The Rock God in Sin City (a[nother] review)
David Bowie at the Joint, Las Vegas, NV, February 6, 2004.
Pre-Show Jitters and the Joys of Red Lipstick: Man, girls in Vegas really glam up for a concert! I had on dark blue jeans, flat black leather boots, a tight black midriff-bearing v-neck Lycra t-shirt, and a tight gray waisted jacket with a fuzzy black collar. Under ordinary circumstances, I'd have thought I looked pretty damn cute. But I was feeling a bit frumpish next to women who were wearing skirts the size of bikini bottoms and tops made of no more than one square foot of fabric.
So I decided I needed to glam up my appearance. I found the ladies restroom just off the Hard Rock Casino and applied blood red lipstick and a coat of shiny lip gloss over it. I felt better already.
I'm Spoiled - Row 8 With A Side View Wasn't Good Enough For Me!: The doors opened to The Joint, the tiny (holds around 1400) nightclub inside the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I was in Row H (Row 8) off to Earl Slick's side of the stage. But because of the indented stage at The Joint, side sightlines were not good. I wasn't too pleased that I couldn't see the entire back of the stage or the entire band (actually, only Mike Garson would have been outside my view-line, but I still wasn't jazzed about that). Having seen Bowie from Row 2 in Vancouver spoiled me.
Macy Gray Rocked The House: Macy came on and the crowd really got into her quickly. We were standing, cheering, clapping, yelling back answers to all her fun questions (like "What would you do right now if you knew God was coming to get you?"), and the enthusiasm was electric. I was so pleased for Macy - whom I really like. Of the three shows I have seen on this tour, this was her best performance and the audience response was fantastic. Plus, I figured that if the crowd was this nuts for Macy, the roof would come down for Bowie. I was right!
I Bribed A Minor! - But All's Fair For The Love Of Bowie, Right?: During Macy's great set, I moved up closer to the front (since some seats there were still empty) so I could say hello to a Bowie fan I had exchanged some emails with before but had never actually met. She had her 14-year-old son with her - and as we chatted after Macy's set it was apparent he was not a happy camper! Poor chap just wasn't a Bowie fan and seemed rather resentful that mom had "dragged" him to the show. So... I... uh, well, I... what's the word?... I... BRIBED him, yeah, I bribed him to switch seats with me! Come on, now, settle down - I asked his mother for permission first, and she said it was okay! So now there I was, in Row B right in front of Slicky's spot, and when Bowie came on, I ended up moving into the First Row without incident.
David Takes The Stage, Calvin Klein Undies And Looking For Water In More Ways Than One: David opened with New Killer Star. The crowd was on its feet from the start and extremely animated and loud! David was wearing gray jeans, gray Converse sneaks, THE belt, the black "Metal World" t-shirt, a gray Dethkillers jean jacket with the logo on the back, and a red neckscarf. But I also noticed something new this time. The entire waistband of his gray Calvin Klein underwear was visible over his belt! Ha! I saw David Bowie's underwear! I felt like Beavis and Butthead as I giggled to myself about that one.
David said hello at the close of the song and the crowd roared in response. He played Looking For Water while the waitress who had earlier taken drink orders in the front row was back with her tray of drinks and bottled water (yep, they have waitresses at The Joint that take and deliver drink orders throughout the concert - annoying, actually). I had ordered a bottle of water before the show started, and she was trying to deliver it to me during Looking For Water. As a guy behind me grabbed his bottle of water as I was grabbing mine, he mumbled something about how à propos the song was! The song rocked. I never really liked it much until I heard it live. (Another anecdote about my water is that I dropped it on the ground about a few minutes after I got it - before I could even open it and take a sip. I felt parched half way through the concert, but couldn't find my water. So I then went "looking for water" again after the show ended, checking the floor around me as people cleared out. There it was! My bottle was next to a speaker to my left. I retrieved it, opened it, and drank it all in no more than six gulps!)
"Skinny Arms": After I've Been Waiting For You, on which Earl Slick was on fire on guitar and Sterling Campbell drummed his little heart out, David said: "I may as well start introducing you to the band. We'll do it in twos, since there's so many of them and so few of you!" He peered out sarcastically into the jam-packed crowd. He then introduced Earl as "the guy with the skinny arms," and when everyone laughed he added "wait, you haven't seen me take off my jacket yet!" He asked Sterling to smile so we could all see him, and Sterling must have been spacing out somewhere, because he responded with "Who me?" David and some of us in the crowd said "yeah, you," and Sterling beamed a large grin.
