David Bowie only gave one live performance in 1980, on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was recorded at NBC Studios in Burbank, Los Angeles, on 3 September, and first broadcast two days later.
Bowie performed ‘Life On Mars?’ and ‘Ashes To Ashes’ on the show. A small segment of Bowie and his band rehearsing ‘Ashes To Ashes’ was also included in a 1981 edition of The 20-20 Show in the US.
The band was unique to The Tonight Show. Carlos Alomar, Bowie’s long-term guitarist, was joined by GE Smith on lead guitar, Gordon Grody on keyboards, John Kumnick on bass guitar, and Steve Goulding on drums.
Bowie performed ‘Ashes To Ashes’ on the Serious Moonlight, Sound + Vision, ‘hours…’, Heathen, and Reality tours.
A performance recorded for the BBC on 27 June 2000 was included on the bonus disc available with initial copies of Bowie At The Beeb. Other live performances can be heard on the albums Serious Moonlight (Live ’83), Glastonbury 2000, and A Reality Tour.
We were playing “Ashes to Ashes” one day, and I was playing a synth solo. He says, “Ah, that sounded too much like Herbie Hancock. Why don’t you switch to piano and play like a piano solo, more like ‘Aladdin Sane’ kind of stuff?” So now I do that at the end of the song. Now, that’s not on the original record, and that’s not recorded anywhere, so I’ll get to stretch out on that tonight, if we play that song, and that’s very unusual for me because it’s a three-bar phrase, and it’s a G-minor, an F-major and a C-minor chord, and it revolves in three bar phrases, and it’s not easy to improvise on. Especially since I’m improvising in an avant-garde way, so it’s a challenge for me every night.