Edmonton Sun - 9th April 2004

Zowie Bowie wowie

By Mike Ross

For the aloof God of rock 'n' roll that David Bowie has been painted as over the years, he's a surprisingly down-to-earth guy in concert. At least he was last night at Rexall Place for a not-sold-out crowd of fans who'd clearly cheer the guy just for showing up.

And we did. Maybe it's a new-found humility. He used to sell out stadiums. Now he draws 9,000 fans to Edmonton's hockey arena. I think Avril Lavigne had a bigger turnout, talk about frightening - and Bowie has more talent under his fingernail than Avril has in her entire body.

Not that it seemed to matter to the man who sold the world. Bowie and a six-piece band pumped out a brilliant concert that was half hit parade, half musical adventure to places few have gone before. His easy wit leavened the "heavier" moments. He even managed a local reference, praising the Muttart Conservatory, where he supposedly went yesterday, then saying, "er, what else can I talk about locally?" What, you didn't get the memo that all visiting rock stars get? No mention of the Edmonton-Calgary thing? Oh, well.

There were few special effects but the man himself. He joked about that, saying it took him 15 minutes to design it.

Looking relaxed and pretty good for a 57-year-old rock singer who's been to the moon and back, Bowie joked, he played around with the crowd, he staged singalongs, gag versions of hits and tacitly apologized for presenting new material, which, let's face it, isn't setting the world on fire the way his classics did, and still do, come to think of it.

The old stuff was why we were here. Few of the fans - ranging from '60s survivors to their kids - came away from this concert without hearing at least one Bowie song that had touched them. But after such mouldy oldies as Fame, China Girl and All the Young Dudes, the old Thin White Duke surprised us with some amazing new songs from his latest album, Reality. That's what this was: "A Reality Tour," no relation to the Seinfeld episode. Bowie made a joke about that, too: "Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown will do a reality show... just as soon as they figure out what their reality is."

The set ran the gamut. Bowie opened with Rebel Rebel, kind of a weak start but much appreciated, after which he called us a bunch of "crazy motherf---ers." (He says that to all the cities.) Other hits followed, some truncated, some slightly mangled, few delivered with the passion of the more complex and even operatic material that would come later. Highlights included I'll Never Get Old, appropriately enough, and the beautiful ballad, The Loneliest Guy. There was one dramatic song around the halfway point of the show that must've been 20 minutes long.

A wailing, powerful version of Under Pressure followed, with his bassist, Gail Ann Dorsey, taking the part of Freddie Mercury. Wow, is all I can say about this. The show just kept getting scarier and scarier. Maybe let's put it this way: Bowie is a down-to-earth God of rock 'n' roll.

The Polyphonic Spree wasn't so much an opening act as it was a "happening" - a 25-member, white-robed, flower power ensemble perfectly setting the mood for the aging hippies who turned up last night to grok to Bowie's "old stuff." It was ridiculous and sublime all at once - kind of like life, dig? This Texas ensemble, including a large horn section and a nine-member choir, oozed positivity by the bucketful, singing happy, shiny songs dealing with love or happiness or various combinations of the two. There were odes to sky and trees and the essential goodness of humanity in there, too.

"There's love outside window," sang frontman Tim DeLaughter, who looked like he'd just missed scoring the lead role in Hair but wasn't too bummed out about it. He led this hooray-for-everything brigade through other such homilies as "Hey, it's the sun - it makes me shine!" with nary a trace of irony. He was hip to how Hare Krishnaian his band looks, introducing one of his horn players as the "gardener who's in charge of all our vegetables back at the compound," but the music was dead serious about being uplifting.

After about 40 minutes of this Godspell on acid bombast for a largely bewildered crowd, it was all over with a cheery, "Have a wonderful night and a beautiful tomorrow!" Back at you, man. Spread the love as long as you can. With 25 people to pay, you're obviously not in it for the money.