For proof that music and fashion are inextricably linked, look no further than David Bowie, just one of the artists featured on Fashion Rocks, the extravaganza that helped to kick off New York’s fall Fashion Week, set for broadcast Friday night on CBS. Taped live on Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, the concert found the always-trendy rocker sharing a bill with other stylish artists, such as Gwen Stefani, Duran Duran, Alicia Keys, Destiny’s Child, Tim McGraw, Shakira, Nelly, Billy Idol and the Arcade Fire.
“Right now, I’m here as a fan,” Alicia Keys told the crowd while introducing Bowie, whose career has been defined as much by his evolving appearance as his sound. “He’s an artist who towers above the rest . . . constantly changing his looks,” she said, before a dapper Bowie, clad in a blue suit, performed an eerie rendition of his classic “Life on Mars,” backed only by an accompanist on a grand piano.
Bowie’s performance was serious with good reason. In addition to spotlighting celebrity fashion, the event joins other televised efforts in fundraising for Hurricane Katrina relief: All proceeds from the evening were donated to the cause, and presenters and performers frequently appealed to the audience for support.
The evening began by immediately acknowledging the Gulf Coast disaster in a show-opening performance by a black-clad Tim McGraw. The country star sang “My Old Friend” as images of New Orleans darted by on screens flanking the stage. “We’ll meet again, my old friend,” McGraw crooned, and the song transformed into a tribute, capturing the spirit of a battered city, while maintaining a glimmer of optimism. Similarly, in her performance later that night, Keys moved with her new single “Unbreakable,” which was ornamented with saxophone and Keys’ own jazzy organ-playing.
There was still room for a celebratory spirit, however, as an early performance by Destiny’s Child proved. In perhaps their last televised appearance as a group, Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams made a glamorous entrance, parading through the facade of a store that read “House of Dereon,” Beyonce’s new clothing line. The trio then vamped through a pumped-up medley of hits, including “Independent Women,” “Say My Name,” “Survivor” and “Lose My Breath.”
Gwen Stefani — whose own line, LAMB, has shown staying power — delivered her single “Cool” on a spare stage early in the evening. The stylish blonde was decked out in a sequined, cream-colored dress. Rapper Nelly, another fashion entrepreneur, performed with Pharrell Williams on “Play It Off,” with its nightclub theme and fleet of backup dancers.
More collaborations studded the evening, as Rob Thomas and Joss Stone reprised the roles of Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks for a duet on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with Stone preening and growling as she sidled up to Thomas. And later on, in a show highlight, Bowie returned to the stage with the Arcade Fire. The Montreal indie rockers offered a folky reading of Bowie’s “Five Years” with Bowie on lead vocals, followed by a simmering rendition of their own “Wake Up” with Bowie and Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler harmonizing. The song ended in a twinkling coda, complete with accordion, that roused the crowd to its feet.
Fashion grabbed the spotlight again when New Wave clotheshorses Duran Duran took the stage: During a revved-up version of their classic “Girls on Film,” Simon LeBon and company were joined by models offering glimpses of designers’ new fall collections. It was a moment as rock & roll as any fashion show could be.