David Bowie has put together a fair few decent shows in his time. The Thin White Duke may have found fame as a wild act on-record but his time on stage was just as exemplary. When you have a back catalogue of personas that include Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane you know you have a few characters to rely on—but some artists are better than others at performing timeless covers of others’ songs. Bowie is one of those artists.
Perhaps one of his most adored bands was The Velvet Underground, the band which Bowie championed from the very beginning. Back in 1967, Bowie learnt his first VU track and, in 1976, he was well-skilled at the New York street language that the Velvet Underground revelled in. Here, we revisit one his funktastic performances of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ from one of the singer’s iconic rehearsals.
It must be a little odd, admittedly, when you’re David Bowie and have become accustomed to theatres and arenas full to the brim with people not only cheering your name but dressing like you and mouthing every word you sing, to then suddenly perform someone else’s song to emptiness—but that’s exactly what happened in ’76.
As Bowie prepared for a mammoth coat-to-coast tour of the States he needed to have a dress rehearsal of the performance, after all, the dress was sometimes the most important part. However, on this tour, Bowie had scaled back the brightly coloured theatrics and was instead instilling a sense of classic monochrome timelessness and it meant the songs had to be at the top of their game.
What we have below then is a piece of footage that captures the entire first performance of Bowie’s now-iconic ‘Thin White Duke Tour’. It’s a pinnacle moment in Bowie’s career as he straddles the past with glee but still pushed forward with every performance, the perfect example of that is his cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’.
The song represented a landmark moment for Bowie. The band represented a charged intensity that had been lacking from the swinging sixties in London. While the Rolling Stones and The Beatles had triumphed during the decade they increasingly represented the establishment. The Velvet Underground were the seedy underbelly of the streets—they were the real deal.
It was something Bowie immediately connected with through the songs back in 1967 and it also shone through in this slinky and sultry performance of the track some nine years later. Of course, by then, Lou Reed and Bowie had become firm friends and working partners but that didn’t stop the Starman turning Reed’s song into something entirely unique.
Watch David Bowie get funky during rehearsal with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ from back in 1976.