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Mark Plati writes exclusively for David Bowie News, Glastonbury 2000 and the NYC shows leading up to it

July 27th, 2020 | by admin
Mark Plati writes exclusively for David Bowie News, Glastonbury 2000 and the NYC shows leading up to it
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The 20th anniversary of David’s appearances at the Glastonbury festival and the BBC Radio Theatre is a bit of a bittersweet milestone in these turbulent & unprecedented times. In retrospect, the spring of 2000 seems so innocent and hopeful – we had beaten the Y2K bug (!!) and the new century held all the promise one would expect of such a grand new beginning. Spring is always a time of rebirth and 2000 was no different. We had yet to experience 9/11, the endless wars, the financial crisis … there was no cloud hanging over us. The future was so bright we had to wear shades.

Here are some of my notes from this period – May and June, 2000. Earl Slick had just returned to the Bowie fold, a natural a fit as butter on bread. Everyone else was from the ‘hours’ band, so we were already in the soup together. I was now more comfortable being Musical Director, though the players I had to direct made that a snap anyway. David had a baby on the way, and I broke both of my arms.

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It didn’t take long to rehearse the tour material. Songs we’d never played together as a band came together in a flash, like we’d known them for years – ‘Station to Station,’ ‘Stay,’ ‘Cracked Actor,’ ‘Ziggy Stardust,’ ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’, and ‘Heroes’ seemed to explode, so much so that at times I couldn’t believe I was a part of it. It was unreal how quickly we tackled a complex epic like ‘Station to Station’ – of course, Slicky made the ‘Station to Station’ era songs come to life. Those are some of my favorite Bowie songs, so it was a real thrill to be able to play them – especially with two of the guys who created them. We expanded the duties of most band members, giving everyone a little extra work to do. Emm Gryner added some extra keys and sampling; Holly Palmer played bongos and percussion; Gail and I swapped instruments on a few more songs, and she tackled the 12 string acoustic; Slick played 12 string as well; Mike had some new keyboards and a lot of new sounds; I added backing vocals on a few songs; on ‘London Boys’, Emm and Gail would play clarinet; and, David had a lot of lyrics to memorize – we were doing a long show, and he hadn’t performed some of these songs in a very long while.

We’d rehearse for 5 to 6 hours a day, honing our parts and sounds. Some interesting things happened along the way. ‘Golden Years’ became a duet between David and Gail. ‘Let’s Dance’ got an acoustic intro. ‘Fame’ became a hybrid between the ’75 original and the version from the ‘Earthling’ tour. ‘This Is Not America’ got funky, and ‘Absolute Beginners’ got backbone. Speaking of bones ….. I had an additional complication. I’d fractured both of my forearms in a serious bicycle accident on May 10th. I was due to begin mapping out the songs with David and Gail on May 24th, which gave me exactly two weeks to recuperate enough to be able to play. It was tricky, but with an accelerated schedule of physical therapy (and a whole lot of luck) I was able to do it … just barely.

Our first show was on June 16th at Roseland in New York City. It was a real treat to do shows like these in my hometown – I even went to the gig on the subway (I would have ridden the bike, but Slick vowed to kill me if I did so before we finished the tour). This first night was incredible – the band was supercharged, the audience was psyched, and the moon was full. Whatever the reason, this show really kicked from the opening notes of ‘Wild is the Wind’ (a song which had never been performed live before) to the encores, which included surprises such as ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ ‘Golden Years,’ ‘This Is Not America,’ and the epic (and personal favorite) ‘Station to Station.’ Some these really threw the audience for a loop – from the stage you could see a look of surprise sweep across the crowd. It was such a privilege to be performing these songs – many of which are significant for me – with this group of people. I kept looking at Slick with a big, sappy grin on my face …. I’d steal glances at Garson, who would be completely lost in his own musical trip … I’d occasionally wander over to Gail’s side of the stage to hang with her, Holly, and Emm. I had a little epiphany then and there – THIS is what its like to be in a top tier rock band, say like the Rolling Stones circa ’72. We had a killer singer, a dynamic twin guitar attack, a crack rhythm section, gorgeous backing singers, and some of the most iconic songs, all propelled by the energy of a runaway freight train and a musical mind meld that kept it all in sync. THIS was rock and roll.

