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30 great David Bowie covers by indie / alternative artists

Mercurial, effortlessly cool and able to reinvent himself endlessly, David Bowie is one of the most influential artists of the last 50 years. That’s especially true in the world of alternative and indie culture where people regard themselves as misfits and kooks. David Bowie’s 1972 performance of “Starman” on BBC’s Top of the Pops is a UK cultural moment that cannot be underestimated and had a huge impact on what would be the punk and post-punk movements just a few years later. Seeing this strange, alien person on national TV singing this soaring song, looking comfortable and confident in his skin, blew minds and helped a lot of young people realize that it was OK to be different. Who knows just how many kids seeing that at the time that would go on to form bands.

That said, Bowie covers are not quite as plentiful as that of, say, The Beatles. Perhaps Bowie was just too iconoclastic. That is not to say there aren’t any — lots of big indie and alternative artists over the last 40 years have had a go at Bowie songs. “Heroes,” in particular. The world probably does not need any more covers of that one but they will probably not stop rolling in.

We’ve included three versions of “Heroes” in this list of 30 David Bowie covers that includes hugely popular bands and obscure ones too, ranging from Britpop to grunge, new wave, to’90s alt-rock, and more. Some of these you’ve most certainly heard, and a few you probably haven’t. We mostly tried to stick with studio covers but there are a few exceptions, including one of the biggest which kicks off the list. Check out that list, which is in no particular order, below.

You can also pick up David Bowie vinyl in the BV shop.

30 GREAT DAVID BOWIE COVERS BY INDIE / ALTERNATIVE ARTISTS

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Nirvana – “The Man Who Sold the World”

On November 18, 1993, Nirvana recorded their episode of MTV Unplugged and, in addition to their own songs, they dropped in covers of slightly less-known songs they loved. That included the title track from David Bowie’s 1971 album The Man Who Sold the World, which the band made their own, with Kurt Cobain’s raspy, mannered vocal delivery and overdriven acoustic guitar. This was probably a lot of people’s first exposure to the song and its writer was a fan. “It’s a very sad rendition, of course,” Bowie said in a 1996 interview on Dutch TV, “Because it is so tied up with [Cobain’s] own life and death. So it takes on all these different shades for me.” It’s also probably the most famous Bowie cover of all time, along with one of the best.

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Blondie – “Heroes”

Blondie played London’s Hammersmith Odeon on January 12, 1980 and their set included a number of covers in addition to their own new wave hits. Most notably, they covered David Bowie’s “Heroes” which was just a couple years old at the time. Chris Stein brought his own guitar flourish to the main two-chord chug, but for the song’s iconic lead line they had the man who played on Bowie’s original, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, to show everyone how it’s done. Debbie Harry, of course, made it her own. The live version of “Heroes” was released as a German single in 1982.

L’Rain at SummerStage in Central Park

L’Rain at SummerStage in Central Park, 2022 (photo by Ellen Qbertplaya)

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L’Rain – “Move On”

Taraja Cheek has been one of the most consistently surprising, forward-thinking and shape-shifting artists of the last five years, zigging when you think she’s going to zag, but always in wonderful ways, and often when you least expect it. Her version of “Move On” is one of the most transcendent covers on 2021 Bowie tribute album Modern Love. An ethereal take on the Lodger track, it floats on effervescent layers of harmonies, choral synths and saxophone.

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Bauhaus – “Ziggy Stardust”

Among those who were struck by Bowie’s Top of the Pops performance were certain members of Bauhaus. Known for helping kickstart the goth movement, Bauhaus also had a lot of Bowie in their sound, from Daniel Ash’s guitar to frontman Peter Murphy’s theatrical vocals. They paid tribute to their hero by covering “Ziggy Stardust” as a single in 1982, amping up the melodrama and making those Spiders from Mars all the more menacing. Bauhaus’ version is every bit as classic as Bowie’s, making the connection between the two artists very clear.

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The Cure – “Young Americans”

“David Bowie was probably the first artist that was mine, like he was singing to me,” The Cure’s Robert Smith said in an interview with 120 Minutes host Jim Shearer. “Ziggy Stardust was the first vinyl album I ever bought. I loved how he did things as much as what he did.” That said, you might expect The Cure to take on one of Bowie’s darker numbers and not his soulful 1975 hit,”Young Americans”. But they did, recording it for the UK’s XFM, which started as an indie rock pirate radio station but by the mid-’90s made a bid towards legitimacy and released 104.9 (An XFM Compilation Album) to try and raise money towards that process. Recorded between Wish and Wild Mood Swings, their version of “Young Americans” has a dancey style that sounds leftover from the early-’90s rave scene, with housey piano, wah-wah guitar and a shuffling beat.

