in early May. Assembling a band consisting mainly of veterans of the 2000 tour together with Heathen newcomers Catherine Russell and Gerry Leonard, Bowie intimated that the greatest hits package of two years earlier was not about to be repeated: "I capitulate every now and again and give them what they want," he said, "but I get mad at myself because that's not really what I do, or what I like. I'm very selfish about what I want to do, and as I get older I get more selfish." Nevertheless, the first public preview leaned heavily on mainstream oldies: in a five-song set for MTV's Tribeca Film Festival at New York City's Battery Park on May 10th, the band played "China Girl", "Slow Burn", "Afraid", "Let's Dance" and "I'm Afraid Of Americans".

On May 30th David reprised the solo performance of "America" he had given at the previous year's Concert For New York City. This time the occasion was a charity auction at Manhattan's Javits Center, organised by the Robin Hood Foundation who had coordinated much of the city's post-9/11 fundraising activities. "It's an amazing charity," said David. "It is run and paid for by the wealthy of New York, therefore there are no expenses whatsoever. Every single penny made goes to charity. They are the biggest funder of schools in New York's poorest neighbourhoods. They've also made it possible for, so far, over 700,000 uninsured kids to get access to health care. Since 1988, they've raised literally millions and millions of dollars and started more programmes than I can remember." The Foundation asked David to sing "America" as a curtain-raiser for the auction, which was hosted by Mike Myers and Diane Sawyer. "I went over straight after my own rehearsals and did the song for them, then went home for dinner," said David. "They raised - wait for it - $14,000,000 in one night."

On June 2nd came the first in a series of television recordings, as the band taped a set of nine songs at New York's Kaufman Studios for use by the BBC's Top Of The Pops and TOTP2. Before a small audience of BowieNet members, the band played four numbers from Heathen ("Slow Burn", "Cactus", "Gemini Spaceship" and "Everyone Says 'Hi'", four fresh oldies ("Sound And Vision", "Ashes To Ashes", "Fame" and "Absolute Beginners"), and a second performance of "Slow Burn" for use as a generic promotional clip. "Slow Burn" duly appeared on Top Of The Pops on June 7th, with other songs popping up in subsequent editions of TOTP2. Further TV performances would follow on The Late Show With David Letterman on June 10th ("Slow Burn") and Late Night With Conan O'Brien on June 19th ("Slow Burn" and "Cactus").

The first full-length show of the tour was a warm-up gig at New York's Roseland Ballroom on June 11th. Access was exclusive to BowieNet members, who were rewarded by a remarkable departure from Bowie's usual style of set-list. David had already told a couple of interviewers that he was intending to perform both Low and Heathen in their entirety, and this is exactly what he did. "The two albums kind of feel like cousins to each other," he explained later. "They've got a certain sonic similarity." For the opening Low section David wore a Thin White Duke-style waistcoat and trousers with white shirt and black tie, an outfit created, as were most of his suits he wore on stage during 2002, by the New York-based designer Hedi Slimane. During the Low performance David played keyboards on "Warszawa" and "Art Decade", harmonica on "A New Career In A New Town", and saxophone for the closing "Subterraneans". After a ten-minute interval the band returned, David now clad in the three-piece Burberry tweed suit that appeared in the Heathen publicity photos, to play his new album from start to finish. He then changed into a scarlet frock-coat and black silk trousers for encores of "Hallo Spaceboy", "Ashes To Ashes", "Fashion" and "I'm Afraid Of Americans". It was a highly unusual experiment (making Low and Heathen the first Bowie albums other than Tin Machine II to be performed in their entirety on a single tour, and the first ever to be played in uninterrupted album order at a single gig), and was adjudged an unqualified triumph by those lucky enough to attend.

On June 14th the band played four songs at New York's Rockerfeller Plaza for NBC's The Today Show (while, during the soundcheck, Bowie even busked an impromptu rendition of "Rock'n'Roll Suicide"). The following day saw a 13-song concert on the A&E channel's interactive TV show Live By Request, which allowed viewers to request numbers by telephone or email. Unsurprisingly, more oldies were added to the set-list for the occasion, with "Changes", "Starman", "Ziggy Stardust" and "Heroes" returning from the 2000 repertoire. In the UK, a re-edited version of Live By Request would be screened on ITV in December, cutting the telephone calls but adding two extra songs ("I've Been Waiting For You" and "Cactus") which were not shown by A&E.

