How Foo Fighters Made David Bowie Go Grunge


Edited by Brett Buchanan

We’ve been adjusting to the music world without David Bowie for a year now, and for years, we’ve adjusted to many of Bowie’s changes, but this change has been the most difficult.

After all these years, it’s still tough to define or categorize Bowie’s musical output, but while he was not with us for his 70th birthday this past Sunday, it still brings back memories of his memorable post-grunge-filled 50th birthday celebration concert at Madison Square Garden on January 7th, 1997, a show that featured some of alternative rock’s biggest stars. What made the concert special for alternative rock fans was not only having Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Frank Black (Pixies), Robert Smith (The Cure), and alternative rock influence Lou Reed joining Bowie on stage. Bowie was in a near total alternative rock transformation sonically, whether it be on then-current songs from his albums Outside and Earthling, or his more well-known material like “All The Young Dudes.”   He did a terrific job grinding out Grunge blended with electronic tones and synths, making music that still feels like the frontier of the alt. rock world.

Some highlights of David Bowie’s 50th birthday celebration.

Bowie w/ Frank Black- Scary Monsters, Fashion

This song, released back in 1980, gets a renewed alt rock vision-with buzzing and chugging guitars that intensify the rhythm and feel right at home to Pixies frontman Frank Black when he joins the rock legend on stage.  Bowie rarely had much distortion used by his band, but throughout this concert, the Grunge guitar buzz is heavily prevalent.

Bowie rarely had as much distortion used by his band, but throughout this concert, the post-grunge guitar buzz is heavily prevalent.

With Foo Fighters- Hallo Space Boy

Foo Fighters’ sound absolutely thrashes here with two drummers- one being Dave Grohl, who had not lost any power since his Nirvana days. But it’s Bowie who impresses by easily keeping up with the most aggressively loud music of his career.


With Dave Grohl- Seven Years in Tibet

Solo- The Man Who Sold the World

What a pleasure it is to see Bowie and Grohl on guitars bringing the hard rock; especially on the long jam that ends the song.  With Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World” still on radio waves across the country, Bowie naturally followed Grohl’s appearance with it.

With Robert Smith- The Last Thing You Do, Quicksand

Here, Bowie is helped out by The Cure frontman Robert Smith. Their voices match up naturally, and bring a restrained, but somehow still emotional, performance, especially on the latter tune.

With Sonic Youth- I’m Afraid of Americans

One of Bowie’s alt. rock chart hits in the 90’s, Sonic Youth thicken the texture on this Grunge freakout. Bowie was still rocking harder here than at any other stage in his career.

With Billy Corgan- All the Young Dudes, Jean Genie

“Moonage Daydream” is a great example of Bowie using straight Grunge, while Corgan provides star power on a star song – one Bowie used to save Mott the Hoople’s career- “All the Young Dudes”.

Solo- Space Oddity

It’s a pleasure to have Bowie embrace Grunge so thoroughly throughout this concert. His transformation here once again proved that he had the confidence to challenge his fans with fresh sounds.  On his final song of the show, Bowie brings out one of his career highlights fit with acoustic guitar.



We’ll never be able to totally claim David Bowie to be one of our own as Grunge and alt. rock fans, but for this night, 20 years ago, he was the center of the alt. rock universe, and he will always be a part of it.