Sharon Van Etten at SummerStage in Central Park

Sharon Van Etten at SummerStage in Central Park (photo by Amanda M Hatfield)

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Sharon Van Etten – “Starman”

This all-too-brief version of “Starman” was used for the end credits of Netflix documentary Return to Space, which is about Elon Musk’s SpaceX program. Sharon delivers a distinctly celestial rendition of the song, with thick blasts of distorted, bassy synths that fire like afterburners. The only thing wrong with this cover is it’s only 70 seconds long. Give us the full version, Sharon!

Garbage at Capitol Theatre

Garbage at Capitol Theatre (photo by Ester Segretto)

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Garbage – “Starman”

Garbage originally recorded their cover of “Starman,” the first single from 1972’s Ziggy Stardust, for Howard Stern’s all-star Bowie Tribute in 2018 and it has since appeared on the deluxe edition of 2021 album No Gods No Masters. While many Bowie covers are reverent, Shirley Manson, Butch Vig and co give the classic the total Garbage treatment with big guitars and lots of electronics while still keeping the core of the original intact.

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Warpaint (photo: Mia Kirby)

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Warpaint – “Ashes to Ashes”

Warpaint’s slinky, slippery style is a perfect match for Bowie’s classic 1980 single, “Ashes to Ashes.” Recorded for Warchild UK benefit album We Were So Turned On, the band stay pretty close to Bowie’s original, including the spooky piano hook and rubbery bass, but add in their own distinctive touches, especially drummer Stella Mozgawa who sneaks in all sorts of rhythmic flourishes. Jenny Lee Lindberg brings the song’s memorable bass line even more to the forefront, and singers Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman steer things further in a new direction.

treepeople – andy warhol

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Treepeople – “Andy Warhol”

“I think Bowie’s cool,” Doug Martsch sings on Built To Spill’s “Dystopian Dream Girl” (from 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong with Love) before adding “Lodger rules” and dissing his stepdad. But even before that Marstch was repping the Thin White Duke with his former band Treepeople, who covered Hunky Dory deep cut “Andy Warhol” on their 1991 debut album Guilt Regret Embarrassment. With a punky, near-metal ch-chunk guitar, Treepeople drag Bowie’s acoustic-forward original through the mud, turning it into crusty, grungy indie rock.

Greg Dulli

Greg Dulli

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Greg Dulli – “Modern Love”

Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli released this cover of Bowie’s hit from Let’s Dance as a tribute to the artist a week after he died. “I tried to record this song with the Whigs a while back and we just couldn’t get it the way I wanted it,” he wrote. “With his passing last week, I was reminded of it and decided to finish it myself. The world is filled with love for David Bowie right now. It feels good. I feel inspired by his life.” It’s a radical cover, played with spare acoustic guitar, a few chords that were not in the original, and a string section that takes it into elegiac territory.

Depeche Mode at Madison Square Garden

photo by Ester Segretto

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Depeche Mode – “Heroes”

Yet another version of “Heroes,” this time by synthpop icons Depeche Mode. Having performed it regularly on their 2017 tour, the band officially released the cover to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the song. Martin Gore straps on his guitar a la “Personal Jesus” for this rendition which is otherwise on the minimal side, sounding like it could’ve been recorded in 1981. “‘Heroes’ is the most special song to me at the moment,” frontman Dave Gahan told NME on its release. “Bowie is the one artist who I’ve stuck with since I was in my early teens. His albums are always my go-to on tour and covering ‘Heroes’ is paying homage to Bowie.”

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The Last Shadow Puppets – “In The Heat Of The Morning”

The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and The Rascals’ Miles Kane launched their suave side project The Last Shadow Puppets in 2008 with single “The Age Of The Understatement.” If that song’s string-laden, high-drama style didn’t clue you in to where exactly they were coming, then the b-side did — a cover of early David Bowie song “In the Heat of the Morning.” Bowie originally recorded it for a BBC session in 1967 and meant for it to be his second single for Deram Records. The label rejected it but you can hear echoes of Scott Walker in the original’s sweeping violins, and the seeds of “Ziggy Stardust” in its melody. Turner and Kane deliver a scorching cover that doesn’t mess with the arrangement but compliments the A-side perfectly, while helping lay out what was still to come for the duo. Bowie approved, too: “That’s a delight!” he wrote on his website at the time. “How lovely. A daymaker.”

