The Dominion Post - 12th Feb 2004

David Bowie: Starman touches down

It's been a hell of a career. Tom Cardy trawls through the immense back catalogue of the ever-changing world which artist David Bowie inhabits ahead of tomorrow's show at the Westpac Stadium.

"I could do with the money
I'm so wiped out with things as they are
I'd send my photograph to my honey -
and I'd come on like a regular superstar."

So sings David Bowie on Staron his groundbreaking glam-rock infused 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

More than 30 years later, the album - like much of the musician's catalogue - still sounds great. And so it seems does Bowie, - who definitely isn't just a regular superstar these days.

Bowie, who performs his first gig in Wellington tomorrow since 1983, has never achieved the sales heights of The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. But he is still one of the biggest names in popular music. Almost every description or analysis of Bowie usually means at least one reference to the 56-year-old as an enigma or chameleon.

Blame this on his rapid and unpredictable image-change between albums through the 70s and early 80s - coupled with risky ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in musical direction.

But one thing is clear: they worked. A string of strong songs, including Space Oddity, The Jean Genie, Suffragette City, Rebel, Rebel, Heroes and Let's Dance appeared on albums that were more than a sum of their parts.

Even Low, Station to Station and Heroes - viewed as too pointyheaded by the teeny boppers who embraced Bowie's androgynous glam rock personas on Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane - were hugely influential and have become timeless.

Play Low, released in 1977, on a stereo today, and its sounds as innovative as the best new music released in 2004.

His image changes, fashion experiments, occasional excursions in to film, and his work with other musicians over the years have arguably had an even more far-reaching impact on popular culture.

His funky hit Fame was co-written with John Lennon, he jumped up and down with Mick Jagger on a cover of Dancing in the Street and he effectively rescued Lou Reed and Iggy Pop from possible obscurity.

The number of bands who have adopted, especially on the sly, his postures, clothing, hairstyles and singing styles, are too many to name.

He's also had a big impact on the nuts and bolts of the music business. In 1997 he floated his future song royalties on the stockmarket, and reaps an average annual return of 8 per cent. As usual, other big name musicians have followed his lead.

The orthodox view is that Bowie made a swag of classic albums, but lost his way after Let's Dance in 1983 - his biggest seller.

Remaining 80s albums, Tonight, Never Let Me Down, along with Black Tie White Noise in 1993, are generally viewed by most Bowie fans as no-go areas - even though they have their moments and defenders on numerous fan websites.

In the 80s Bowie also took time out as a member of the band Tin Machine, but few people were enthusiastic.

From 1995's Outside however Bowie's been on the up. Although some critics accused him of being an imitator rather than an innovator by using drum and bass on 1997's Earthling, the albums keep getting better.

Reality, released late last year, garnered some of the best reviews in yonks, including The Dominion Post's assertion that when it comes to Bowie everything is still hunky-dory.

"I'm pretty much a day-to-day guy now, I think you have to be," he told Australian newspaper The Age late last year. "I've been a pretty regular guy over the past 14 years, in the way that I live my life and my ambitions, which are very few these days. It's about just trying to keep my family unit together, really try to create a secure and comforting nucleus for my daughter. If I'm looking further ahead, I'm usually looking through her eyes."

Bowie is married to former supermodel Iman Majid and they have a daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones, 3.

"As I get older and older, I write more and more from the first person, and I think that is possibly something that happens with age," he said. "It's not daunting, it's just the way things are. But it doesn't rule out my wanting to write more theatrical or metaphysical or science-fiction kinds of things. It always occurs to me to do things like that, because I enjoy the hell out of writing them."

Bowie's played New Zealand three times. Auckland in 1978, 1983 and 1987 and Wellington's Athletic Park on the Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983. On that tour Bowie specified a bowl of Japanese raw fish before each performance, and his dressing room to contain a large sofa, full-length mirror, chairs, coffee table, lamps, shower facilities and six clean towels. About 45,000 fans packed Athletic Park, about 200 collapsed from heat exhaustion, crowd crushes or too much alcohol or drugs. Preferential tickets cost $18.50 - it's at least $95 tomorrow.

Bowie also spent some time in New Zealand in 1982 while filming the movie Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. He was spotted at Auckland nightclubs and later filmed the music video for China Girl with Kiwi Geeling Ng.

In 1983 Bowie played a set that included some of his best known songs, as well as inspired takes on lesser known works including Cracked Actor. Bowie fans who haven't heard the past few albums shouldn't worry about tomorrow.

Expect a big spread from his career, including many of his best hits.

The set list for his last show in Los Angeles on Sunday included everything from Rebel, Rebel to Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie's got so much mana these days that he was also courted backstage at his Los Angeles shows with not only music's big names, but long line of the Hollywood elite including Naomi Watts, Charlize Theron, Heath Ledger, Sofia and Francis Ford Coppola, and even Elijah Wood and Dominic Monaghan from The Lord of the Rings.

Rolling Stone magazine has rated it as one the best rock tours of the past 12 months.

"I'm never ever gonna get old," sings Bowie on the Reality album. On one level its Bowie poking fun at himself, but fortunately for us, he really has aged pretty well.

David Bowie with Brooke Fraser, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, tomorrow.