Let's (Disco) Dance At The YMCA: David then told us that "we haven't done this one in a while," as the band started into the intro of the reworked version of Let's Dance. The crowd loved it. I was so pleased to hear this song, on what I think was just its second or third outing on this tour. David actually danced during the song, at times striking an almost matador-ish Spanish flamenco pose, at others doing the cliché Saturday Night Fever moves John Travolta popularized in the 70s.
Afterwards, David laughed and said Vegas is such a strange city, and that at any given time, people will "dance on tables singing YMCA." He actually sang a bit of YMCA while repeating the Saturday Night Fever-style disco moves again. He then introduced Fame by saying "well, this song is from that period."
Time For A Sing-Along: Cactus was next, and as thrilling as always. David takes off his jacket, and I'm thinking "I LIKE his skinny arms!" Upon David's invitation to "sing with me," the crowd sang along loudly on All The Young Dudes. David repeatedly lifted the entire microphone and stand and tipped it toward us so we could be heard singing. At the end, he told us we were fantastic or great or something like that. I thought to myself, "well, at least he didn't say we were 'tragic'" - which is one of his favorite words to use when labeling substandard audience participation!
Pablo, Gail And Mars: Pablo Picasso was a treat for me, as he hasn't been playing it much since the European leg of the tour. It sounded great. Gail was thrilling as usual during Under Pressure, and David hit and held all the high notes during the sublime Life On Mars?
Kurt Who?: David introduced The Man Who Sold The World as "a song I wrote in 1970." He added that there have been "quite a few covers" of the song, "many of which I really like." But he proved again that his original is better than any of the competent fakes that have followed it.
Rebel Fashion: Rebel Rebel came next, with the band starting off the intro like in the 1974 version, and then segueing into the newer version with the quieter start.
We then got Fashion, which he doesn't play all that often either. I was so excited to be hearing so many songs I hadn't heard live before. David seemed to be enjoying the fact that the audience was reacting to "turn to the left" and "turn to the right" by actually following orders and turning! Afterwards, he decided to play further with the level of crowd control he could achieve with us. He asked us to scream loudly, which we did, and he did the "cut" move with his hand to stop us. We stopped. He then egged us on to make more noise, and then tried to abruptly cut us off, but we kept screaming. "That was tragic," he laughed. I was laughing, too, enjoying that he predictably called us "tragic" after all! He was chatty and happy, and I was having a ball.
European Kiss vs. Vegas Kiss: David also blew a kiss at us at this time and called it a "European kiss" because "that's how we do it in Europe." He then added, "Here's how you do it in Vegas," and he suggestively licked his lips in a clockwise motion, pausing with his tongue at the left edge of his mouth as the stage lights went bright red and the band started into the intro to China Girl. He sang the "Oh, baby, just you shut your mouth" lyric as originally written, in a pouty fake accent, and he sucked on his finger suggestively after the "she says Shhhh" part.
Have You Heard The One About The Stage Prop?: David went off toward the stage's end and picked up the stool he normally perches on when he sings Days. He carried the stool to the mic stand at center stage, and I giggled to myself when I noticed he was moving a stool that had masking tape on the top of the seat that had "DO NOT REMOVE" written on it in large, black, capital letters. Apparently, David kind of noticed that was funny too, and he started into a whole comedy bit about the stool. In a mock confessional tone, he began, "I haven't been very good at writing songs about wardrobe malfunctions and stuff, but I love props." The crowd laughed that David was commenting on "wardrobe malfunctions." "This is my stool," he continued. "It says 'DO NOT REMOVE' on it. I fell in love with this stool long ago and I wrote this song for my stool. It's called Days." Preposterous shit really, but funny in that off-the-wall Bowie sort of way. I like his sense of humor.
After Days, David moves the stool off to the side and smiles a gentle, closed-mouth grin at us in appreciation for the reception we gave that beautiful song. He then looks around, and the stool is gone, having been quickly spirited away by a stagehand. "Well, that got rid of the stool," he laughed.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-charged Up!: He then did Changes, another one I hadn't heard live yet. The crowd was singing along loudly again. We were all so charged up.
"Charlie Mann And His Band" - aka David's Next Career Move?: Next came Sound and Vision and I'm in heaven. I had heard A New Career In A New Town, Breaking Glass, Be My Wife and Always Crashing In The Same Car so far on this tour, and now I was getting Sound and Vision. I felt absolutely blessed at that moment. During the instrumental segments of this - and other - songs, David would retreat to either stage left or stage right and lean against the side of the indented stage. He'd bend one leg at the knee and put his Converse-clad foot against the wall, close his eyes, tilt his head up slightly, and the corners of his mouth would betray a calm satisfaction. At one point (although I don't recall if it was during Sound and Vision or another song), he was leaning there, enjoying his band, right in front of me. I like those moments where I catch him being not the incredible performer that he is, but just another fan of music. He really seems to get a kick out of his band, and it is a treat to watch him do that - especially when he's just about a foot away from me! (But, unlike a few women at the other end of the stage, I did NOT caress his ankles as he stood in front of me!)
