Las Vegas Review-Journal - 1st Feb 2004

Concert Review:
Bowie blends perfect mix

Grade: A for Bowie

By Doug Elfman

It is sad, what has happened to the youthful idealism of 1960s and 1970s. In between the horror of war and bell-bottoms, there was then, and is now, a terribly maligned earnestness of peace, love and art.

Yet from this progressive, American-style idealism arose brilliant musicians from ashore, from the Beatles to Queen and David Bowie. Three decades later, the Beatles are halved. And Queen is dead. But Bowie moves forward. He seems never to have stopped searching for the art inside, and the canvas on which to shape it.

On Friday, he showed he strides, still. He took a six-piece band to the Hard Rock Hotel and sang music in new directions, while also feeding longtime fans with classic songs to keep them at hand.

It was lovely to hear Bowie smartly redefine some older work to comment on our new stock-market world, to which Bowie belongs; tickets cost up to $301 for Friday's show, as they do for his return show at the Hard Rock this coming Friday.

So, Bowie effectively tinkered with the beautiful "Heroes." The 1977 song once signified the literary struggle between the two sides in the Cold War, as they quarreled in the shadow of World War II.

"I can remember standing by the wall," Bowie sang in "Heroes," "and the guns shot above our heads, and we kissed as though nothing could fall. And the shame was on the other side. Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever. Then, we could be heroes, just for one day."

But with the Cold War now far behind Friday's show, Bowie reversed the tone of his voice to reflect the Superpower world. He used to scream those lines, because the character was calling for freedom. But Friday, he spoke the lines as a chill, while a synthetic-tinged guitar note rang on indefinitely.

Bowie also flattened the delivery, from screaming down to talking, in "China Girl." That's the quirky tune with guitar hiccups. He spoke, "I'll give you a man who wants to rule the world," as the calm demand of a man who has grown fat on power, instead of as a character who seeks it.

It was notable that two songs before "China Girl," while Bowie sang the splashy, fraternal chorus of "All The Young Dudes," one of Bowie's richer-looking fans stood on a chair and swayed in his gray-checkered business jacket, shaking a cocktail in one hand and squeezing in the other what appeared to be a clove cigarette.

Bowie showed that he has the perspective, at age 56, to give that fan and others a minimalistic visual show to match the feel of 23 indie-rock songs.

That means he did the punky "Panic in Detroit" from 1973, the funky "Fashion" from 1980, the gothic theater of 1995's "Hallo Spaceboy," the cabaret dance hall of 1973's "Life on Mars?," the weird space oddity of 1980's "Ashes to Ashes," the dark, 1997 world of "I'm Afraid of Americans," and the great punk gibberish of 1972's "Suffragette City."

He also performed something new and wonderfully creepy in the moody "The Loneliest Guy," a guitar-echoey, David Lynch-esque bit of neurosis from 2003.

Bowie looked and sounded like the Bowies of the past. His voice retained its cool, masculine yet sensitive drama. He was epic, as usual. That successful ambition of art is why, for me, Bowie has seemed more brilliant than Iggy Pop and Bowie's other idols. If he has failed at times, it is because he has lived.

And lived, he has. He has at times turned crazy with power, freaky on drugs, and maxed out on glamour. He has been the great collaborator. He has achieved and fallen and achieved.

And he has embraced earnestness. In the middle of his set, with his blond hairs tossing about like long feathers, Bowie blasted the showstopper, 1981's "Under Pressure." His female bassist sang the duet part established by the late Freddie Mercury. They sang idealistically:

"Pressure's the terror of knowing what this world is about. ... People on streets, turned away from it all, like a blind man. ...Can't we give ourselves one more chance? Why can't we give love that one more chance?"

Why not?