In 2002 David Bowie was in a very different place from he was when he recorded Low in Berlin twenty-five years earlier. Who wouldn’t be, after all? In 1976 Bowie, trying desperately to extricate himself from a serious cocaine addiction, absconded to the European continent, specifically Berlin, where he commenced a period of activity that would elevate him into the category of unquestionable rock and roll legends once and for all.
He chose Berlin because he could exist there in relative anonymity: “Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway.” He didn’t realize at the time that he was entering a scene with heavy heroin availability, but luckily that didn’t prove deleterious to his health or sanity: “I moved out of the coke center of the world into the smack center of the world. Thankfully, I didn’t have a feeling for smack, so it wasn’t a threat.”
Bowie helped Iggy Pop record The Idiot and became inspired by (among other things) Brian Eno’s album Discreet Music. He met up with Eno and their first collaboration was the moody, bracing and unexpected album Low, which startled not merely a few Bowie fans.
Jump to the early 2000s. 9/11 occurred during the post-production phase of Heathen, which came out in June of 2002, and while Bowie was never quick to point to it as a “9/11 album,” he did acknowledge that there was a connection there, calling it “a traumatic album to finish” and emphasizing that “we live down here,” i.e. downtown Manhattan.
In 2002 for his Heathen Tour, Bowie planned a limited number of concerts in which he would play Low start to finish. (Actually he ended up choosing to play the tracks out of order, but whatevs.) The first Low show was at Roseland Ballroom in New York on June 11, 2002. The other three shows in which he played the full album took place in London, Cologne, and Montreux. (Those four shows, as well as one other show in Denmark the same year, appear to be the only times Bowie ever played “Weeping Wall” live. Setlist.fm isn’t aware of any others, anyway.)
The Low set at the Montreux Jazz Festival was captured on video with high-quality audio and video. The date was July 18, 2002, which was also the final time Bowie ever played the album live. Astonishingly, the rendition of Low came on the heels of a full Heathen-centric show in which he’d played 22 songs. Now that’s a full day’s work!
There’s a bit of a puzzle about the aforementioned “Weeping Wall,” however. Setlist.fm says he played it, but if it was it’s not included in this video, unfortunately.
Speed of Life
What in the World
Sound and Vision
Always Crashing in the Same Car
Be My Wife
A New Career in a New Town
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Meet the mysterious ‘white witch’ who exorcised David Bowie’s cocaine palace