State Theatre, Sydney, Australia
I have to say I never go to these tribute shows, I hate the whole idea of them, and there seem to be more and more of them about these days. But on this occasion there was, first of all, the opportunity to hear pianist Mike Garson, and secondly, my mate Snapper was doing the lighting and offered me free VIP tickets. So I thought why not?
So the good things first – it was an excellent band. Mike Garson was in superb touch on the piano – some kind of Roland electronic faux-grand (apparently they couldn’t get a grand piano into the dear old Art Deco State Theatre), although for a lot of the piano solos he used a Kronos keyboard. He was also MD and did all the introductions, a very friendly persona, and many respectful mentions of DB. Gerry Leonard on guitar was superb, doing all the lead parts. Like Jon Hetherington in Steely Dan these days he plays almost note for note versions of the great solos we know and love (in this case Ronno, Fripp, Belew etc), but injects his own phrasing and sounds to keep it from being total copycat. Similarly Mark Plati did immaculate Carlos Alomar. The rhythm section was also excellent, Carmine Rojas on bass from “Let’s Dance” and Serious Moonlight days, and the drummer was Lee John, who is the son of Earl Slick. And speaking of sons of famous people – was that Sting up there on acoustic guitar and backing vocals? No, it was Joe Sumner, his lookalike 42 year old son. The other singers were Bernard Fowler, on shore leave from his decades long stint on BVs for the Stones while Uncle Mick has heart surgery, Vernon Reid from Living Color, and the lone girl in the ensemble, Guatemalan vocalist Gaby Moreno.
The set list of course contained all the hits, plus a few obscurities, but sadly nothing from Lodger, my personal favourite Bowie album. The evening began with a total obscurity for me, “Bring Me The Disco King” (which my Google research tells me is from “Reality”, which I haven’t listened to for yonks). Just a drum loop and Mike Garson on piano, it introduced us to Bernard Fowler. Dressed in black rockstar-ish garb, with a strange gait that made him look as if he had a carrot up his arse, he sang beautifully. Then the hits came along – “Rebel Rebel” with the re-arrangement I DO remember from the Reality dvd. “Young Americans” – yep, great. Then it was the younger Sting’s turn on “Space Oddity”. Oh dear. He CAN sing, and he has his old man’s strong voice and excellent pitch. And actually his voice was the most Bowie-like of all the singers, being a white English lad. But he has NO IDEA of stagecraft, presentation, dynamics, anything. It was like an audition for a TV talent show. He waved his ams back and forth in true horrid “let’s the crowd going” fashion. Poor bugger. Vernon Reid was the best of the singers IMHO, he did exhibit a sense of humour, while Bernard just tried to do the rockstar moves and looked ridiculous. Gaby Moreno had a lovely voice but didn’t cut through for me. Maybe girls can’t do Bowie? I don’t know.
As the evening went on it became apparent that this was really a kind of average clubland cover band show, redeemed by the excellent musicianship of the band and of course the fabulous songs. A highlight was “Aladdin Sane” with Mike Garson improvising a ridiculously absurd piano solo, as he did under instructions from DB on the original recording. The last three songs, “Ziggy Stardust”. “Suffragette City” and “All The Young Dudes” were actually brilliant and had the crowd on their feet.
The encores were of course “Life On Mars’ and “Heroes”, preceded by the aforementioned Gerry Leonard doing a solo performance of “Andy Warhol” complete with wig and loop pedal. That guy is amazing.
I took my 24 year old daughter (who LOVED it) and observed that there were not many people her age there. Lots of grey hair. The audience knew ALL the songs. Well, the singalong bits at least.
It made me think..
I fucking hate tribute shows. Advertised in the foyer were upcoming tribute shows to The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers and Abba.