More comedy after Sound and Vision, as David begins by saying "I like that song because I don't' have to sing much. I can just sit back and enjoy my band." He then says he should get a "white stick" and just be a conductor. He mimes a few exaggerated conductor moves and comments on how conductors have such an easy job because the band does all the playing and they don't really do a thing.
What followed was a rousing rendition of Ashes To Ashes that found Garson at his absolute best. Pounding and clanging away. I was glad I no longer had an obstructed view of the stage, so I could watch him as he maniacally hacked away on the piano. David's singing was very emotive and his body language very animated throughout the song. He held on tightly to his left arm right on the inside elbow crease where a junkie would shoot up as he howled about being "stuck with a valuable friend." I enjoyed that bit of acting, as I always figured the "valuable friend" was a needle in the arm. Then as he sang "you better not mess with Major Tom" he slapped his left arm below the inside elbow crease, as though he had a tourniquet on and was trying to get his veins to pop out pre-injection, a look of mixed desperation and disdain on his face the whole time. A very powerful performance.
After Ashes To Ashes, David kept on with the whole conductor gag. He said he'd rather have a "white cane" instead of a white stick, and then he could be a "blind conductor." More silly and exaggerated conductor moves followed, with one hand over his eyes. At this point his blind conductor mime kind of mutates into something that more closely resembles blind fencing, as he jabs the air with his imaginary "white stick." I'm in stitches. He again comments on how easy conductors have it: "The sign always says something like 'Charlie Mann and his Band," and all Charlie does is... [mimes conducting moves again]. He does fuck all!" He asks us if we think his pursuing a career in conducting is a good idea, and then says "get back to me on that one later, ok?"
The band starts into White Light White Heat and when David gets to the "white light gonna make be go blind" lyric, he smiles, nods, and adds "see? I told you!" - again referring back to the blind conductor bit.
Americans And "Heroes": He introduced I'm Afraid of Americans by saying "this is a song I wrote in 1997 and it's taken on an altogether different meaning these days." I'm not sure what the decibel count got up to during this song, but an entire fleet of fighter jets could have taken off next door and none of us lucky enough to be in The Joint would have had a clue. He did the crotch grab/caress bit during the "Johnny wants pussy and cars" part, and a couple of girls near me who did not expect that squealed with unusual glee. Fun.
"Heroes" followed, and everyone was singing along and raising one hand with one finger extended during the "just for one day" refrain.
Straight Through Without A Break: At this point, one would expect a break where the band would leave the stage and then return for an encore. But, as with the first Vegas show, there was no break (some say The Joint has time restrictions that require performances to end by a certain time to then encourage patrons to go out and spend the rest of the evening gambling - probably true). A stagehand approached David from my side of the stage with an acoustic guitar in hand. David looked at him a bit perplexed and asked "What are we doing?" - seemingly having lost his place in the setlist.
I Made David Bowie Laugh And Smile!: Well, what he did next was the beautiful and mournful Five Years. At the part where he sang "smiling and waving and looking so fine," I was doing just that (well, at least the smiling and waving part! I won't comment on the "looking so fine" part, although I was tarted up a bit;))! I had a big shit-eating grin on my face. When I'm happy my mouth erupts into a smile that consumes my entire face and allows the onlooker to count most of my molars. And I was happy indeed. So that big open-mouthed smile was on my face, surrounded by blood red shiny lips. I had one arm in the air moving back and forth in an exaggerated wave, enacting the lyrics. Oddly, not many around me were doing the same, so when David looked toward the side of the stage where I was standing, he looked straight at me for a brief second. In that same brief second, as I realized he had made direct eye contact with me, I felt my grin get even bigger as my tongue ended up at the corner of my lips and my eyes must have enlarged to the size of saucers! I must have looked pretty enthused (or just plain funny!), for David lifted his chin a bit, flashed me a half-smile-half-laugh smile (one of those little grins of his where his lips kind of move down instead of up at the edges - you know the one) and then lowered his chin in a nod of appreciation before turning back toward his microphone at stage center and continuing the lyric with "I don't think you knew you were in this song."
All this happened in the split second between these two lines of lyric, but in that moment - which seemed to occur in slow motion for me - I felt that I actually WAS in his song. This was magical.
Wham Bam Thank You Ziggy!: Suffragette City had us all jumping and screaming "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am" loud enough to make the small theatre shake. I like how in the wind-up before that line, David lowers his arms and shakes his fingers at us in that "come on, come on" sort of way as Sterling pounds on the drums until the sound peaks and we all scream that line out together. Catharsis!
