New Straits Times - 16th March 2004

Bowing to Bowie

David Bowie had the audience enthralled over his debonair charm, and repertoire of old and new songs at a sold-out concert in Singapore recently. D. VINOD writes.

THE crowd at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was abuzz with anticipation. David Bowie, the man for all seasons, was in town to showcase his latest album Reality, part of his "A Reality Tour".

The show began almost an hour late but that only served to heighten everyone's excitement. As an instrumental blues harp jam intro filled the air, the backstage screen showed an animated shot of the band playing. The cartoon sequence was soon blanketed over by the "real" footage of Bowie and his band. The Dame (one of Bowie's many stage personas) then made his much-awaited entrance followed by his band. The fans went wild! Immediately, drummer Sterling Campbell pounded a familiar beat and guitarist Earl Slick launched into that all too memorable riff of Rebel-Rebel.

Some of the crowd felt somewhat stifled singing along to the song, being in Singapore and all, but that didn't stop the rebels among us from letting our hair down. David Bowie, one of rock's greatest rebels, was right in front of us. The mood was set as he promised "a mix of new and old - but maybe more old" to the cheering crowd. Bowie, known for his chameleon-like ability to evolve his music and image with the times, then launched into New Killer Star, the recently Grammy-nominated song from Reality. Indeed the new album seems like a breath of fresh air after the heavy free-form of his previous work, Heathen. In many ways it was a throwback to the Bowie of old, where words took on greater depth and the music was darkly haunting. He then played a few tracks from the album including Days, Looking For Water and the melancholic The Loneliest Guy.

Soon after that, however, it was back to his classic stuff. The crowd was treated to the singalong All The Young Dudes. which certainly made the older audience feel like teenagers again. Displaying his trademark debonair coolness and charm, Bowie's 40 years of stage experience clearly showed. Going into some of his Eighties material like China Girl and Under Pressure (bassist Gail Anne Dorsey sang Freddy Mercury's part quite convincingly but not quite, of course), it's astonishing that at 57, Bowie has managed to retain his voice and, most strikingly, his looks. In fact, at times he seemed like a young man in his twenties strutting his stuff on stage. And the man is a perfectionist. Twice in his set, including during the oddly-timed Ashes To Ashes, Bowie was out of sync with the music. "Hold it! I was just kidding" he told the band and they started again effortlessly, giving the concert an impromptu, raw feel. Joking and talking to the crowd between his songs, Bowie clearly displayed why the music and art world have held him in high esteem for so long.

Bowie exudes style and quality in everything he does. Back in his heyday in the early Seventies, Bowie uniquely created stage alter egos to add a theatrical, visual dimension to his performances. In 1972, he famously conceptualised and played the alien character of Ziggy Stardust based on his album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars. The success of the album and tour catapulted Bowie to super stardom in the post-hippy age of glam rock. Bowie was soon Ziggy again, playing Sufragette City with its hit catch phrase "wham bam thank you ma'am" before introducing "the oldest song I perform these days - The Man Who Sold The World, popularised by Nirvana on its unplugged album. Then it was on to the disco-laden funk of Fame, co-written with John Lennon no less. It was indeed great to witness firsthand Bowie, an idol of idols, performing these memorable tunes. Rarely taking breaks, the band, consisting of Slick, Campbell, Gerry Leonard (guitar) Mike Gerson (keyboards), Dorsey and Catherine Russell (backing vocals) rolled into a few more new songs before travelling through time again to bring us such gems as Life On Mars and Heroes.

With all the excitement, I hardly noticed that two hours had flown by and Bowie was already into his final song Jean Genie, after which he took a bow and thanked everyone for being such a fantastic audience. The crowd, of course, was in no mood to go home just yet, so Bowie returned onstage soon after to sing Changes, fittingly completing his electrifying performance with Ziggy Stardust, a song which had me in seventh heaven - Major Tom. Although there were no renditions of Space Oddity or Let's Dance that night, David Bowie showed us just why he is David Bowie.