On June 26th Bowie arrived in Southampton after a leisurely five-day crossing on the QEII. The following evening was spent at BBC Television Centre recording an interview special with Jonathan Ross, during which the band played "Fashion", "Slip Away", "Be My Wife", "Everyone Says 'Hi'" and "Ziggy Stardust". Edited to 45 minutes ("By My Wife" was among the excisions), the show was transmitted the following week as Friday Night With Ross And Bowie. In the meantime, June 29th found compere and performer reunited for Bowie's long-awaited Meltdown concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Providing excellent support on the "New Heathens Night" were the Portland-based Dandy Warhols, while the festivities continued after the gig with a DJ set hosted by Jonathan Ross, on whose Radio 2 show David had appeared earlier in the day. Bowie was delighted by his choice of support act, whose work he had been championing for some time: "The Dandy Warhols are a terrific band both on stage and on record," he had said the previous November. "Their writing seems to get better with every album." The admiration was mutual: in September 2000 The Dandy Warhols' lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor had told the NME that Bowie was "a superhero because he always did it better and farther than everybody else...and today he's just as unbelievable and irresistibly beautiful as ever."

The London show attracted a star-studded audience including Robert Smith, Brian Eno, Siouxsie Sioux, Toyah Willcox, Kylie Minogue, Bono, Stephen Duffy, Tracey Emin, Janet Street-Porter, and members of Duran Duran and Supergrass. Bowie's set again consisted of complete performances of Low and Heathen, although this time Low was re-ordered to divide the long instrumental tracks: entering to the strains of "Weeping Wall", David joined the band for "Warszawa" before returning to the beginning of the album. "Art Decade" was inserted after "Sound And Vision", and the set again ended with "Subterraneans". During the ten-minute interval Bowie changed from his Thin White Duke outfit into a white silk suit for the superb performance of Heathen which followed. Although the length of the set and the Festival Hall's curfew regulations forced David to be a little less chatty between numbers than usual, he found the time to ask who had seen The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's Meltdown concert ("What a professional!" he laughed on relating the trouser-dropping antics with which The Ledge had concluded his set), and dedicated "5.15 The Angels Have Gone" to John Entwistle, whose death had been announced the previous day.

Returning to the stage in the scarlet coat he had worn at Roseland, Bowie was joined for the first encore by The Dandy Warhols, bringing a total of six guitars to the stage for a magnificent rendition of "White Light/White Heat", a new addition to the repertoire. The encores continued with "Fame", "Ziggy Stardust", "Hallo Spaceboy" and "I'm Afraid Of Americans".

The Roseland and Meltdown concerts set a template for the unadorned performance style that would prevail throughout the Heathen tour: besides David's costume changes and the customary state-of-the-art lighting (including, at most gigs other than Meltdown, a backdrop spelling "BOWIE" in multiple lightbulbs), the only real concession to theatricality came in the form of a spot of play-acting in the early stages of "Sunday", during which David and Gail Ann Dorsey indulged in some synchronised hand-movements, and in "Heathen (The Rays)", at the climax of which Bowie would bow his head and place a hand on Dorsey's shoulder, allowing her to guide him off stage as though he were blind. It was an effective theatrical construct, evocative not only of the blind-eyed Heathen sleeve image but also of the choreography that had accompanied "Loving The Alien" - another song of faith and heathenism - on the Glass Spider tour many years earlier. "Heathen (The Rays)" would remain the usual closing number of the tour's pre-encore set, Bowie's "blind" exit ending the main part of the show on a suitably understated flourish.

I can't remember a time when I was received so warmly," David told reporters backstage after the Meltdown concert. "It was fantastic." Sure enough, the press reaction was unanimous. "If there is one area in which Bowie excels it is in creating a sense of occasion, and he didn't disappoint," reported The Times in a five-star review, hailing Bowie's appearance at the Festival Hall as "a resplendent vision of lithe, ageless cool...whatever changes Bowie has weathered, he remains a natural performer and a supremely gifted musician." The Sun remarked that "a nonchalant Bowie was strutting on the stage like a cocky teenager...at 55 the Thin White Duke still looks great and sounds great." Another five-star review in The Guardian declared the concert "an extraordinary event", remarking that Bowie "seems so ageless, flashing a toothy grin as he snakes his lithe, angular body about the stage. His vocals are as spine-shivering as ever." The Daily Telegraph announced that "this has to be up there with the best. He was alive, animated, focused, evidently having the time of his life, and he was backed by a singularly awesome band...Sensational, and unforgettable."

