David Bowie’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 flies under the radar somewhat because of Freddie Mercury’s show-stealing efforts. However, Bowie was still on the electrifying form that deserves to be celebrated.
The historic Live Aid concert was a benefit gig arranged by Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats alongside Midge Ure as a way to make the youth more aware of the worsening famine in Ethiopia. The charity still provides help for those affected by poverty in the third world and continues to be a bastion of the good the power of music can achieve.
The event was largely known as the “global jukebox”, as on 13th July, 1985, a concert was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia with attendances at 72,000 and 100,000 people respectively.
On the same day, a whole host of other concerts inspired by the Live Aid initiative happened in other countries. Nations like the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Yugoslavia, Austria, Australia and West Germany all held events. At the time, it was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts in history. There was an astonishing estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watching the broadcast. For perspective that is nearly 40% of the world’s population at that time.
Bowie originally had an unfeasible vision for his set with technological advances marring his plan to duet with Mick Jagger on ‘Dancing In The Street’. The plan was to link up Bowie’s London show with Jagger who was stationed at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium. Thankfully, they realised there would be a significant video delay beforehand and decided to record a studio version of the cover instead.
The show marked Bowie’s first performance in 18 months as he had opted against touring his Tonight record from the previous year and, it goes without saying, the Starman was ready to be back with a bang. He faced the impossible task of following Queen but if anyone could follow that iconic performance then it was Bowie.
Bowie delivered a four-song set of the highest calibre for which he was accompanied by his brand-new bright young band which featured Thomas Dolby on keyboard duty. They opted to open their set with the Station to Station hit ‘TVC 15’ before delivering rousing renditions of ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Modern Love’ and wrapped up in perfect fashion with an iconic performance of ‘Heroes’.
This short set was arguably the high watermark of the decade for Bowie who would go on to hit the road again for his mammoth Glass Spider tour which was largely hit and miss, as was the reception to 1987’s Never Let Me Down LP and his Tin Machine project.
Watch footage of Bowie’s final song from the set that captures him being firmly sat at the top of the world.