‘Life On Mars?’ was first performed live by David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars on 12 May 1972, at a show at the Polytechnic of Central London as part of the Ziggy Stardust Tour. Towards the end of the tour in 1973 it became part of a mini medley along with ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’.
A live performance recorded at the Boston Music Hall on 1 October 1972 was included on the bonus disc of the Aladdin Sane – 30th Anniversary Edition in 2003.
Another, from the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on 20 October, was first released in 1994 on the unauthorised album Santa Monica ’72, before becoming officially available in 2008 on Live Santa Monica ’72.
‘Life On Mars’ was sung by Bowie on the Isolar Tour in 1976. One such performance, from a 23 March medley with ‘Five Years’, was released on Live Nassau Coliseum ’76, initially with the 2010 reissue of Station To Station, then in the 2016 box set Who Can I Be Now? (1974–1976), and the following year as a standalone release.
After the Isolar Tour, Bowie set the song aside until a 5 September 1980 performance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, on which he also sang his recent single ‘Ashes To Ashes’.
‘Life On Mars’ was played during the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983. A performance in Vancouver on 12 September 1983 was included in the Serious Moonlight film.
The song was also a part of the Sound + Vision tour setlist in 1990, after which it was not performed again until 1999’s ‘hours…’ Tour. A recording from this era can be heard on the VH1 Storytellers album.
In then became a staple of Bowie’s live set, being performed on the Heathen Tour and A Reality Tour. A 2003 performance at the Point Theatre, Dublin, was released on DVD as A Reality Tour in 2004, and in 2010 on compact disc.
On 8 September 2005 Bowie sang at the Fashion Rocks event at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. This was his first live appearance since a heart attack curtailed A Reality Tour in 2004. He performed ‘Life On Mars?’ with Mike Garson, before being joined onstage by Arcade Fire for ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Five Years’.
Bowie’s performance at the 2000 Glastonbury Festival was released on CD, DVD and vinyl in November 2018. His performance of ‘Life On Mars?’, mostly backed just by Mike Garson’s piano, was a clear highlight of an often breathtaking set.