 

 

We played for ages that night, and we were all completely drained yet at a fever pitch once we were done. Unfortunately … David put so much of himself into that performance that the following morning he couldn’t speak! As a result, Saturday night’s gig had to be canceled. The high from the previous night took a bit of a turn south. After the cancellation was announced a few of the band combed the sidewalk outside of Roseland looking for friends and family we’d invited to the gig, and the fans confronted us. Some reactions were extreme. One girl was tearful – she’d come from upstate to see this show, and couldn’t come back for the Monday gig as she had exams. Others were angry, demanding information about what had ‘really’ happened, thinking we were hiding some secret reason for the cancellation! For the most part though, people were sad about David’s laryngitis and wished him well. My own family had shown up en masse – my daughter Alice’s first grade teachers as well, long time fans, were thrilled to go to a Bowie show – so we retired to an Italian restaurant around the corner where I saw fans linger for a few hours, perhaps in the hope that the cancellation was some sort of elaborate ruse which would soon be shattered by the arrival of DB, and the faithful would be rewarded for the wait. Or, perhaps they just didn’t know what to do with themselves. Neither did I. Thankfully, the Monday night show (June 19th) went off as planned. This show was primarily for BowieNet members, and they were a truly appreciative audience. Though not as exciting as the Friday show (it was a bit more tentative given the circumstances) it was still a great gig. I spied my 6 year old daughter dancing next to Iman, which struck me as pretty surreal. And, yes … I got her teachers into the Monday show.

 

The next day we were off to London to settle in for a few gigs, among them the television program ‘TFI Friday,’ the Glastonbury festival, and the BBC Radio Theatre. We’d been though the drill on TFI last fall so we knew the routine – rehearse, coffee, dress rehearse, coffee, makeup, icky dressing room sandwiches, walk across the road, coffee, showtime. We needed to trim down the chosen tunes – ‘ Wild Is The Wind’ and ‘Starman’ – to a more TV-friendly duration like three and a half minutes. This was a bit tricky for ‘Wild Is The Wind,’ a song that clocks in at 6 minutes … still, a little musical butchery goes a long way. Again, our front of house mixer (for these gigs it was Steve Guest) and I would help the guys in the truck get through the mix in rehearsal and then hope for the best when the time came for the live broadcast … no after-the-fact fix-ups! David was in fine voice for these gigs, his laryngitis a memory by now.

 

The bus trip to the Glastonbury festival provided an opportunity for some of us to get ill. The trip from London to Glastonbury took between three and four hours, and a bus with poor ventilation provided a great opportunity for nasty germs and viruses to find willing and able hosts. David, Emm and I all came down with ‘Glasto Bus Disorder,’ a nasty sort of upper respiratory infection which laid us out for days afterward. Still, Glastonbury itself was pretty cool and rather amazing. I’d never played at – or really, even been to – a festival of this size before. The biggest one I’d been to previously was Lollapalooza, which didn’t come close … this was like a small city. We got there late in the afternoon so we had a lot of time to walk around. We watched Willie Nelson on the main stage (that made Gail’s day) and the Dandy Warhols on the smaller stage (which was still gargantuan). We ran into old friends and made new friends backstage. There were booths with everything imaginable for sale. We shared a backstage area with the Happy Mondays – they provided some interesting moments as they fell about the grass, obviously quite hammered.

We were all itching to play, aided and abetted by the nervous energy that builds up when you’re sitting around waiting. Slick and Garson were champing at the bit. David borrowed the shirt I was going to wear in the show for some photos, as he was short an extra outfit. He seemed just a little bit nervous – I’m sure he was thinking about the significance of this performance, as maybe mindful of his all-too-recent laryngitis. We all knew that his return to Glastonbury would be one for the books, and by the time showtime finally came around (10:30) we were all jumpy with anticipation.

