When David Bowie died last year one of the most devastating parts for me was the final realisation I would never get to see him perform live. This weekend I got the attend the closest thing possible to real deal.
I was first introduced to Bowie in 2005. Just a year earlier he had been traveling the world on what would be his last ever tour, abruptly halted when he had a heart attack on stage in Germany in June 2004.
After I was introduced to Bowie I became desperate to see him live. He was known for his creativity on stage, and his engrossing, entertaining presence. It was something I really wanted to see. For years I waited with virtually no hope. After his hear attack he had stopped making music and rarely made public performances. It looked liked he’d basically retired. When he surprisingly released The Next Day in 2013, and Blackstar in 2016, I was given new hope. Rumours swirled about a tour and I kept a close eye hoping for an announcement any time soon. From what I understand there were talks of a tour in the making. Then, with his death, the opportunity was gone forever.
This weekend however I managed to get as close as I could to a Bowie concert by going to ‘Celebrating David Bowie’ at the Sydney Opera House. The concert was part of a world tour led by musicians from Bowie’s band. Taking in London, New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo and finally Sydney, this an epic performance that represented the best celebration of the man possible.
In many ways the show was built off the depth of local talent available. Sarah Blasko performed an epic and haunting version of Life of Mars, Chris Cheney rocked out to Rebel Rebel, and Bernard Fanning was amazing on both Space Oddity and the closing song of the show, Under Pressure.
More than anyone however two stars stood out. Paul Dempsey’s version of The Man Who Sold The World was only upstaged by his rendition of Suffragette City, that had everyone up in the tight concert hall out of their seats dancing. The surprise packet was Angelo Moore from the band Fishbone. In performing Ashes to Ashes and Moonage Daydream Moore brought a level of quirkiness, excitement, flair and energy, that was exactly what was needed for a Bowie tribute. More than anyone Moore sounded like Bowie as well, making it feel as though for a brief moment that he was right there on stage.
However more than the local talent it was Bowie’s band that stood out for me. The charge was led by Mike Garson — Bowie’s pianist — who both MC’d the show, and performed his groundbreaking piano solo from Aladdin Sane without fault. Garson regularly intervened to showcase his skills on the piano in a way I think Bowie would have been proud. Earl Slick, Bowie’s guitarist throughout much of his work presented himself as a cliched rock star, but one who, on tracks like Ziggy Stardust managed to bring the concert to life.
It was not just the band members, but the singers as well. Unfortunately the amazing Gail Ann Dorsey was not available due to illness, but she was replaced effortlessly by Gabby Moreno, whose version of Wild is the Wind was as close as you could get to one of Bowie’s favourite songs to sing live. A stunning song Moreno brought Wild is the Wind to life, leaving the concert hall dead silent in her powerful rendition. My favourite however was Holly Palmer. Palmer started the show in style with her performance of a song that Bowie never performed live, Lady Grinning Show. A tough song to sing Palmer pulled this classic off without fault. But in my mind she stole the show in the first song of the encore when she was joined by Gerry Leonard to perform Loving the Alien. A perfect song to celebrate the legend, Leonard and Palmer played with the arrangement to create a song that was very different to the way Bowie performed it himself. In doing so they didn’t just create a beautifully haunting rendition, but they highlighted a ‘love for the alien’ by playing with his music in the very way Bowie would have done himself.
This was what was so special about the concert for me. This was a concert led by his band — the people who had performed and collaborated with Bowie, who knew him, and knew what sort of concert he liked to performed. I felt they brought that spirit into the show. They played with arrangements, experimented and toyed with the songs, exactly as Bowie used to do one stage. They performed and entertained, just as Bowie was known to do. Most of all they produced an epic three and a half hours, not much different to the epic concerts Bowie used to give.
The only thing that was missing was Bowie himself. And while that may seem obvious it was actually an outstanding achievement. This was not some hack-job of artists who really like David Bowie, but had no real connection to him, and so didn’t quite know what they were doing. This was the real thing — or at least as close as possible as you can get to the real thing. They created a show that could have easily been a concert that Bowie himself would have put on. And as someone who always wanted, but never got the opportunity to see David Bowie live, for that I will always be grateful.