Billboard - June 7, 2004

David Bowie / June 5, 2004 / Holmdel, N.J.
(PNC Bank Arts Center)

By John D. Luerssen

The final night of David Bowie's North American A Reality tour also marked the singer's 40th anniversary in the music business. Chronicling his June 5th, 1964 single debut, the rock icon poked fun at himself as he treated this Holmdel, N.J., audience to a snippet of "Liza Jane," the song he first recorded as David Jones and the King-Bees. It was just one of several delightful surprises in a show that spanned Bowie's career, and although the set stalled in a few spots, it was largely a winner.

A youthful Bowie took the stage in defiance of his 57 years, sporting blond locks, a purple velvet coat, black jeans and Chuck Taylors. Launching the outdoor gig with the classic "Rebel Rebel," longtime guitarist Earl Slick brought forth the song's infamous chords while Bowie flashed smiles and danced with finesse. But the tune gave the show an early momentum that songs like a cover of the Pixies' "Cactus" had trouble sustaining. "Sister Midnight," a song he co-penned with Iggy Pop in 1977 for the latter's "The Idiot," also seemed lost on a crowd that stood patiently and respectfully waiting for Bowie to return to his own back catalog.

Passive fans wound up enduring what one was overheard referring to as "Bowie's self-indulgences" a little longer, but the new wave pulse of "New Killer Star," from his latest album, "Reality," truly impressed naysayers. By the time he got around to oldies like "Panic in Detroit" and the obligatory disco hit "Fame," the audience had fully erupted. Later, he teased the crowd with a few notes of "Golden Years," before kicking into a rousing "All the Young Dudes," the classic rock anthem he wrote for Mott the Hoople in 1972.

Along with Slick and drummer Sterling Campbell, the Thin White Duke's backing band was top notch on catalog favorites like "China Girl" and "Station to Station." They sounded brilliant on "Under Pressure," as bassist Gail Ann Dorsey assumed the vocal part originally tracked by Queen's Freddie Mercury with tremendous skill and an eerie similarity.

And while Bowie finally gave the crowd everything it wanted and more with tracks like "Heroes," "Five Years" and "Ziggy Stardust," the highlight of the night came midway through the show. Amid a steady rain, the singer offered a glimmering rendition of "The Man Who Sold the World," popularized on Nirvana's "MTV Unplugged" album. Although he said it was the first song of his he'd ever remembered hearing on American radio, one suspects he had to be kidding. Either way, this tour affirmed he's in the here and now, far from being some nostalgia act despite boasting one of the most impressive back catalogs in rock music.

Openers the Polyphonic Spree delighted those who knew what to expect and no doubt won over curiosity seekers, but sadly - as is the plague of being a support act - the group was a sonic backdrop for a lot of Bowie fans buying their beverages and finding their seats.

That's not to say the two dozen-member symphonic pop group steered by former Tripping Daisy member Tim DeLaughter didn't sound fabulous in the expansive amphitheater. Playing lush numbers like "Light & Day" from "The Beginning Stages of the Polyphonic Spree" and "Hold Me Now" off its forthcoming disc, "Together We're Heavy," the inventive, innovative and exciting troupe proved itself to be worthy of its place on the upcoming Lollapalooza caravan.