Northwest Indiana News - 9th January 2003

David Bowie is back

Rocker returns to Chicago for his first world tour in almost 10 years

By Tom Lounges

David Bowie, one of rock music's living legends, will perform a series of intimate shows this week at the Rosemont Theatre. He will play his classic hits and introduce fans to new fare from his 26th studio album, "Reality."

While speaking with The Times in a trans-Atlantic call after performing a nearly three-hour concert in Dublin, Ireland, Bowie was surprised to learn that tickets to his concerts here were selling so quickly.

"(My audience) is a little more hits-oriented in America," said Bowie, who shares his birthday with Elvis Presley and turned 57 on Thursday. "You can do more obscure things in Europe. My American fans are just as gung-ho as the European ones, but I have to put a few more better-known songs in for Americans."

Because radio hasn't embraced his new music well in recent years, Bowie said he didn't anticipate such a grand welcome on what is his first full-fledged world tour in nearly 10 years.

A native of Brixton, England, who has called New York City home for the last decade, Bowie's first Chicago performance was in 1972 at the long-defunct Quiet Knight.

He recalled that visit and later ones fondly. "Chicago has been good to me," he said. "But back then I had hit albums and songs on the radio."

Though his Reality Tour has packed stadiums and arenas in Europe, with three shows landing on the Top Box Office chart in the last 2003 edition of Billboard magazine, Bowie was in a quandary about his drawing power on these shores.

The new tour was booked at the 4,000-seat Rosemont Theatre, because the number reflected the amount of fans he thought would turn out to see him perform at this point in his career. "Obviously, I greatly underestimated myself," he laughed.

The set list changes from night to night.

"Generally the show is about 24 songs," Bowie said. "We add a few here, and drop a few there to keep things fresh. On the average we do five 'Heathen' songs, five 'Reality' songs, and a whole bunch from the '90s, '80s and '70s. I haven't yet reached back to the '60s, but you never know."

The chameleon's colors

David Robert Jones was born Jan. 8, 1947. Acting on the advice of his manager, he later adopted the Bowie stage name to avoid being confused with fellow Brit pop star Davey Jones of The Monkees.

Though he broke big while spearheading the era of British glitter rock, Bowie began his career as a teenage saxophonist with a series of jazz/blues bands sporting names like The King Bees, The Manish Boys and The Lower Third.

"I have always loved all kinds of music," Bowie said. "The person who set it aflame for me way back when I was 9 years old was Little Richard.

"But when I became more serious and when I was starting to write, I was listening to everyone and everything. I've been influenced by so much and so many... Little Richard, Charlie Mingus, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground."

One need only listen to one of Bowie's hits collections to realize the depth of his musical explorations over the last four decades. He regularly sheds his artistic skin and shifts the colors of his music from light to dark and back again. This penchant for reinvention is why the media came to call Bowie a "rock chameleon."

Dark and light sides

Though Ziggy Stardust was his most outrageous persona, the electrifying alien transsexual was just the beginning of Bowie's musical personalities.

Bowie's dark period came in the late 1970s, when he recorded with Brian Eno in Berlin. The collaboration resulted in the powerful record trilogy "Low," "Heroes," and "The Lodger," which embraced surrealism and pioneered ambient soundscapes.

Though an important '70s artist, Bowie had his most commercial success in the '80s, landing MTV and radio hits like "Blue Jean," "Let's Dance," "Modern Love," "China Girl" and "Dancing in the Streets" (with Mick Jagger).

While grunge ruled the charts in the '90s, Bowie returned to the studio to experiment with technology. Devoid of hits were such releases as "Black Tie/White Noise," "Outside," "Earthling" and his quirky autobiographical end-of-the-decade-release, "Hours."

Since the dawn of the new millennium, Bowie has managed to blend his experimental side with his commercial side, creating what many feel is his best music ever.

Both "Reality" and its predecessor, "Heathen," have received Grammy nods and have done well at retail, despite the lack of radio attention given the projects. Coincidentally, both albums were made with Tony Visconti behind the production board. Bowie made all of his big '70s hits with Visconti.

"Tony and I actually started getting friendly again about midway through the '90s, but the opportunity for us to do something together in the studio hadn't arisen until a couple years ago," Bowie said. "I expect we'll continue to mess around in the studio since we're now both living in New York and working together so well."

"Heathen" sold more than a million copies, and its single, "Slow Burn," earned Bowie a Best Male Rock Vocal nomination. History is repeating as "New Killer Star" (from "Reality") is up for a Grammy in the same category.

"I'm very thrilled and honored of course, but awards and such are not really that important to me," he said.

Onstage: David Bowie with Macy Gray
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Jan. 16
Where: Rosemont Theatre, 6400 N. River Road, Rosemont
Tickets: $40.50, $61, $86 (all-ages show)
For more info: (847) 671-5100.