On January 9th, 1997, Madison Square Garden was host to a huge celebration. David Bowie chose to have a large party to honor his 50th birthday, inviting everyone from Robert Smith to Billy Corgan. The Foo Fighters, who were in the process of recording their second studio album, The Colour, and The Shape, when they went out to New York to participate in the celebrations, were one of the bands who assisted Bowie.
Bassist Nate Mendel told Classic Rock in 2022, “It was kind of a milestone for us, because it ended up being the last time William Goldsmith, our first drummer, played with the band. It was our first time in Madison Square Garden, first time we met Bowie, first time that we probably played a stage anywhere near that big. We were about halfway through the recording of The Colour And The Shape, so it was pulling us out of the studio, going to New York, meeting a legend and just having all these firsts. It was pretty monumental. We were excited to be there.”
Mendel added, “I don’t recall exactly how the songs we ended up playing came down. I assume, based on where we were at the time, that it was probably more of an assignment; they weren’t gonna ask the Foo Fighters what they wanted to play. In comparison to what we would do now, which is listen to a song on an iPhone in a car on the way to whatever we’re going to do, we’d rehearsed a bit. We were doing ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, and we came in having prepped a little.”
He also said, “The day of the show, I remember seeing everybody backstage and being kind of intimidated but feeling the positive vibe in the room. Everybody was very supportive. I was quickly able to kind of get over those nerves of having been asked to do this thing. Bowie was so gracious and kind and approachable, so I just remember good vibes. And seeing my first rock legend snorting cocaine in the bathroom also. Like ‘Oh, I’ve heard about this, I’ve read about this in books, and there you are doing it.'”
Mendel continued, “Then we took that photo where everyone’s in black and looking like they’re in a rock band. And I get seated directly behind Bowie for the photo, which is unfortunate because I’m in a white button-up short-sleeve shirt that’s like ten times too big for me. It’s a bad look, and it’s a very prominent look due to the scope and the sizing and the colour. Every once in a while my wife will pull up the photo and just have a good laugh.”
In the end, Bowie’s touring drummer joined Dave Grohl and William Goldsmith on the drums for the performance of “Hallo Spaceboy.” Mendel explained, “I was a little nervous, but I remember it going well, actually being fun in the moment. I was able to focus on the fact that: ‘I’m twenty feet away from Bowie and we’re playing a song together, and it’s actually fun and it’s working.’ As opposed to: ‘What am I doing here?’ and ‘Let’s not f*** up!'”
Following the performance, Bowie gave the Foos some advice for the future. “It was just like you’d imagine a Bowie party to be – super-stylish, in a loft, everybody famous in the world is there. David said to us: ‘Nice job, kids. Keep at it and maybe you’ll figure this shit out in a few years.’ I’m kind of paraphrasing, I’m sure he said it more artfully than that.”