As with all the shows, this one ended with Ziggy Stardust. But the band took the opportunity at the song's close to celebrate and play a little joke on David. As he got to the closing line of "Ziggy plaaaaayed... guitaaaaaaaaaaaaar," Gail got handed a bunch of red roses from a stagehand as she abandoned her bass. Earl, Garson, Kat, and Gerry also left their posts, and the entire band surrounded David and grabbed at his arms, legs, and torso and Gail presented him the roses. Not sure what the occasion was, but I think it was a milestone of sorts on the tour. It was either the 50th show of the tour, or the four-month anniversary of the tour's start - something like that. It was fun and David was very surprised! David and the band lined up, took their final bows, big grins on all their faces, and that magical night in Sin City came to a close as the crowd continued to shriek long after their Rock God had left the building.
OTHER MEMORABLE MOMENTS:
Earl Slick Smiled And Winked At Me!: Before David laughed and smiled at me during Five Years, I had already received a wonderful nod and smile from Slicky, accompanied by a bit of a wink! He was amazing. He spent a lot of time at the tip of the stage, leaning over above us and playing. When I was in Row 2 at the Vancouver show (my first Bowie concert), I couldn't tear my eyes off David long enough to really notice Earl. It seemed a lot of the fans in Vegas were doing the same. People tend to just crane their neck around Earl as though they are annoyed that he's blocking their view of David! But this time I was really into Earl playing right over my head. I thought, "you know, I'm gonna give this man his rock-guitar-god due!" That same open-mouthed, shit-eating grin was on my face as I jumped up and down and reached toward him. I must have been pretty obvious in my appreciation, because at one point (although I don't recall during which song) before wrapping up his guitar solo and moving back off the stage's edge, Earl lowered his chin to his chest so he could make direct eye contact with me over his bluish-tinted shades, and he smiled broadly, winked slightly, and nodded his head in appreciation at me. How cool was THAT!?! He's lovely. I especially love that he peered at me OVER his glasses, to make sure I could see in his eyes the returned appreciation. I'll never crane my neck around Earl again!
Earl Kinda Did A Ronno Move - And David - And I - Loved It!: Again, during one of his frequent forays to the edge of the stage right over my head, Earl did this really cool, almost Mick Ronson-ish guitar god move. He stood there, knees deeply bent, and while his hand vibrated the strings on the neck of his guitar, he took his playing hand off the strings and pointed into the audience the way Ronno did on his solo during Moonage Daydream on Ziggy Stardust, The Motion Picture. A bit after Earl retreats from the edge of the stage to take his usual spot, David saunters over, smiles and nods at Earl and I could almost lip-read that he said something like "that was nice." Awesome. I was pleased for Earl that David noticed how cool he looked in that moment.
I've Memorized Your Number, Nancyh!: BowieNetter Nancyh was in the front row, stage center, flashing alternating signs that either asked David to play Win or telling him that "BNet loves you" and asking for a "30-song setlist." David made a number of mumbled comments (that I couldn't make out) about the sign after Nancyh had repeatedly flashed it. And then he laughed and said "you can put that away now, I've memorized your number." The crowd laughed heartily and I'm sure Nancyh was pleased even though David didn't play Win and gave us "only" a completely satisfying 24-song setlist.
"Happy New Year, Dave!": Just a couple days before the Vegas concert, I had caught the Seinfeld rerun where Jerry and company discuss how odd it is to get "Happy-New-Year'ed" long after the New Year. The discussion turned to determining where the "cut-off point" is for wishing someone a "Happy New Year." Well, for me, February 6 is a bit late to get "Happy-New-Year'ed." And apparently, the rest of the Vegas audience agreed with me. We all laughed when, at some point early on in the show, David said "Happy New Year!" to us. He stared out at us incredulously afterwards, as we laughed, and chided "you're supposed to say something back, like 'Happy New Year, Dave.'" So we all screamed "Happy New Year, Dave!" in unison, to which I think he mumbled something along the lines of "that's better."
Gerry's Hair: When David introduced guitarist and musical director Gerry Leonard, he made fun of Gerry's hair. It was kind of flat in Vegas, but apparently Mr. Leonard had experimented with mousse or something the previous night in Phoenix, so David took the opportunity to rib him about his changed appearance. Gerry seems shy, and his reaction to getting chided was cute.
Good God, that is finally all of it! I've now transcribed - and elaborated on - every patch of crumpled paper on which I scribbled down these wonderful concert memories as they came flooding out of me after the show. I'm sure there are other moments that have escaped me, but I am extremely grateful to have captured so many. I will cherish them forever.
February 11th 2004.
TO CLOSE WINDOW