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The Wedding Present – “Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family”

In 1992, UK indie band The Wedding Present released a single every month, with a new song on the a-side and a cover version on the flip. A novel idea at the time, the stunt got The Wedding Present tied with Elvis for having the most Top 40 UK hits in a single year. For their September single, “Loveslave,” they tried their hand at Diamond Dogs‘ closing cut “Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family” for the b-side. With distorted bass leading the charge, The Wedding Present turn the glammy original into a fuzzed-out post-punk number that could pass for The Fall.

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M Ward – “Let’s Dance”

It’s a seemingly easy trick to take a slick Top 40 pop song and turn it into spare, acoustic folk, but it takes a skilled artist to really make it special, and make it their own. M. Ward has a real talent for covers that first came to light on his 2003 breakthrough (and Merge Records debut), The Transfiguration of Vincent. His take on David Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” turns the glossy, Nile Rodgers-produced original and transforms it into the most intimate of come-ons, with Ward’s delicate finger-picking and raspy voice giving “If you should fall into my arms and tremble like a flower” new meaning.

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The Associates – “Boys Keep Swinging”

Formed in Dundee, Scotland in 1979 by singer Billy Mackenzie and guitarist Alan Rankine, The Associates would briefly become stars in the UK a few years later with over-the-top, arty New Pop singles “Party Fears Two” and “Club Country,” but their first release was a jangly, nervy cover of Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging,” the first single from his just-released album Lodger. It was done partially as a publicity stunt — self-released, without getting publishing permission to cover the song, just weeks after Bowie released his. It worked. Bowie’s team contacted The Associates, not with a Cease and Desist but a publishing deal (they liked the b-side, an Associates original), which in turn landed them a deal with The Cure’s label, Fiction Records.

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anna calvi

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Anna Calvi – “Lady Grinning Soul”

Anna Calvi’s flair for soaring melodrama and textured arrangement fit perfectly with Aladdin Sane deep cut “Lady Grinning Soul” which she took on for her 2014 covers EP, Strange Weather. The song is said to be about soul singer Claudia Lennear who was also the inspiration for The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.” “It is one of my favourite songs,” Anna told The Guardian at the time. “It’s a great song to sing. It’s very kind of emotive. It’s quite difficult to sing, but in a rewarding way.” Anna didn’t seem to have any difficulty belting this one out, or delivering a searing guitar solo, as when she performed it in Paris:

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Quasi

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Quasi – “Sound and Vision”

“Sound and Vision” was the first single from Bowie’s 1976 album Low — the first in the trilogy of records he’d make in Berlin with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti (“Heroes” and Lodger would follow). Those albums would be known for dabbling in stark krautrock and ambient music but only the icy, descending synth leads on “Sound and Vision” hint towards that; it otherwise feels like it could’ve fit on Bowie’s previous album, Station to Station. As Quasi, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss take the song into weirder waters, decidedly drony and dreamy at the same time. Their cover sounds like something you might encounter at a warehouse party if not in Berlin, maybe Bellingham.

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Swell

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Swell – “Golden Years”

From Crash Course for the Ravers, the same 1996 Bowie tribute album that features the Quasi and Treepeople covers found elsewhere in this list, this is this awesome cover of Bowie’s 1975 single “Golden Years” by underrated Bay Area psych band Swell, who in the mid-’90s were signed to Rick Rubin’s Def American label and toured with Mazzy Star. Swell pull off the difficult trick of making it still recognizable while making it sound like they wrote it. Having such a distinct sound — a mix of echoey acoustic guitar, fuzzy electric leads and blown out everything else — helps, but this is just an awesome rendition of one of Bowie’s biggest hits. RIP David Freel.

