David Bowie’s three-song set at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom didn’t draw a lot of attention back in November 2006. He played as part of Keep a Child Alive’s annual Black Ball fundraiser, along with Alicia Keys, Damian Marley and comedian Wanda Sykes, breaking out “Wild Is the Wind,” “Fantastic Voyage” and “Changes,” which he sang as a duet with Keys. Nobody had even the faintest idea it would be his last public performance before his grand disappearing act.
Bowie’s never explained why he hasn’t sang a note onstage in the last eight years, though many fans point to the heart attack that abruptly ended his 2003-’04 Reality tour. That was certainly a major scare, but that didn’t stop him from playing with Arcade Fire twice in 2005 and David Gilmour the following year. He even announced a comeback gig in 2007 as part of New York’s High Line festival, but it was cancelled a few months later without explanation.
He re-emerged in early 2013 with The Next Day, his first new LP in a decade, but he didn’t promote it with a single live performance or even an interview. He did appear in videos to support the album (looking as dapper as ever), but he’s since fallen off the grid again, popping up only in the occasional paparazzi photo with his wife Iman and their teenage daughter.
Anything could happen in the future, but it’s quite possible this performance of “Changes” could mark the end of his performing career. The 1971 song was one of his earliest hits, and the 24-year-old Bowie was clearly feeling a little boastful at the time. “Look out all you rock & rollers,” he wrote. “Pretty soon you’re going to get older.”
He was 59 when he sang it again at the Black Ball, not an age when many of his peers are even thinking about retirement. Fans continue to pray there will be one more tour or even a single performance somewhere, but as the years go by that’s beginning to seem less and less likely.