All the gigs of my life: Gig 80 – David Bowie, Tuesday, November 25, 2003, Wembley Arena

My 2003 Bowie adventures continued as I reached my penultimate gig of the A Reality tour.

Week two of David Bowie’s UK tour rolled around, and I was excited to see him in my home city. However, while for the first week of gigs I’d taken time off of work and uni to chase David around the country, now he was in London I was back to my job and studies during the day. I was not a little knackered from it all.

Still, my excitement for the last two gigs was undimmed, and off I went to Wembley arena this Tuesday evening. But before taking my seat, I had some business to attend to! I already had a ticket for the second London gig the following night, of course, but it was way back at the top of the highest tier, and there was no way I would be happy to end my tour at such a distance from David. So I’d made plans to procure a better seat. From my diary:

Upon my arrival at Wembley, I met with a pink clad bowienetter called Rebecca who was selling her extra front block ticket for the following night. Cost me £100 as she’d got it from ebay (she claimed), well. Maybe she fleeced me, but it was worth it!

Then I made my way to my seat for the evening to enjoy the Dandy Warhols once more. ‘I was in the 20th row, side block of the floor, but at the aisle. Always useful. Dandy’s got a warmer reception tonight, and altered their setlist slightly to begin with “Godless” before storming into “Junkie”! They were impressed with the arena too, oddly enough: “it looks like a convention centre but it sounds like rock’n’roll!”

As soon as they’d finished I was off to the front row, for I had a friend to meet there – Kathryn, who I’d first met at the Riverside show in September and bonded with over our shared love of both Bowie and the Manics. We’d met up again the previous week at the Manchester show, and this first London gig would be our last Bowie show together. And she had a front row ticket for it! ‘She had precisely the same aisle seat in the front row that I had in the 20th. We chatted excitedly about last week’s gigs and took up a place at the barrier as we saw many others do the same. It was not to last long, though, for the stewards came and checked everyone’s ticket and I got sent packing back to row 20, despite arguing that I was there with my friend, and couldn’t we stay together? No.

So, I hovered in the aisle a while until the stewards were all elsewhere, then I sneaked back to join Kathryn at the barrier again.

There was now a security dude standing at the barrier, but as he hadn’t seen me before I think he just assumed I was there with Kathryn. All seemed well then, until another steward came and told the barrier crowd to sit down to stop people from rows further back seeing us and coming down too. Slight “oh shit” moment, but not to be beaten, I perched perilously on the edge of Kathryn’s seat, half in the aisle. It must have been quite obvious what I was playing at, but luckily the security dude turned a blind eye. My legs ached in my precarious half-crouch but did I care? God no!

All the sneaky subterfuge and aching thighs turned out to be absolutely worth it. ‘For when the lights went down and everyone leapt up, there I was at the barrier! Right under the “Hallo Spaceboy” platform! Safe in that glorious position for the whole gig!’

There was, of course, a massive rush to the front, and I suddenly found myself next to the man who’d helped clamber my way to the front at the second Birmingham gig. ‘I was happy to have the chance to thank him, though to be honest I’m not sure he actually remembered who I was.’

The security were not impressed, ‘throwing a major wobbly at this point, shouting to us “this is a seated concert! go back to your sets!” I even overheard one saying to another in surprise, “the aisle is completely packed!” One wonders what she expected. None of this made any difference to me, I had the prize, my barrier spot, and nothing could have wrenched me away.’

From this closer than close vantage point I watched David weave his magic once more.

From the programme

‘David came on with “Rebel Rebel” as per usual, beginning with the riff again, which I must say is a much greater adrenaline burst of an opening than the spacey chords. God, it was strange and wonderful to find myself with no bouncing bodies or waving arms in between me and David. I don’t think I ever in my wildest dreams expected to find myself right down the front at a David Bowie concert.’

My wildest dreams surpassed, the set commenced, and carried on much the same as Manchester’s gig the previous week, but with David perhaps a little subdued at the start.

