David Bowie is perhaps the most iconic musical artist of all time. No one has ever come to the way he bridged the gulf between popular music and the experimental arts. With one foot firmly on music’s beating heart and the other on its peripheries, Bowie cultivated an artistic image for himself that was totally unique. With flecks of Klaus Nomi’s Weimar-esque operatics and the swagger of Mick Jagger, Bowie’s chameleonic career took many twists and turns, and both the negatives and the positives fed into this great mythos that we have of him today.
The beauty of Bowie as an artist was that he was pioneering both in the studio and on stage. He constantly had one eye on the audio and another on the visual, and this acute awareness of the power of the audio-visual partnership, augmented his artistry to realms that had prior to never really been experimented with. Without his pioneering work, there would be no Björk, Lady Gaga, or even the likes of Lil Nas X.
The strange thing about Bowie’s career was that it started off as really nothing special. During the ‘swinging sixties’ period in London, Bowie was a musician who made music that, in all honesty, was a cheap copy of the country’s premier ‘British Invasion’ acts such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds. However, his collaboration with Tony Visconti, Mick Ronson, Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey and Rick Wakeman at the end of the decade would set him on his way to becoming a true musical icon. Through this collaboration, this divergence from the norms realigned his artistic trajectory.
In many ways, the ’70s can be regarded as truly David Bowie’s decade. Before the purists get all hot and bothered, yes, he indeed became a megastar in the ’80s after the release of 1983’s Let’s Dance, but it was in the ’70s where he honed his craft and gave us some of his best moments. You could also argue that Bowie’s best moments in terms of pure artistry came after Let’s Dance. However, his ’70s output is by far the most iconic.
‘Space Oddity’, ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘The Jean Genie’, ‘Rebel Rebel’; these are just some of the classic singles Bowie would release before he decamped to Berlin in the mid-late 1970s in an effort to exorcise himself of his cocaine addiction. As part of his ‘Berlin Trilogy’ of albums, Heroes is undoubtedly the most well-known, owing to the crossover appeal of its 1977 title track. The anthemic, bittersweet number has come to be regarded as one of his most important and signature songs.
It is with this song that we get our story today. Given that after its release, up until Bowie’s death in 2016, ‘Heroes’ remained a key component of his live shows, this got us wondering, just what are the best live performances of the track of all time? With so many in existence, it was hard to trim it down, but trim it down we did. Join us, then, as we list the five best performances of ‘Heroes’ that David Bowie ever delivered.
David Bowie’s best performances of ‘Heroes’
Live Aid – 1985
Possibly the most iconic performance of ‘Heroes’ that Bowie ever gave, this performance is etched into the collective conscious ad infinitum. Bowie delivered this stellar rendition of the track at the classic Live Aid concert, which was organised by Sir Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for the devastating Ethiopian famine.
In front of a 72,000 strong audience, Bowie shines like the star he was. Reaching the zenith of his career around this period, this performance is one of the best reflections of Bowie at his peak. A tight, upbeat version of the track, it perfectly conveyed the essence of Live Aid – hope.
Furthermore, the addition of the soulful backing singers really adds to the song and the event’s message: “We can be heroes”.
Berlin – 2002
Featuring one of Bowie’s trademark, rambling and rather strange crowd interactions, this set in Berlin, fittingly saw Bowie run through a lot of his ‘Berlin Trilogy’.
Backed by his iconic modern backing band, including bassist and singer, Gail Ann Dorsey, this rendition of the song slowly builds up, a slow burner, before it reaches its anthemic climax, with each instrument gradually introducing itself. The climax is a powerful one, hitting you right in the feels.
Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert – 1992
One could argue that this is the most touching rendition of ‘Heroes’ that Bowie ever gave. Given the pathos that drenched the event, remembering the late Queen frontman, Freddie Mercury, this was always going to be a tearjerker.
The performance is also emotionally affecting for another reason. It was the first time Bowie and ex-sidekick and guitarist Mick Ronson had played together for years and would be the last time they ever would, as Ronson passed away the following year due to liver cancer.
Ronson’s emotional guitar drones throughout the song, and backed by Queen members Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor, this redux is a touching tribute to life itself. At the end of the song, Bowie dedicates the song to Mercury and everyone who passed away owing to HIV/AIDS. He visibly fights back the tears, and it’s a tough watch.
Earls Court – 1978
No list of ‘Heroes’ renditions would be complete without a performance from the era it was released. A slower, droning version, closer to the one on the record, this is a rather sedated take on the original.
A marvellous vocal delivery, it captures Bowie at one of the finest points in the whole of his career, where he triumphantly reemerged out of the mire of the mid-1970s. The end of the track features swooning backing vocals, as the guitar dovetails with the bassline. Creating an eclectic finale, no wonder this entry is loved by Bowie fans.
Glastonbury – 2000
Talking to the crowd before launching into the set, Bowie talks about the first time he played at Glastonbury, mentioning a whole load of cannabis and 1970, and says that being back at the festival after 30 years is “fucking great”.
One of his most theatrical takes on ‘Heroes’, the image of Bowie we’re met with here is a longhaired one who has the crowd bouncing and cheering incessantly as they knew they were witnessing history. This performance is iconic as it was only the second and last time Bowie ever performed at the legendary festival.