Pop superstar holds court before intimate gathering in the Music Hall

Saturday, October 12, 2002

By Dean Balsamini

   Answering the starter's pistol in grand style, pop superstar David Bowie kicked off his five-borough "New York City Marathon" tour last night with an electric hour-and-forty-five minute set in the Snug Harbor Music Hall, Livingston.

The "Thin White Duke" charmed a select group of fans who were able to beg, borrow and speed-dial tickets to the 400-seat venue.

Among the 50 or so people with Staten Island ties in the house was Bowie guitarist Earl Slick, a former Oakwood resident.

"We're playing in front of all Earl's family and friends," Bowie said affectionately. "Joey Bag-of-Doughnuts, Carmine, Rat."

Bowie wasn't kidding.

Slick's sister, Joan Imperatrice; nephew, Joseph, both of Oakwood, and cousin Tom Magloico of Bulls Head were in attendance. And so were members of Slick's colorful Island musical circle: South Beach native Frankie LaRocka, Jack (Beau Jack) O'Neill and yes, the imposing former roadie/bouncer nicknamed Rat - all seated in the fifth row.

"I got their band equipment where it was needed to be. I was crowd control. I kept them happy and we had a lot of fun," Rat said of his days with the 1970s outfit Beau Jack. "It was before the days of catering. It was the golden age of rock n roll on Staten Island."

When Slick's sister recognized the trio, she quipped, "This is like the 'Wizard of Oz.'"

And fans ventured down the yellow brick road from such outposts as London, Florida, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

"It's great. It's so intimate," said South Philly's Stephen Kelly of the Music Hall, adding that it may be more than coincidence that Bowie's website nickname is "Sailor" and "this was once a place for retired sailors."

As for Bowie, resplendent in red leather jacket, chocolate-colored shirt and black slacks, he dazzled, opening the set with "Life On Mars?" whose lyrics include the verse, "Sailors fighting in the dance hall/ Oh man! Look at those cavemen go/ It's the freakiest show/Take a look at the lawman."

Knowing he was on Slick's home turf, Bowie at times assumed a tough-guy persona.

"We have a particularly pretty audience here tonight," Bowie said - "And I mean that."

At one point, after paying tribute to Slick's sizzling guitar work, the band kicked up the opening strains of theme songs from "The Godfather." When Slick playfully threw up his hands, Bowie responded, "I'll be good!"

The evening's highlights included powerful renditions of "Heroes," "Fame," a Slick-fueled "China Girl," "Let's Dance," "Ashes to Ashes," "Rebel Rebel," "Everyone Says Hi," Trent Reznor's "I'm Afraid of Americans" and "Heathen."

Saying, "Bye, Staten Island," Bowie launched into the finale, "Ziggy Stardust."

Ann Calilli of Bay Terrace and West Brighton's Lisa Sheridan were among those who got tickets via the pre-sale for subscribers to the performer's website, BowieNet.

"It's amazing that he's here," Ms. Sheridan said. "Bowie was my first concert. Madison Square Garden - like 1976. He's unique. A chameleon."

Silver Lake's Greg Canu who said he "stumbled" upon his seats, was ecstatic that Bowie opted to play the Island, no matter how difficult it was to wrangle tickets. "I'm just so glad he decided to do this. You had to know the minute they went on sale there was going to be a huge demand."

Bay Terrace native JoAnne Italiano not only got tickets to last night's Snug Harbor gig, but has seats to this evening's Bowie show at St. Anne's Warehouse, Brooklyn; Jimmy's Bronx Cafe on Thursday and the Beacon Theatre Oct. 20.

Joked her best friend, Ms. Sheridan, "she's going to have some credit card bill."

© Dean Balsamini - October 2002