We hardly knew ye, Mr. Bowie. Those words ring a little truer in Minnesota, where David Bowie seemed even more enigmatic and elusive to his faithful fans because he hardly ever performed here.
The British rock legend, who passed away Sunday from cancer at age 69, only performed five public concerts on four different tours in the Twin Cities over the course of his five-decade career. He also gave one private performance in town in 1991, when he played with his band Tin Machine at a national convention for locally based retailer Musicland.
Here’s a recap of those public concerts:
Oct. 5, 1974, St. Paul Civic Center: The arena was only half-full, the first hint this wasn’t one of his stronger concert markets. Fans expecting the continuation of his “Diamond Dogs” tour were surprised to learn he had already changed over to his “Young Americans” incarnation, even though the latter record would not be out until the following spring. The new tour lineup featured a large band and backup singers, including a pre-fame Luther Vandross.
“It was a very pleasant surprise,” remembered Robert Wilkinson, frontman of veteran Minneapolis rock band the Flamin’ Oh’s, who got an even better surprise when he met Bowie and then-wife Angie Bowie after the show at a party in a big house out by Lake Minnetonka. “He really was a striking man in person — beautiful, really — but I kept my cool and really had a regular, 20-minute or so conversation with him,” Wilkinson recalled. “I’m very grateful for the memory now.”
Oct. 1-2, 1987, St. Paul Civic Center: Originally scheduled as a single night at the Metrodome, the local stop on his ambitious Glass Spiders Tour saw less-than-spectacular ticket sales, and thus it was converted into a two-nighter at the arena instead. That turned out to be great luck for local fans who got to see the bold staging — which included performance art, ballet and lots of visual gimmickry, plus Peter Frampton on guitar — in a more intimate setting without the Dome’s horrendous acoustics. But Bowie still did not sell out either night and left some attendees bewildered.
“The crowd of 10,000 was often left awestruck instead of applauding,” Star Tribune critic Jon Bream wrote after the first show. Hi-Fi Records and Hair proprietor Jon Clifford, who had third-row seats that night, recalled, “A lot of people panned the tour, saying it was too big, too this and that. Me? I was never happier.”
Sept. 5, 1991, Minneapolis Marriott Hotel Ballroom: About 1,000 people got to witness Bowie and Tin Machine play a 45-minute set made up of songs off their just-released second album as part of the Musicland convention, which also included short sets by Aaron Neville, Marc Cohn and Steve Vai. Bowie insisted all interviews and photo-ops at the convention included the other three members of the band and not just him.
Oct. 18, 1997, Roy Wilkins Auditorium: The intimacy of the 5,500-capacity auditorium suited the tone of that year’s Earthling Tour, another adventurous affair that catered to hardcore fans with mostly deep cuts and obscurities. The show still came short of a sell-out despite the modest size. Well-known local Bowie fanatic Mary Lucia, now a DJ at 89.3 the Current, theorized at the time, “Maybe he’s too glam for Minnesota.”
Minneapolis photographer Tony Nelson, who shot the concert for Cake magazine, recalled, “Strange show, but still amazing. I remember a very cool Reeves Gabrels wailing away on guitar, and a fantastic version of ‘Under Pressure’ with Gail Ann Dorsey doing Freddie Mercury.”
Jan. 11, 2004, Target Center: In the end, Bowie still only drew about 5,500 fans for what would we be his last local stop, this one on the so-called A Reality Tour. But it seems like everyone who was there still raves about it a decade later (and did so even before today’s sad news). His final appearance here wound up being his most-straight-ahead concert, too. He tore through 28 songs in 2¼ hours without any stage theatrics.
“I’ll never forget that awesome show,” said Kristina Graber of Eden Prairie, who remembered Bowie asking for the house lights to be turned on the crowd during “All the Young Dudes,” resulting in a giant singalong. “That was so well-executed, there’s no point in me singing anymore,” Bowie said afterward, and he sat down as “China Girl” started up. He got back up after the first verse, though. “That was terrible,” he cracked, restarting the song back at the microphone.
Other standouts included the rousing opener “Rebel Rebel” and a giant finish with “Five Years,” “Suffragette City” and “Ziggy Stardust.”