The Bridge School Benefit 1996
Bowie was not the sort of diva to deny others the spotlight, and with just three people on stage at the Bridge School Benefit, there was no room for egos. The Bridge School Benefit was an event organized by Neil Young annually between 1986 and 2016 to support the school for special needs children that his son attended. Because Neil Young is a folk rocker, it was traditional for guests to play acoustic sets. Bowie’s set was a stripped-back affair, he wore street clothes and was flanked by bassist Gail Ann Dorsey on his right, and Reeves Gabrel on his left. A bottle cap taped to his shoe provided percussion.
The set opened with “Aladdin Sane,” which must’ve been deliberately chosen to showcase the talents of the other two musicians. Dorsey’s backing vocals are breathtaking, and the way Gabrels made his regular old electric guitar sound like a piano for that famous manic freeform solo is unbelievable (honestly, if you watch the video, you’ll swear there’s a pianist hidden off-camera. Seriously I’ve been listening to the recording for years, and I’d forgotten there was no pianist.)
But this is the Bowie show after all. As magnanimous as he may be, he can’t avoid the fact that he’s the one people came to see. Bowie’s presence is most felt through his banter. Bowie is clearly having a ball with the more loose and casual format. But that contrasts with a solemn and majestic version of “Heroes,” which is the very best of the many live versions of the anthem.