David Bowie’s Comfortably Numb


Bowie’s final UK live appearance, appearing alongside David Gilmour.

David Gilmour’s solo shows – particularly those at the Albert Hall – have become notable for guest appearances by other artists. This has been especially true of performances of Comfortably Numb, originally a duet between Gilmour and Roger Waters on Pink Floyd‘s The Wall. Among the artists who have joined Gilmour on the song have been Kate Bush and Benedict Cumberbatch – quite the cultural gap.

Given how little Bush has performed live, she might be the most unexpected turn to appear, but coming up close behind must be David Bowie, who made his final UK stage appearances with Gilmour in 2006. Casually announced, Bowie popped up to first perform Syd Barrett-era classic Arnold Layne and then returned to perform Comfortably Numb.

While some Floyd fans have criticised Bowie’s performance here, it’s actually rather excellent – he adds a certain twisted quirkiness and vocal tension to the song that is entirely appropriate, and no doubt the song itself was something that resonated with him – he had not been seen on stage since his 2004 tour was cancelled by a blocked artery, forcing him to abruptly cancel all shows after the Hurricane Festival in Germany – an unplanned and sad end to a performing career.


This is, by any standards, a cracking performance – to be fair, I’ve never seen Gilmour do a less than stellar job on what is his most loved song – with fellow Pink Floyd star Richard Wright on keyboards, and David Crosby and Graham Nash on backing vocals. Bowie, to his great credit, does not hog the limelight – when not singing, he disappears into the background.

It wasn’t quite the last Bowie performance – that same year, he performed a song with Alicia Keys in New York, and in 2007, he ended his on-stage career by introducing Ricky Gervais at a New York benefit and then briefly singing the song Chubby Little Loser from the TV show Extras. Perhaps not the best ending to a long career, but there you have it. The Gilmour collaboration, on the other hand, was an excellent way to bow out.

After 2009, Bowie withdrew from the public eye for several years before his final two albums, The Next Day in 2013 and Blackstar, released a couple of days before his death in 2016. Gilmour’s most recent album was Live in Pompeii, released in 2017.

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  1. Saw Bowie June 29 1989 at National Ballroom Kilburn when he was doing Tin Machine, bizarre seeing him in a small venue, didn’t like the music but wanted to see him

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