Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band performed in Pittsburgh on Saturday night as part of the River Tour and paid tribute to David Bowie during the encore, according to Rolling Stone.
Springsteen and the band performed a cover of Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” off of the 1974 album Diamond Dogs. Before playing the tune, Springsteen spoke about when he met Bowie in the early 70’s, he described Bowie as “a big supporter” of him and the E-Street Band.
“We’re gonna take a moment and note the passing of our good friend, David Bowie,” said Springsteen. “Not enough people know it but he recorded our music way, way, way back in the very beginning, 1973. He rang me up and I visited him down in Philly while he was making the Young Americans record.”
Springsteen noted that Bowie covered his songs “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and “Growin’ Up.” These songs never appeared on any of Bowie’s studio albums, but the “Growin’ Up” cover was released on the 1990 re-issue of Pin-Ups and “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” was included on the 1989 box set Sound + Vision.
“He could not let the night pass without a tribute to a fallen rock god,” said Scott Mervis, a writer for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Although they traveled different universes, Springsteen and the David Bowie had longtime connections.”
According to Billboard, Springsteen and the band were said to have been working on versions of Bowie classics “Suffagrette City” and “Changes” during rehearsals in Pittsburgh late last week.
In a 1974 article titled appropriately “Bowie Meets Springsteen,” Mike McGrath describes the first time Bowie saw Bruce Springsteen perform at Max’s Kansas City in New York, two years prior.
“He was knocked out by the show and wanted to do one of his songs ever since,” said McGrath, who described Bowie as “a tall skeletal leprechaun.”
McGrath continued, “When pressed for another American artist whose songs he would like to record (as he did for British artists on the Pin-Ups album), David thinks a while and replies that there are none.”
BowieSongs, a David Bowie-centric blog described the initial session where Bowie recorded Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City,” as “polite but strained.” This was because of Springsteen’s shyness and Bowie being unable to relate to others under the influence of drugs. Despite this, the two spoke about UFOs and their shared dislike of stage jumpers. The website even described the pair as brothers, unbeknownst to each other.
The flattery continued in May 1979, when David Bowie was a guest DJ for BBC Radio. He played an eclectic array of music for his two-hour set, including Phillip Glass, The Doors, and Bruce Springsteen tunes, according to The Middletown Patch.
“Here’s a great writer. Um, I don’t like what he’s doing very much now. I loved this album when it came out; it was on Asbury Park,” said Bowie. “After I heard this track, I never rode the subway again. It’s called ‘Saint in the City.'”
Scott Mervis of The Pittsbrugh Post-Gazette, wrote favorably of the three-hour long performance. He noted that Bruce Springsteen performed rarely heard songs off of the 1980 album The River, like “Crush on You” and “The Price You Pay,” as well as classics like “Hungry Heart,” “Dancing in the Dark,” and “Born to Run.”
“For most bands, two hours is a full night, but for the E Street Band, even with his voice getting weathered, the show must go on, and on,” said Mervis.
“We plan on picking out some of the best of our outtakes for the end of the show, and there will obviously be some fan favorites,” said Bruce Springsteen, in a December 2015 interview for SiriusXM. “I don’t know myself how it will play out. It should be interesting and a lot of fun for the fans.”
(Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)