As the tour moved from London to a string of festival dates in France, Norway, Denmark and Belgium, it became apparent that the rigid structure of the Meltdown set-list was by no means the be-all and end-all of Bowie's 2002 repertoire. Although most of the Low and Heathen material would be retained (including further near-complete performances of Low in Cologne, Montreux and Berlin), some numbers were dropped altogether. Neither "A Better Future" nor, surprisingly, "Slow Burn" resurfaced after Meltdown, while "Gemini Spaceship" enjoyed only one further trip as the set-list transformed into a more eclectic and crowd-pleasing selection from Bowie's recent and distant past. The Paris show on July 1st (recorded by ARTE television and transmitted on September 12th) saw the addition of "Stay" as the show opener, while an ecstatically brilliant "Life On Mars?" opened the batting in Norway and thereafter remained the usual curtain-raiser, beginning with Mike Garson on solo piano and building into a breathtaking full-band orchestration during the second verse. More unexpected was a one-off performance of "Space Oddity" at the Horsens Festival in Denmark (David would later tease some audiences with a brief snippet of "Space Oddity" on his Stylophone after "Slip Away", while Cologne was subjected to a Stylophonic snatch of "Do-Re-Mi").

Back in the UK, David and Iman attended the Serpentine Gallery's annual party in Hyde Park on July 9th, and the following day the tour resumed at Manchester's Move Festival, where Meltdown signings Suede and The Divine Comedy played in torrential rain before the clouds parted for Bowie's headlining set. Rumours of a duet with Suede proved unfounded, but Bowie's performance received breathless notices. "As the hits kept coming, there was an overwhelming sense that Bowie is now more relaxed than he has been for years," reported the Manchester Evening News. "The voice, of course, was as glorious and theatrical as ever." The Daily Star considered the show "pitch perfect...the crowd went wild. If Bowie ever gets bored with belting it out after all these years in the business, he certainly hides it well." The Daily Telegraph raved about "Bowie's incredible rebirth as a performer. He is clearly having the time of his life on this tour, aided by an astonishingly tight, virtuoso band...it's hard to describe how awesome was the impact...Such is Bowie's aura, that undeniable sense of otherness that makes even those who gave up on him in the 1980s flock back to him like space cadets to the commander." Three years later a selection from the Move Festival gig would be televised on America's Showtime Next channel.

From Manchester the tour headed back to the Continent. Cologne's mammoth 30-song set included the first Low performance since Meltdown - now minus "Weeping Wall", as would remain the case for the rest of the tour - and two performances of "Everyone Says 'Hi'" for the benefit of the cameras which were filming the song's little-seen live video. Next came Nimes, Lucca, and a headlining set at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival. Returning to America on the QEII, Bowie next linked up with Moby's twelve-date Area: 2 Festival tour of the United States and Canada, during which he performed alongside acts including Busta Rhymes, Ash, Blue Man Group and Moby himself. Busy promoting his new and conspicuously Bowie-influenced album 18, Moby had already described David as "my favourite musician of the 20th century" and "an amazing live performer". David had struck up a close friendship with Moby in recent months, inviting him to remix "Sunday", participating in several joint interviews to promote Heathen and 18, and even giving Moby the hat he wore in The Man Who Fell To Earth as a Christmas present. Posting on his website immediately after the opening Area: 2 date in Bristow on July 28th, Moby gushed about his star guest: "David Bowie was beyond great. I can't believe that I stood at the side of the stage watching David Bowie perform at my festival. Oh my goodness. He was so good. The new songs from Heathen sounded wonderful...the song about Oogie and Uncle Floyd has such a heartbreaking, elegiac quality to it. I'm a very happy little festival organiser."

The press concurred: "It may be Moby's tour, but through outstanding songs and sheer animal magnetism, David Bowie owns Area: 2," reported the Washington Times. The Toronto Star announced that Bowie "proved the one real uniting force of the day...Curiously, too, it wasn't the Bowie classics that went over best, although a closing run at "Ziggy" certainly left the throng on a high note. Rather, it was later material - the electro-shocked "I'm Afraid Of Americans" and "Hallo Spaceboy", the '80s standard "Let's Dance", a massive cover of Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You" and the brooding title track from his excellent new Heathen disc - that kept most of the crowd on its feet." The Courier Post reported that "the performance was enhanced by some of the best live vocal work Bowie has delivered in years. He seems to have found his way back to slightly higher registers; the icy edge that informed his earlier style was frequently employed to great effect." The Rocky Mountain News reported that the Denver show "left the crowd breathless and stunned", while the Orange County Register hailed Bowie's Los Angeles set as "one of the great performances of the year." The Times Dispatch went so far as to say that "Although Moby closed the concert, the majority of the audience came to see the man who should have headlined the night, Mr Thin White Duke himself." For his part, David seemed unfazed by taking second billing for the first time in living memory: "I'm taking full advantage of second spot on the show and getting in the car afterwards and driving home to New York every night," he explained, "so that I can be there when Lexi wakes up in the morning." Commuting also allowed the band to record an appearance on NBC's Last Call With Carson Daly on August 1st, playing "Cactus" and "Everyone Says 'Hi'". The same two songs featured on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on August 12th, during which Moby played percussion on "Everyone Says 'Hi'", and provided guitar and vocals on "Cactus".

