Alameda Times-Star - Jan 29th 2004

Bowie stingy with his big hits

By Jim Harrington

THE crowd gathered for David Bowie's concert Tuesday night at the HP Pavilion in San Jose desperately wanted to sing along with the pop music chameleon, and they almost got what they wanted.

"Do you want to sing something?" Bowie asked the thousands of loyal listeners. "I promise it's something you might know."

With that guarantee, the man born David Robert Jones launched into "All the Young Dudes," a Bowie-penned track originally recorded by Mott the Hoople. Indeed, the crowd did know the song and gregariously sang along with every line.

"That was really great," he told the audience at the song's conclusion. "It was so good, you're going to have to sing the next one."

Next up was "China Girl," a hit single off 1983's classic "Let's Dance" and one that the crowd should have known by heart. But those in attendance flubbed it up good and Bowie was forced to start the song over.

"That was (expletive) tragic," he concluded.

Bowie was a bit stingy with the big hits and used much of his two-hour-plus show to delve into a number of rarities, covers and new songs.

That's his choice and he's certainly earned the right to play whatever he deems appropriate. But the result was an uneven performance that lacked in momentum and cohesiveness. There were some great moments, but the crowd had to fight through too much clutter to get to them.

In turn, the audience members reacted at times as if they were watching the spin cycle at the local Laundromat. One doesn't expect a mature crowd like this to be jumping on top of the chairs, but some reaction would be nice.

Opening the show with a new take on an old friend, a powerfully understated "Rebel Rebel," Bowie looked and sounded great. Wearing a coat with tails over a tight black T-shirt and pants, his blond hair hanging in his face, Bowie seemed several decades younger than his actual age of 57.

His voice was clear and strong as he gracefully moved through "New Killer Star," "Days," "Fall Dog Bombs the Moon" and other cuts from his most recent release, 2003's "Reality."

However, the crowd seemed mostly unfamiliar with these new tunes, and the star was unable to garner much momentum musically. He occasionally would sprinkle in some classics, such as a funky version of "Fame" and the spirited anthem "All the Young Dudes," but it wasn't enough. What was needed was a run of hits - at least three in a row - to really get this party started. It never happened.

Bowie's band on "A Reality Tour" was sensational, filled with many longtime collaborators. Guitarist Earl Slick has been grinding out the leads since the 1974 "Diamond Dogs" tour and keyboardist Mike Garson dates back to the "Ziggy Stardust" daze. Relative newcomer Gail Ann Dorsey, who came aboard in 1995, was a monster on the bass and competently handled the Freddie Mercury vocal part on a great version of "Under Pressure."

David Bowie is one of the great rockers in pop history, which makes his choice this night to focus so strongly on softer material all the more peculiar. "The Loneliest Guy," a piano ballad from "Reality," is a fine song, but it shouldn't take the place of, say, "Modern Love" or "Young Americans."

Likewise, it was a nice touch to cover Lou Reed's "White Light/White Heat" and the Pixies' "Cactus," but the crowd would have rather heard "Panic in Detroit" or "Blue Jean."

It seemed as if Bowie was finally getting on track toward the end of the main set when he delivered a fierce version of "I'm Afraid of Americans" and an uplifting rendition of "Heroes" to close. He was properly positioned to really unleash a great encore.

But he didn't. He meandered into the encore like a lounge singer and by the time he got around to providing the stiffest one-two punch of the evening - "Suffragette City" and "Ziggy Stardust" - it was too late.