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Dinosaur jr – “Quicksand”

Recorded as a b-side for J Mascis’ first post-Lou Dinosaur Jr single, “The Wagon,” this Bowie cover is a bit of a pump fake, opening with the flamenco riff from “Andy Warhol” before mellowing out, and backing up to the previous track on Hunky Dory, “Quicksand.” Mascis imagines what the song might’ve been like if it had stayed just Bowie and an acoustic guitar through the entire song instead of bringing the orchestra in after the first minute. Bowie’s vocal theatrics are not replicated, no surprise, but J sounds nice nonetheless, double tracking his voice and having a little fun with lyrics too. Keeping the a-side, an ode to the family vehicle Dinosaur used to tour in, in mind, Mascis changes “I ain’t got the power anymore” to “I ain’t got the wagon anymore.”

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The Chameleons – “John I’m Only Dancing”

Gothy Manchester post-punk group The Chameleons are known for the effects laden twin-guitars of Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding, John Lever’s powerhouse drumming and the impassioned baritone of bassist/singer Mark Burgess, but almost none of that is present in this cover of Bowie’s 1972 single that they released on the b-side of classic 1986 single “Swamp Thing.” Burgess belts the hell out of the song but the guitars are kept, much like the original version, strummy and acoustic. Only Lever’s drumming, big and booming and very ’80s, remind you of what band and year you’re listening to. Well that and when Burgess changes the lyrics to “Reg, I’m only dancing.”

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The Langley Schools Music Project – “Space Oddity”

While a 60+ member chorus of elementary school students from Western Canada performing rock and pop covers in a gym in the mid-70s isn’t isn’t exactly “indie” or “alternative” by itself, when these private press recordings were officially released on CD as The Langley Schools Music Project in 2001, it became a cult hit that struck a chord with outsider art acolytes, WFMU listeners, and indie music fans alike. (The album, Innocence and Despair, was NYC record store Other Music’s #61 best-seller of all time.) In addition to songs by Fleetwood Mac, The Beach Boys, Bay City Rollers and Klaatu (only in Canada!) is this version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Backed with crashing drums, vibraphone, acoustic guitar and some wild psychedelic soloing, this group of kids deliver a genuinely haunting rendition of one of Bowie’s most iconic singles. “The backing arrangement is astounding,” Bowie said at the time. “Coupled with the earnest if lugubrious vocal performance you have a piece of art that I couldn’t have conceived of, even with half of Colombia’s finest export products in me.”

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Harvey Danger – “Oh! You Pretty Things”

You know and love them for their 1997 classic “Flagpole Sitta,” but Seattle alt-rock combo Harvey Danger are pretty good at doing other people’s numbers as well. Their swan song was the Little Round Mirrors EP which featured the title track, pulled from their third and final album Little by Little, but also a few live-in-the-studio tracks, including this excellent cover of Hunky Dory standout “Oh! You Pretty Things.” They swap out piano for swirling, distorted organ, which is a genius move that really brings their cover alive. Frontman Sean Nelson really belts it out too while never affecting a Bowie accent (harder to do than you think).

a place to bury strangers

APTBS

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A Place to Bury Strangers – “Suffragette City”

Leave it to Brooklyn’s A Place to Bury Strangers to deliver the most wigged-out and loudest cover in this list. Their take on the Ziggy Stardust classic puts the “suffer” in “suffragette” — with piercing sheets of white noise and tinny drum machines — that makes early Jesus and Mary Chain seem tame. It’s awesome. This is another track from 2010 Bowie tribute and Warchild UK benefit comp We Were So Turned On that also features covers by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, Chairlift and Duran Duran. Wham bam thank you m’am indeed.

Superchunk

Superchunk

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Superchunk – “Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)”

Superchunk worked up a cover of the title track from Bowie’s 1980 album after they grew tired of doing “Monster Mash” for Halloween, and then recorded it in 2002. It was already a storming track but, as you might expect, Superchunk take it even further into anthemic, punky indie rock territory. “We can all agree that Ziggy was great and everything, but to me the absolute best and still mind-blowing Bowie records are Lodger and Scary Monsters,” says frontman Mac McCaughan. “Tried to do it justice—when in doubt, rock it up a bit. It was fun to play the guitar solo.”

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Beck with an orchestra

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Beck – “Sound and Vision”

Beck Hansen definitely brought his own sound and vision to this Bowie cover, enlisting a 157-piece orchestra conducted by his father, noted arranger David Campbell, and performed in front of an intimate audience of 280. It was all for a 2013 Lincoln car commercial as part of their “Hello Again” campaign, where Beck was given “no limits” as to how to approach it which he took as a dare. “It was an experiment and an opportunity to try something completely irrational,” Beck told Rolling Stone. “I attempted to conjure some scenario that could only exist in this kind of space for a one-time performance. It’s doing something you could never do on a tour. I was thinking a lot about Busby Berkeley films and multiples of musicians and dancers.”

