David Bowie offer something old, something new
FleetCenter, Boston, March 29, 2004
By Jeffrey B. Remz
BOSTON - At age 57, it would be oh so easy for David Bowie to merely rest on his laurels and put on a paint-by-the-numbers performance merely reprising hit after hit like the Rolling Stones have done.
It would be easy, but that's not Bowie.
Bowie did rest on only some of his laurels, however, during a well-received show before a nearly sold-out crowd, mixing hits and recent songs.
Looking quite fit and trim and thin with blonde-streaked hair, Bowie started off the 2 hour, 10-minute show with one of his greatest songs, "Rebel Rebel," turning in a good outing.
But lest the audience think this was going to be a golden moldies show, after a few songs, Bowie launched into "New Killer Star," one of the better songs from his recent disc, "Reality."
Bowie alternated for awhile between old and new, going from "Fame," which seems even more pointed today with those in the spotlight letting it go to their heads even more, and "Cactus," a cover of a song from Boston's own Pixies, who Bowie put in a plug for, to "All the Young Dudes" with the crowd singing along to the title cut of the new disc to the ancient "The Man Who Sold the World."
For musicians of Bowie's longevity, this all can be a balancing act. Fans tend to want to hear the older, well known material, but Bowie is an Artist, always has been, and he is also putting out quality music. So why shouldn't he play and push the new music?
About the only problem, though, was that Bowie hit a stretch later in the evening when a few too many songs either were either stylistically similar or not well known enough to let the audience sink their teeth into. The result was a momentum killer.
On the other hand, there certainly is a lot to be said for an artist of Bowie's duration to challenge his audience as well and not merely trot out the tried and true.
Bowie did do that to an extent at the end closing with a more guitar-based reading of his great "Heroes" and including "Suffragette City" and closing with "Ziggy Stardust" in the encore.
Nearing the end of his tour, Bowie is none the worse for wear. In fact, the show was rescheduled from December when he came down with a bad case of the flu.
Bowie's voice was up front and center throughout the evening, not buried in the mix. And whether singing old or new, Bowie never went through the motions and seemed energized throughout.
And he also displayed a very good rapport with the crowd. He had an easygoing style, appreciative of the crowd, joking at times, clearly having a good time and not just punching the clock.
Neither did his band including guitarist mainstay Earl Slick, drummer Sterling Campbell and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, who sang the Freddy Mercury part of "Under Pressure."
Bowie has performed in different configurations throughout his musical life. On this evening, it was good to see him just do a bit of old and new without sounding the least bit dated.
A very interesting ensemble, the Polyphonic Spree, opened. The 25 (yes 25!) people in the group are known for dressing in white robes. They're an interesting group containing harp, French horn, trombone and trumpet in addition to the usual of guitar, bass and drums. A hyperkinetic 10-person chorus is part of the group.
The Spree has a feel good sound and uplifting message about them. But that probably should have been expected given their outfits.
Lead singer Tim DeLaughter, who once upon a time led Tripping Daisy, kept the songs moving. And they did move quite a bit despite their length. Sometimes they would seem to end only to come back to life again.
At times, thoughts of Pink Floyd came to mind though not close to being that trippy, but moreso in the orchestral feel. There's a lot of emphasis on the musical side before the group launches into vocals on such songs as "It's the Sun" and "Two Thousand Places."
Mr. Bowie himself gave his stamp of approval. "They make me smile," he said.