This performance was for sure on another level – while we might not have played a note perfect show, our energy and enthusiasm pinned the meters. David had the crowd roped in from song number one – once again, it was ‘Wild Is The Wind.’ Only a small handful of artists could pull off a mid-tempo ballad as a set opener at a huge outdoor festival, but that wasn’t a question for Mr. Jones. It was an amazing sight as this entire mini-city of people began to jump up and down to ‘Rebel Rebel’ and sing along with ‘Life on Mars’. I made sure to keep one of my in-ear monitors out so I could take in all of the atmosphere. By this show Slick was back in the saddle and roaming his part of the huge stage. He had been a bit tentative in the earlier gigs, as if still putting a toe in the water; but, when he lit up a smoke at the top of ‘Station to Station’ and let the feedback fly, I knew any and all hesitation was long gone. I just stood there for the most part in awe of both Slick and David, amazed that I was sharing a stage with these two superstars. Actually, make that three – I had Mike Garson right behind me, as always pulling out all sorts of goodies from his bag of twisted musical tricks. It would hit me occasionally that I was ‘triangled’ in by these three musical legends from both the ‘Diamond Dogs’ tour and the ‘Young Americans’ and ‘Station to Station’ recordings. As usual, I’d look to my left and see the ever-beautiful, dignified, funky, and barefoot Ms. Dorsey doing her thing, and feel right at home. I couldn’t imagine being in this group without her; she is without question the most understated and graceful anchor around … and being of a similar vintage to myself, she knew exactly what I was feeling at that moment.

We then had a day off to rest, and on Tuesday we played our last show together at the BBC Radio Theatre. We went from the massive scale of a festival to the completely intimate, essentially a high school auditorium – the audience was about three feet away from us. I never got completely ‘tuned’ into this show – perhaps it was the Glasto illness creeping in, or the carpeting on the stage which inhibited movement a bit (I kept thinking I was going to trip). I could tell Emm was sick, and David too – we had to stop and start again on a couple of songs. After it was over I thought that we did very well – I thought we might have actually played better than at Glastonbury, it was different kind energy and very low pressure – but at the time, it didn’t seem like anything special. It certainly wasn’t as exciting as Glastonbury or Roseland, which probably had as much to do with my being sick as the show being on a small scale. I was shown to be quite wrong later on when I saw and mixed the playback of this show, and realized how tight and musically in sync this group was.

 

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Twenty years later, what can I add? I think the significance of the 2000 shows has only grown over time, much as the appreciation for David himself. The BBC Radio Theatre performance made its way to YouTube, where it lives to this day. I’ve read many a comment on how it’s one of the best live recordings of a Bowie concert in existence – not bad for a show I didn’t deem all that much of at the time. As for Glastonbury itself … it’s hard to believe I was there and that I was a part of it, and that I was injured, and that I was leading a band of legends for one of the most significant performances in an artist’s career – an artist I grew up with on a few levels. If there was no photographic evidence I’d have thought it was all made up.

 

 

As I’ve said before, you were blessed to spend any amount of time in the db orbit in a creative capacity. I can trace my own self-actualization as an artist to this very period, when I made the jump from studio to stage and from technician to performer. I see the Glastonbury performance and realize not only how far I had come in my own musical and personal development (I never thought I could be one of those lucky folk who got to perform to stadiums full of people alongside iconic artists and world class musicians,) but I also see how David let us be ourselves, and let our individual musicality blossom with no micromanagement or politics, much as a great casting director would. While I realized to some degree at the time how unique this was, it became more and more apparent as the years wore on and I worked and collaborated with a host of others … the Bowie dynamic wasn’t to be repeated because there wasn’t another Bowie.

With 2000 this far in the rear view mirror, many of the details and minutiae that make you weigh a given adventure are forgotten – the sheer effort, the preparation, the logistics, the finances, the jet lag, whatever else (in my case, the broken bones). And so, I can view it more as a spectator and watch the show as anybody would. From that perspective, I see a man who loved to sing and whose natural habitat was the stage, who surrounded himself with kindred spirits, and whose audience was there for every minute of the ride … and he was always more than happy to take the wheel. Rock and roll, indeed.

Many thanks to Mark for taking the time to write this for us, it’s fascinating and much appreciated.

**Mark was originally going to do a Q&A for DBN, but pretty much all the questions you sent in related to the offically unreleased ‘Toy’ album and unfortunately he cannot currently comment on that subject. Fingers crossed for an official release at some point. Thanks to those of you who sent in questions.

Click all photos to enlarge.

Photo credits, Kevin Mazur, Brian Rasic & Michael Brito.

© Mark Plati/David Bowie News, 2020.

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