Neil Young‘s annual Bridge School Benefit always has a stellar lineup, but in 1996 it was particularly strong with David Bowie, Pearl Jam, Pete Townshend, Patti Smith, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Billy Idol, Bonnie Raitt and Cowboy Junkies all on the bill. Bowie had just wrapped up a tour in support of his industrial album Outside, but for the Bridge School he parred down his band to just bassist Gail Ann Dorsey and guitarist Reeves Gabrels. For percussion, Bowie taped a bottle cap to the bottom of his shoe and tapped his foot.
Bowie officially retired his hits on his 1990 Sound + Vision Tour, though by 1996 he was sprinkling in a few like “Heroes” and “Under Pressure” into the set list. At the Bridge School he finally relented and played his massive 1980s singles “Let’s Dance” and “China Girl” for the first time since 1990. He also covered “I’m a Hog for You Baby” by the Coasters, the Tin Machine song “I Can’t Read” and dug out “The Jean Genie,” “Aladdin Sane” and “The Man Who Sold the World.” Here is video of “Heroes” from the second night of the two-day event.
Four months after the Bridge School Benefit, Bowie released Earthling. It had a strong electronica influence and the track “I’m Afraid of Americans” garnered a lot of attention thanks to a remix by Trent Reznor, but the album still failed to generate much excitement. It would take a reunion with his 1970s producer Tony Visconti for a pair of killer albums in the early 2000s before he finally seemed to be back on an upward course, but after his 2004 tour was stopped short by a heart attack he simply vanished from the public sphere, popping up only in 2013 with the new album The Next Day that he failed to support with a single interview or live performance of any kind.