Melvins – “Station to Station”

The Melvins tackled — and you can take that literally — the title track to Bowie’s 1976 album Station to Station on their 2013 covers album Everybody Loves Sausage. For it they enlisted the help of Foetus maestro J.G. Thirlwell who brought glammy gravitas to the pummeling cover that is even longer and weirder than Bowie’s 10-minute original, inspired in part by a Bowie live version featuring Adrian Belew and a very long intro. “We wanted the intro to sound less like a phaser and more like a nightmare,” Buzz Osbourne told The Quietus. “I was into Bowie in the mid-70s, well before I was into punk rock. This song in particular I thought was a wonderful way to start that record, and I’ve wanted to cover it for a long time. When we decided to do this album, we said, ‘Oh we should talk to Jim!’ We told him: ‘We have a big list of bands we want to cover. Which one do you want?’ And he jumped at this: ‘Oh, I want to do Bowie!’ He did all the vocals. It was all him, and he did an amazing job.” Yes he did. This cover rules.

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car seat headrest

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Car Seat Headrest – “Golden Years”

As a companion piece to 2021’s Making a Door Less Open, Car Seat Headrest released an EP featuring covers of songs that influenced the album, including tracks by The Who, Nine Inch Nails, Kate Bush and this version of Bowie’s “Golden Years.” Will Toledo can do a pretty good Bowie impersonation, complete with falsetto, and he seems like he’d be fun to do karaoke with. As for Bowie’s influence on Car Seat Headrest’s music, Toledo said he admired his chameleonlike ability to reinvent himself record-to-record more than drawing a particular specific reference point, though it’s clear he’s able to reproduce someone else’s sounds from this very faithful rendition.

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polyhonic-spree

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The Polyphonic Spree – “Five Years”

When his ’90s alt-rock band Tripping Daisy broke up, Tim Delaughter formed The Polyphonic Spree, a 25-strong vocal choir rock group that took equal inspiration from The Flaming Lips and Up With People and included, for a while, a pre St Vincent Annie Clark. Their message was of secular joy, but they wore robes for those who didn’t get the gist from listening to the music. The whole thing never quite translated to the studio, but early Polyphonic Spree shows were hard not to be won over by. An appearance at SXSW 2002 led to David Bowie booking the Spree to play London’s Meltdown Festival that year (he curated), and while there they repaid him by working up a cover of “Five Years,” which opens The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, to cover during a BBC session. The cover was released as a single and was also an encore staple at their shows for years, and remains a brilliant reimagining of the song. Bowie went on to book The Polyphonic Spree as the opening act on his 2004 Reality tour and at the 2007 Highline Festival that he also curated. When Bowie died in 2016, Delaughter wrote, “You literally changed my life, more times than I can count. We are all so fortunate to have been in your wake. Thank you!”

oasis

Oasis d’you know what i mean single

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Oasis – “Heroes”

As mentioned there are too many covers of “Heroes” — we could’ve done an entire post on them — but Oasis’ version, a b-side to “D’You Know What I Mean?” (the first single from 1997’s Be Here Now), was relatively ahead of the curve. Not all that dissimilar to the original, including the gleaming lead riff, Oasis’ twist is to add more guitars. Lots more guitars. What we’ve got here is an army of Gibsons, and it absolutely roars. Noel Gallagher, who was rivaling Bowie’s level of mid-’70s excess around the time of Be Here Now, sings lead on their “Heroes” cover as well and his smooth vocals sound terrific… but we can’t help but wonder what brother Liam’s raspy pipes and particularly Mancunian elocution might have brought to it.

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Sleater-Kinney with Britt Daniels & The Thermals – “Rebel Rebel”

Sleater-Kinney played San Francisco’s The Masonic on New Year’s Eve 2016 and for the last song of the night, covered Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel,” bringing out openers and fellow Portland band The Thermals and surprise guest Britt Daniel of Spoon. Given the occasion and the hour, this is not the tightest version. Mistakes were made, lyrics were forgotten, but everyone was having too much fun to care.

Grab actual David Bowie vinyl in the BV shop.

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