The man of a thousand haircuts, David Bowie has been the vanguard for creative reinvention for longer than many of his fans have been alive. As soon as he’s made us think he’s exhausted his imagination, he reappears with yet another album, another look, another theatrical tour. Except that last bit isn’t likely to happen again. We may have seen the end of Bowie the performer some time ago, according to such sources as longtime Bowie producer Tony Visconti (who worked with him on 2013’s The Next Day) and British concert promoter John Giddings.
“David is one of the best artists I’ve ever worked with,” said Giddings in October, ”but every time I see him now, before I even speak to him, he goes, ‘I’m not touring.’” Does this rule out the odd one-off appearance? Who knows. Nothing is for certain with Bowie. But it may well be that the performance above, a duet of “Changes” with Alicia Keys from 2006, represents the legendary shape shifter’s last gig. (And if so, we hope some better-quality video of it surfaces.)
Bowie appeared with Keys, Damian Marley, and comedian Wanda Sykes at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom for a fundraiser and sang Station to Station’s “Wild is the Wind” and Lodger’s “Fantastic Voyage” in addition to “Changes,” all fitting notes to end on, if this is indeed the end of his live performing career. He had rarely taken the stage since his 2004 heart attack during the Reality tour, but, Rolling Stone points out, “that didn’t stop him from playing with Arcade Fire twice in 2005 and David Gilmour the following year.”
But that was ten years ago. During the recording of The Next Day, Visconti reported that Bowie insisted there would be no live shows, and there weren’t. Now, Bowie’s surprised us again with a new album, Blackstar, and a ten-minute video, above, that looks like all the paranoid dystopian visions in 90s albums like Outside, Earthling, and Heathen come terrifyingly true. I can imagine this most recent, perhaps final, entry in the Bowie canon would make for a hell of a stage show, but it looks like he will pass that torch to the younger artists who continue to inspire him as he ages gracefully. Blackstar will be released on January 8th, Bowie’s 69th birthday.