‘David seemed at first a bit distracted, not quite as into it as last Thursday, but that didn’t stop him from flashing us right hand barrier throng a grin as we went all demented when he sauntered near us during “New Killer Star”. And he did a bit of punk-style pogo jumping here and there, perhaps to get himself more into it, which he very much did as the gig progressed. “Are you too London to sing along?” he teased, before they launched into “All The Young Dudes” which was indeed a rousing singalong. Especially exciting when he again roamed to our side of the stage and sang the second verse in front of us. And, indeed, kicking like a mule.’

The highlights were intensified by being so close. ‘But my god, the biggest thrill of all was being right under that platform where he performed “Hallo Spaceboy”. There he was, right above us on the edge of that platform, first standing, then down on all fours, taken over by the song’s storming chaos. Huge, huge thrill. “MOONDUST WILL COVER YOU!!!”

There were some humorous moments, particularly during “Ashes to Ashes”. ‘This featured Bowie as Aerobics Instructor, getting the tier crowds at either side to join him in an Arm Wavey Dance. Amusingly, he even turned to us floor lot and began to do the same before giving up with a gesture as if to say “nah, you lot are too hardcore to do something as naff as that!” At the end he said “as you can see I’ve had some lessons in interpretive dance” and did a bit of a twirl in the spotlight. ‘Twas very funny.

Japery continued when he introduced “The Motel” by mentioning “Outside”, ‘at which a crowd of us at the front cheered enthusiastically. “Core fans!” he proclaimed “I love my core fans.”’

From the programme

It was all great, though not quite so thrill-packed as some other nights on the tour. ‘I felt a bit sorry for Kathryn, as she picked the two gigs which, of the five I saw, had the most predictable setlists. She only got to more songs at Wembley than she had at Manchester. Still, she seemed happy with it, as well she might.’

With this being my fourth Bowie gig in less than a fortnight, I didn’t go to quite as much detail in my diary about every little twist and turn as I had with the previous weeks, and I concluded my report of the gig itself by noting the the ‘traditional, triumphant‘ rendition of “Ziggy Stardust” that marked its end.

Kathryn and I loitered at the barrier for a time, soaking in that electric, post-Bowie atmosphere. And this is where my incredible luck struck again. ‘I made a comment about not wanting to leave the barrier, as I may never get that close for DB again. She asked me where I’d be the following night, and when I told her the 19th row, she declared, “let me give you my ticket from tonight! it might work, if you just lurk a bit…” How great is that? Not only had she not minded that I’d, let’s face it, taken advantage of her front row seat to get to the barrier myself, she was willing to entrust me with her precious ticket stub so I could do the same the following night! I promised to treat it with the greatest of care, and we made our way out.

We set off in search of a merch stand to buy programmes, and at this point we spotted the familiar spiky silhouette of our fave music journalist. ‘“Look! There’s Simon Price! Let’s ask him what he knows about the new Manics album!” exclaimed Kathryn, spotting the oddly haired one. She was actually about to stride up to him when we were suddenly asked to show our passes. turns out we had been about to casually saunter backstage. Ha!’

After procuring our programmes it was time to wend our ways homewards. ‘We chatted excitedly for a bit, promised to stay in touch and figured we’d probably meet up on the next Manics tour, and went our separate ways.’

Sadly, Kathryn and I drifted apart after this, and I only saw her a few times more – the Isle of Wight festival in 2004, and later, when I bumped into her at a James Dean Bradfield gig in 2006. But I still have her precious ticket stub for this gig, ready to return to her should we cross paths again. Her front row spot for this night played a huge part in making the end of my tour as incredible as it possibly could be – with my spot at the barrier next to her this night, and as we’ll see in the next post, an almost equally brilliant place the next. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

So Kathryn, if you happen to be reading this, THANK YOU, and please get in touch – your ticket stub is waiting for you!

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