Given the multiple bill, Bowie's Area: 2 sets were markedly shorter than the other 2002 dates, averaging around 16 numbers each. The Jones Beach set on August 2nd was cut short by an electrical storm: songs like "I'm Afraid Of Americans" and "Heroes" were rendered particularly dramatic in torrential rain punctuated by rolls of thunder and flashes of lightning, but conditions finally became too dangerous and the set was curtailed after a mere 12 numbers. The longest Area: 2 set was reserved for the final date, at the dramatic Gorge Amphitheater outside Seattle. The concert fell on the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and Bowie elected to mark the occasion by swelling his encores with the inclusion of what he described as "hasty but enthusiastic" covers of the Presley classics "I Feel So Bad" and "One Night". "The Gorge was just the most splendid location for a finale," David remarked afterwards, "and, because of its majesty, put me in mind of the mountain Shokan location where it all began last year with the recording of Heathen."

Gorge Amphitheater just outside Seattle

Midway through the Area: 2 tour it emerged that Bowie would be returning to Europe to play six more concerts in September and October. Before the gigs got under way, David appeared at London's Natural History Museum on September 3rd to collect an Outstanding Achievement prize from Stella McCartney at GQ's Men of the Year Awards. There followed a handful of TV spots to promote the European release of the "Everyone Says 'Hi'" single, including performances on Swedish TV's Bingolotto and Bowie's first ever appearance on BBC1's flagship chat show Parkinson, for which he gave a lengthy interview and followed "Everyone Says 'Hi'" with a pared-down "Life On Mars?", accompanied only by Mike Garson. The show was considered a great success, and Bowie would be back on Parkinson little more than a year later.

On September 18th, the day before Parkinson was recorded, the band played an excellent ten-song live session in front of a small audience at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios. Broadcast on Radio 2 a fortnight later, this show featured five further additions to the repertoire in the form of "Look Back In Anger", "Survive", "Alabama Song", a heavily restructured "Rebel Rebel" with a new low-key guitar intro, and finally the undisputed highlight: David's first ever live performance of "The Bewlay Brothers". For many fans, the long-awaited live debut of this most legendary and enigmatic of songs was the talking point of 2002; "The Bewlay Brothers" would reappear only twice more, in the following month's concerts in Hammersmith and Brooklyn. September 20th saw Bowie back at the BBC for the third time in as many days, this time to record an appearance on BBC2's Later...With Jools Holland. In addition to a short interview (during which David commandeered Holland's piano to perform a snatch of The Legendary Stardust Cowboy's "Paralysed"), the band played "Rebel Rebel", "Look Back In Anger", "5.15 The Angels Have Gone", "Heathen (The Rays)" and "Ashes To Ashes", although only "Rebel Rebel" and the two Heathen numbers were included in the show's transmission a month later.

The European concert dates began on September 22nd with an epic 31-song gig in Berlin, which included another near-complete performance of Low and the introduction of "Moonage Daydream" to the repertoire. The show was widely considered to be one of the year's finest concerts, reaching a peak with an emotive performance of "Heroes". "There's no other city I can do that song in now that comes close to how it's received," David reflected the following year. Recalling the remarkable events of the Glass Spider tour's Berlin Wall concert in June 1987, he remarked that "This time, what was so fantastic is that the audience - it was the Max Schmelling Hall, which holds about 10-15,000 - half the audience had been in East Berlin that time way before. So now I was face to face with the people I had been singing it to all those years ago. And we were all singing it together. Again, it was powerful. Things like that really give you a sense of what performance can do. They happen so rarely at that kind of magnitude." The Berlin concert was filmed, and reports circulated for a while that a DVD release would be forthcoming. It wasn't, but a 13-song selection was broadcast on German television the following February.

The European tour continued with dates in Paris, Bonn and Munich, before reaching its pinnacle on October 2nd when, for the first time since 1983, Bowie returned to the legendary London venue where he had famously killed off Ziggy Stardust some 29 years earlier: although it was now trading under the ungainly name of the Carling Apollo Hammersmith, to many it will forever remain the Hammersmith Odeon. The celebrity-studded audience included erstwhile Bowie stalwarts Brian Eno, George Underwood and John Cambridge. Incorporating an array of classics old and new, including the first full-blown concert outing for "The Bewlay Brothers", the Hammersmith gig ended the European dates on a dazzling high.

