a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Lyrics Jamming Chart

David Bowie

Music/Lyrics: Anastasio

Vocals: Mike, Page, Trey

Albums: Junta, At the Roxy, Live Phish 09, Live Phish 12, Live Phish 13, Live Phish 19, Live Phish 20, IT, Live In Utica, Alpine Valley, The Clifford Ball, Ventura, Chicago '94

Debut: 1986-10-31

Historian: Chris Bertolet (bertoletdown)

Last Update: 2014-01-17

Fishman's tick-tock cymbal intro to “David Bowie” is to the Phish-head what the toll of a bell was to Pavlov’s famous dogs. Much like the noted animal behaviorist, the casual observer at a Phish show might witness panting, howling, or cascading rivulets of drool as the subjects anticipate the feeding frenzy ahead.

“Bowie,” one of Phish’s most ambitious compositions, is a lengthy, complex and challenging piece that threads its way through many rhythmic and tonal motifs before dropping precipitously into a jam segment that can go almost anywhere. The signature hi-hat prelude cuts through a sometimes-extended passage of space and dissonance (and formerly one of Phish’s favorite places to sneak in Secret Language cues). At the end of the intro, Trey signals his band mates with a scratch on his strings, and they’re off. Though the spare, Zen-like lyrics that follow are said to hail the glam-rock icon’s 40th birthday, the song’s musical spirit bears little relation to David Bowie’s own work.

Typical “Bowie” jams are patient, crescendo-driven exercises in tension and release that consume themselves in a conflagration of rapid-fire guitar, effects, and feedback. On a special night, however, the epic gives birth to genuine, fearless improvisation – the kind of fiery “Type II” jamming that singes eyebrows and scatters marbles. Two such “Bowies,” played just over a month apart, tend to vie among fans for best-ever status: the 11/26/94 Orpheum colossus and the 12/29/94 Providence masterpiece. Both of them clock in at roughly half an hour, both are ravenously eclectic and adventurous, and both quote similar themes along their twisting paths. While the Orpheum version climaxes in a propulsive groove that seems to foreshadow Phish’s Talking Heads period, the Providence “Bowie” detonates in a blitzkrieg of arena rock fury. Perhaps because of the overall quality of the show, or perhaps because of its unmistakably Phishy non-sequiturs (Trey moans, “Come home, Lassie,” in the middle of the jam), Providence tends to nose out the Orpheum in the average fan’s estimation.

Other remarkable versions of “David Bowie” abound, of course. Neophytes should start with the crisp and concise album version to get a feel for where composition ends and improvisation begins. Once you’ve got the lay of the land, check out the aggressive 4/17/92 Warfield version, which contains a “Catapult,” and stands as one of the finest jams in a stellar west coast run. You might want to graduate from there to the 6/18/94 UIC “Bowie,” which opens with a dramatic “Mind Left Body Jam” and samples “Simple” before splintering into angry chaos. Or consider the surgical strike of the 6/30/98 Copenhagen “Bowie,” which takes mere minutes to reduce the Grey Hall to cinders.

The “Bowie” jam, being airy and unstructured, lends itself to entertaining teases and segues. The stupendous 5/8/93 UNH version sandwiches a rare “Have Mercy,” and features a tease of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica.” The 7/3/95 Sugarbush version opens with extended “Timber Ho!” quotes from Trey before the band finally dives into “Bowie” proper; the ensuing improv barrels into a cover of “Johnny B. Goode,” then double-barrels right back into “Bowie.” The 7/30/97 Ventura monster finds the band steering the jam into a disco groove, modulating into the first “Cities” on U.S. soil in nearly nine years, then following the trail of embers back into “Bowie” for a balls-out finish.

For reasons untold, Philadelphia’s InsertCurrentCorporateSponsorHere Spectrum saw its share of deliciously warped “Bowies.” Page plays a stadium synthTake Me Out To The Ball-game” over the lengthy prelude to the 12/3/97 version, which also features Simpsons language and a sprawling, melodic jam dripping with creativity (and a buttery segue into “Possum”). The 12/10/99 Philly version meanders into yet another “Have Mercy” before reprising the “Bowie” theme, reggae-style. In lieu of a fireworks finale, the jam melts into a tropical island reading of “HYHU.”

Among post-millennial “Bowies,” the 2/16/03 Vegas version is notable for its rare show-opening slot, patient group jamming, and a haunting, out-of-nowhere “Catapult.” In fairness, the 2/28/03 Nassau version would probably earn more accolades if it weren’t surrounded on all sides by other staggering material. The 7/25/03 Charlotte “Bowie” develops out of a sprawling “Harry Hood,” and features crowd-pleasing “Tweezer” teases during its strong jam segment. And the concise but licentious 6/10/09 Knoxville "Bowie" is a prime example of how Chris Kuroda's lighting artistry can propel a jam to unexpected heights. Check it out on YouTube!

