The Night David Bowie Rocked The Capitol Theatre

David Bowie, a rock visionary whose career spanned more than four decades, died of cancer Sunday at age 69. Bowie leaves behind a legacy as a genre-bending pioneer and one of the most iconic artists of the 20th century. 

On October 14, 1997, Bowie stepped in and played a full set at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester after the Rolling Stones canceled. Mick Jagger fell ill with laryngitis, forcing the band to call off the show, which was to be filmed by MTV as the first in the network’s “Live From The 10 Spot” series. Bowie stepped in last minute and MTV still carried the show.

The New York Times reported on the show at the time, calling Bowie a “rousing substitute.” Times reporter Dan Markowitz described Bowie, 50 at the time, as “posturing for the revved-up crowd like a street rapper and always waving a cigarette.” 

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Playing The Capitol Theatre was the Rolling Stones choice, the Times article reported.

“The Stones picked this place,” a producer of “Live From The 10 Spot” told the Times. “They’re known to do some small places as they tour the big stadiums. They were comfortable with it so we said, ‘Fine.’ David was more than happy to play here. As it turns out, his keyboard player used to play here. There’s a lot of history in this hall. Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, the Doors and the Grateful Dead played here.”

Brian Lynch, the head usher at the Capitol Theatre, attended the show through tickets he won through WNEW-FM for the Rolling Stones show, as he wasn’t yet working at the theater. Though he was living in Ossining at the time, he said he had to travel to Manhattan and take a bus up to Port Chester, as the venue was expecting crowds to be so large they wanted to control how people arrived at the theater. 

“There were all these barricades outside, expecting thousands of people to show up,” Lynch said. “But there weren’t people there like they expected.” 

As the Times reported, tickets to the show—both when it was to be the Rolling Stones and then Bowie—weren’t for sale. MTV was in charge of the gate and most people received tickets through the network or second-hand. Westchester Avenue outside the theater was closed starting the day before the show in anticipation of thousands of fans seeking entry. The Times reporter observed about 50 people waiting behind barricades before the show was set to start.

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Which is not to say the setting inside the theater was as calm. While at first Lynch said he and his friend were disappointed to be missing out on the Rolling Stones, he said Bowie quickly won over the crowd.

“I remember it being extremely loud and having these intense strobe lights. Almost blinding,” he said. “But the show was terrific.” 

In video from the show, you can see a steady flow of crowd surfers, which Lynch said pushed him away from the center and more toward the side of the stage.

Lynch has seen more than 300 shows as head usher, plus more as a fan, and said the Bowie show ranked with the best. 

The Capitol Theatre, which was built in 1926, released a ranking of the venue’s 50 “most historical moments” on its website last August. The Bowie show ranked 15th. The top moment, according to the list, was a run of 18 shows played there by the Grateful Dead from March 1970 to February 1971. The Bowie show ranked just above the Rolling Stones show that took place there 11 days later—the band swung back into Port Chester to make up for the canceled date.

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Lynch was able to use his original ticket to catch the Rolling Stones show too, meaning the initial cancelation ended up allowing him to see two legendary acts in the same month. 

“The night Bowie was playing we didn’t know that was going to be the case,” Lynch said, “but it ended up really working out.” 

You can check out full footage of the Bowie Capitol Theatre concert here. You can also check out his performance of “All The Young Dudes” at the theater below: 

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