In the days after Hammersmith there followed a couple of TV appearances, on Germany's Wetten Dass...? and Italy's Quelli Che Il Calcio, before the band returned to New York. The original intention had been to end the tour in Hammersmith but, as David would later recall, "we had a number of New York TV commitments at hand, so I needed to keep the band together for another couple of weeks before they drifted off to family and friends for the winter." The solution was to line up a series of concerts following the route of the New York Marathon, and thus was born the five-date extension to the Heathen tour that came to be known unofficially as the "New York Marathon" or the "Five Boroughs tour". The dates were swelled to eight with the addition of a performance of "Rebel Rebel" and "Cactus" at Radio City Music Hall for VH1's Fashion Awards on October 15th, and two final shows at another pair of venues steeped in Bowie history: Philadelphia's Tower Theater and Boston's Orpheum. The accompanying TV spots included a performance of "Afraid" and "I've Been Waiting For You" on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, which would later undergo an unusual transformation: when the show was repeated by NBC the following May the visuals, including Bowie's performance, were rendered entirely in clay-mation animation.

The "New York Marathon" dates were trailed by photographer Myriam Santos-Kayda, whose excellent book David Bowie: Live In New York commemorated the concerts in rehearsal and performance. Bowie's foreword to the book summed up the successful conclusion of the Marathon dates at Manhattan's Beacon Theater: "When Gail Ann and I slow danced through "Absolute Beginners" that night, we both felt just that. It didn't seem like the end of a long and gruelling year, but a new time with a horizon that went on forever. As we left the stage that night to the sound of Gerry's last guitar hurrah, we hugged in the wings and felt sad for maybe the first time all year."

It had indeed been a golden year for David Bowie: the widespread acclaim accorded to Heathen was compounded by the success of the tour, while the thirtieth anniversary reissue of Ziggy Stardust and November's Best Of Bowie cemented the impression of 2002 as something of an annus mirabilis. October brought the agreeable news that David had finished a very respectable 29th place in the BBC's much-publicised Great Britons, an enjoyably absurd jamboree in which the public was invited to vote for the "greatest" figure in the nation's history while watching endless television shows in which celebrities promoted their favourite candidates. Bowie was the third highest musician in the poll (Lennon and McCartney both made the top 20), which exclusively revealed that he was greater than Charles Dickens, George Stephenson and Sir Walter Raleigh, but less great than William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin and Michael Crawford. So now you know.

The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg

The Complete David Bowie

by Nicholas Pegg

New Edition: Expanded and Updated

"This is the best Bowie reference book one could ever hope for"

Tony Visconti

Despite the fact that 2002 had been Bowie's most high-profile year for quite some time, his family commitments had ruled out the possibility of a major world tour: instead, the Heathen tour amounted to some 36 concert dates, punctuated by several leisurely breaks. "Touring has become harder and harder for me," David had admitted in the summer of 2002. "This new set of shows that I'm doing this year are actually not too many to cope with really. I'm doing about a dozen in Europe and a little more than a dozen in the States, which means I'll be able to get home." Nevertheless, the 2002 concerts - in particular the string of triumphant autumn engagements that were added some time after that statement - proved to be of immense significance in reinvigorating David's appetite for large-scale touring. Following the universally applauded success of the Heathen tour, 2003 would see Bowie's full-scale return to the world stage.

More so than the uncompromising set-lists of the mid-1990s or the mainstream package of Glastonbury 2000, the Heathen tour succeeded in being all things to all people, allowing David to delight the faithful with superb performances of Low and Heathen, while at the same time pulling more crowd-pleasing material out of the hat when the occasion required. David was delighted with his new band: "I now have the feeling we are one of the strongest bands I've ever worked with," he enthused in June 2002, "and it's very exciting to be on stage with them." Nobody who saw the concerts could disagree: the addition of the immensely talented Gerry Leonard on second lead guitar lent an extra textural depth to a band which, grounded in Gail Ann Dorsey's spectacular bass, Mark Plati's dexterous rhythm work and Earl Slick's searing solos, now offered one of the most guitar-heavy line-ups of Bowie's live career. The sound, although full, remained beautifully clear and atmospheric, with Sterling Campbell's percussion and the excellent keyboard work of Mike Garson and Catherine Russell underpinning the arrangements to perfection. Bowie's own contributions on guitar, saxophone, keyboards and harmonica (not to mention Stylophone on the new crowd favourite "Slip Away") bore witness to a more hands-on role in the band's sound of late, and his voice was on stunning form. As he hit his mid-fifties, David Bowie was burnishing his reputation as rock's most spectacular live performer.