BY STEVE VOLK ALL-THINGS-BOWIE CORRESPONDENT Word was David Bowie will not tour behind The Next Day, his first new album in 10 years. Then his lovely wife Iman said something or other that suggested maybe he would. Oh, Bowie. Must you force us to live in mystery? Yes, apparently. You must. Our suggestion, for those trying to find some way of coping? Keep hitting refresh on your news feed, on one tab. But on the other, watch these six top-shelf, underwatched Bowie performances we mined for your pleasure.
Five Years (1976)
The 70s were Bowie’s decade and this performance is evidence of why. Magnetic of personality and supple of voice, Bowie delivers the Joyce-ean epic of “Five Years” with theatrical precision. The cameraman and the director love Bowie’s angular, expressive face, holding a single close-up of Bowie acting (!) his way through the song’s quickly shifting scenes for three straight minutes—an eternity in today’s jump-cut happy era. No costumes here. Just his head and a dead-perfect vocal.
Bowie’s best track by pretty much everyone’s estimation, this achingly pretty, overhand right of a tune could close any act’s concert and has comprised the emotional center of his shows for roughly 30 years. This performance, however, delivered the year of the song’s release, is definitive. Dig those crazy pants. Revel in the great time he’s having. And get a load of guitarist Carlos Alomar’s porn star mustache.
For his 50th birthday party, Bowie rounded up a boffo cast of guest stars, including Lou Reed and Robert Smith, who harmonizes with Bowie so tightly it’s a wonder the two didn’t head straight to the nearest studio and make a mint from combining fanbases.
My Death (1997)
Most stars might get an invite to play the GQ Awards and act all daddy big in the pants, playing their manliest, most virile tunes. Bowie, however, was still running counter plays at 50 years old. So he invited this big TV audience to stare into the face of death. Glorious, brave and beautiful.
Before the heart attack, before the 10-year absence, Bowie was back to throwing fastballs and a wicked curve, too. This song, the title track to Heathen, which the New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones has finally got around to calling “magnificent,” qualifies as one of the curves. Again with the death, Bowie stares into the abyss here and emerges with the briefest refrain in the history of pop music—a moan that grows more anguished with each repetition. Catchy? Not quite. Powerful? Very.