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Recommended Versions: 1989-02-06, 1991-04-04, 1991-11-07, 1993-05-08, 1993-08-13, 1993-08-17, 1993-08-26, 1994-04-24, 1994-06-18, 1994-11-14, 1994-11-26, 1994-12-29, 1995-06-15, 1995-06-24, 1995-06-29, 1995-07-03, 1997-07-30, 2003-07-25

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nichobert Reply
nichobert We can all agree on one thing, Bowie and pinnacles go hand in hand.

For a 3.0 one, I'm fond of the DTE version which understandably gets over shadowed by the band's deepest foray into the outer realms during the first half of 2011 The stellar DWD 2 songs before melts into a raucous Fluffhead which unexpectedly continues past it's conclusion with elements of the tail end of Fluffhead dissolving into the opening of Bowie. Is it the best Bowie? God no! But the way the band builds a glorious thematic jam and then proceeds to repeatedly shift between that and the darker theme of a 'typical' Bowie jam. It makes for some great listening. The end could be better, but those few minutes of light & dark intermingling might be my favorite few minutes of 2011.
Score: 2
kipmat Reply
kipmat Has it ever been confirmed that Trey went to see David Bowie play the Spectrum in Philadelphia? From 1995 to 2003, the band featured "David Bowie" in every Spectrum run they played. According to this Bowie fan site, there were Spectrum shows in April '78 and July '83, and it's conceivable that Trey was at one or both of those shows.
Score: 1
ColForbin Staff Reply
ColForbin The 7/12/99 Bowie is definitely worth checking out.
Score: 1
Mikesgroover Reply
Mikesgroover The 12/29/94 version is one of the musical pinnacles of the band's entire career.
Score: 1
theothr1 Reply
theothr1 The Bluegrass Sessions video has, in fact, confirmed that Trey was sportin' his "jamming pants" on 11-20-94
Score: 0
theothr1 Reply
theothr1 On a wettish, chilly sunday evening in late november 1994, a mere six days before the Orpheum epic, Phish threw down what, essentially, was and is the total antithesis of that (as well as the famed Providence version) "type" (II) of Bowie with a "mere" (comparitively speaking, of course) 16+ min sssssssscorcher in Madison, Wi...the end of which unquestionably vies for the single greatest finish in that (and quite possibly any other Phish) tune's history...i cannot recall for certain but Trey HAD to have been wearing his "jamming pants" (and, for those of you who KNOW, you know exactly to which pants i'm referring...and, to those of you who may not, check out the AOL booklet and you'll see the "jamming pants" ;) cause he just cccccccccccrushes his way to the finish line...indescriBABBLE, really...words do no justice; just listen.........BRING BACK THE JAMMING PANTS!!!!!!.....
and am i REALLY posting this on 12-31-69?!?!?...if so, i'm missing a KILLER Dead show in Boston, right now
Score: 0
Spirit Reply
Spirit My love for David Bowie knows no bounds.
Score: 0
CreatureoftheNight Reply
CreatureoftheNight @ColForbin said:
The 7/12/99 Bowie is definitely worth checking out.
Agreed. This was one of the best I've heard in person, especially the first few minutes of the jam. 7-3-2011 also deserves some love.
Score: 0
RunawayJim12 Reply
@MexicanCousin said:
no love for the IT bowie?
One of my personal favorites. So smooth. I wonder why it doesn't get much recognition?
Score: 0
KamPhan26 Reply
The 06/18/94 version is one of the musical pinnacles of the band's entire career.
Real Talk.
Its simply amazing. The interplay of the band!!! the interplay!!!!
Score: 0
GitDown Reply
Check the 7/31/99 at the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, 25 minutes of a masterpiece rendition
Score: 0
GitDown Reply
How about the 11/2/90, whose intro contains teases of Possum, Mockingbird, Forbin's, Divided Sky, Landlady, Mike's Song, The Asse Festival, Lizards, Foam, Suzy, Dinner & a Movie (though this site says it was Hood), and Makisupa, the first ten of which had all been played in their entirety earlier in the show. The jam ain't bad neither
Score: 0
MexicanCousin Reply
MexicanCousin no love for the IT bowie?
Score: 0
The 06/18/94 version is one of the musical pinnacles of the band's entire career.
Score: 0
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