David Bowie first performed “Heroes” in concert on 29 March 1978 at the San Diego Sports Arena in San Diego, California.
It was performed throughout the Isolar II and Serious Moonlight tours, often as the second song of the night.
On a long tour your memory of individual gigs becomes blurred but certain things stand out. In “Heroes” David soon started to hit a new high note in the fourth verse deadpan delivery jumps an octave And I, I would be king … and YOU! would be my queen. You can hear this on Stage and every time it would give me a lift. When he didn’t sing it, I felt cheated.
Life On Tour With Bowie
The song’s anthemic status was sealed by Bowie’s triumphant Live Aid performance in 1985.
We were mainly running on adrenaline, but as soon as we started rocking we went into this sort of more religious feeling, particularly when we played “Heroes”. Then it was a mixture of euphoria and stage fright, because “Heroes” doesn’t actually have that many changes in it. Simple songs are sometimes the easiest to mess up because you really have to concentrate; with more complicated songs the chord sequences keep you focused. But with “Heroes” you really had to know what was going on. Also, there are singers who have great dexterity, and singers who have great character, and Bowie had the ability to fuse the two. So I had also turned into a fanboy who was miraculously onstage with Bowie.
David Bowie: A Life, Dylan Jones
Bowie performed “Heroes” on the majority of his subsequent tours: Glass Spider, Sound + Vision, Outside Summer Festivals, Earthling, the 2000 summer tour, Heathen, and A Reality Tour.
He also sang it at numerous one-off events, including the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert on 20 April 1992, Bowie’s own 50th birthday concert on 9 January 1997, and the Concert For New York City on 20 October 2001.
In 1987 Bowie performed “Heroes” in West Berlin. Before it began, he told the crowd: “We send our wishes to all our friends who are on the other side of the wall.” This raised a cheer from the East Berliners who were listening.
I’ll never forget that. It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. They’d backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did “Heroes” it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it’s almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more.
That’s the town where it was written, and that’s the particular situation that it was written about. It was just extraordinary. We did it in Berlin last year as well, and there’s no other city I can do that song in now that comes close to how it’s received. This time, what was so fantastic is that the audience—it was the Max Schmeling Hall, which holds about 10-15,000—half the audience had been in East Berlin that time way before. So now I was face-to-face with the people I had been singing it to all those years ago. And we were all singing it together. Again, it was powerful. Things like that really give you a sense of what performance can do. They happen so rarely at that kind of magnitude. Most nights I find very enjoyable. These days, I really enjoy performing. But something like that doesn’t come along very often, and when it does, you kind of think, “Well, if I never do anything again, it won’t matter.”
Bowie’s final performance of “Heroes” came on 25 June 2004 at the Hurricane Festival in Scheesel, Germany. It closed the main part of the set, to be followed by encores of ‘Life On Mars?’, ‘Suffragette City’, and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.
The Hurricane Festival was David Bowie’s final tour date. He collapsed backstage after the show, was airlifted to hospital, and the following day underwent emergency angioplasty surgery in Hamburg to relieve an arterial blockage. Although he gave a handful of further public performances, he never toured again.