One of the more profoundly surprising concerts of Bowie career came during the summer of 1987 when, embarking on his Glass Spider world tour, he stopped off in Berlin to play by the Berlin Wall. Upon his death in 2016, the German foreign office tweeted, “Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall.” Rioting also occurred during the show which led to dozens of clashes with Police in the east and many arrests. It was the beginning of a series of riots and confrontations that led to the fall of the wall some two and a half years later. So let’s take a closer look at the Berlin concert.
The show was part of the three day “Concert For Berlin” open air festival of which Bowie was the headline act. On the night of his performance, there were over 60,000 fans in attendance and many thousands more on the other side of the wall. In the East at the time, Western pop music was still considered as destabilizing which led to a ban on many artists records being banned. With this in mind, Bowie had extra speakers placed within close proximity of the wall for those on the other side to hear the entire show. A week after the show, then US President, Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin and demanded that the wall be torn down. For many on the East, these events were the beginning of the end of the Berlin Wall.
During the concert, Bowie turned to those on the East after introducing the band and said in German, “We send our best wishes to all our friends on the other side of the wall.”
In a 2003 interview, Bowie remembered the concert…
“I’ll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. They’d backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did “Heroes” it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it’s almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more.”
My copy for years came in the shape of a reasonable yet not complete audience recording however, not too long ago, I was sent a copy of the show that was broadcast for FM radio in Germany at the time. Sadly, only the first half of the show was broadcast so the second half remains an audience captured recording. It’s like hearing the show all over again for the first time. This kind of leads into the age old argument for many concert tape collectors as to whether a raw and edgy audience recording overrides a more polished FM radio broadcast? Personally, I’m in two minds on the issue because some of my most treasured recordings over the years have come in the form of audience recordings whilst there have also been many great FM broadcasts released over the decades. I guess I shall sit firmly on the fence with this one. Being an early show on the tour, you get a feeling that both Bowie and his band are finding their way through the songs still. Loving The Alien and Big Brother both sound polished and outstanding already so early on whereas some of the other tracks feel like they need to be warmed up with a hot water bottle. Bowie’s vocal delivery is sublime throughout despite some of the songs being a bit underdone. This was, it should be pointed out, only the 4th show in from the start of the tour in Rotterdam the week before.
Something many critics of this tour have forgotten over the rolling years in that the likes of U2, Prince, Madonna and others took many of the concepts from The Glass Spider Tour and proceeded to shape them into their own special style. In effect, the tour was pioneering for what was to come throughout the 1990’s and beyond. And this recording, whilst not in full FM sound, is still worthy of going into the echelons of classic Bowie concert recordings.
FM RECORDING – Purple Haze Intro/Up The Hill Backwards/Glass Spider/Day-In Day-Out/Bang Bang/Absolute Beginners/Loving The Alien/China Girl/Fashion/Scary Monsters/All The Madmen/Never Let Me Down/Big Brother/87 And Cry/”Heroes”
AUD RECORDING – Time Will Crawl/Band Introduction/Beat Your Drum/Sons Of The Silent Age/New York’s In Love/Dancing With The Big Boys/Zeroes/Let’s Dance/Fame/Time/Blue Jean/Modern Love