Boston Herald - March 29, 2004

Stardust memories: David Bowie faces the 'Reality' that is him on new tour

By Sarah Rodman

Ever-ultracool David Bowie sounds just the tiniest bit hot under that perfectly askew collar.

"I'm quite, I guess, a little bit irritable about the idea that I'm some kind of chameleon, that damn lazy word," says Bowie of the overused descriptor of his morphing personae.

"Oh, here it comes again," he says, adopting a comically excitable voice. "'It's the chameleon of rock!' Hey, possibly I'm the master of reinvention!"

Though the legendary rocker has explored various physical and stylistic avenues in the past 35 years - from wigged-out Ziggy Stardust to perfectly coiffed Top 40 hitmaker - he says the substance of his music has changed very little.

Indeed, a fairly straight line can be drawn from Major Tom floating in his tin can, in the expansive folk pop of his first hit, "Space Oddity," in 1969, to the "lucky" man wandering the desolate landscape of the stark piano ballad "The Loneliest Guy" from 2003's "Reality."

"The way that I look at it is that I have a body of work which is in its own way pretty consistent, and that I have approached it stylistically differently each and every time I've gone through. But that's kind of what a writer does or a novelist; that's the way art is, actually," says Bowie, sounding chipper during an early-morning call from a Singapore tour stop.

"I think an important part of what, for me, makes great art is the way that an artist will try to re-evaluate the same ponderous questions each time, and generally there's only three or four questions."

For the still-dashing 57-year-old rocker, who plays the FleetCenter tomorrow in a show rescheduled from Dec. 9, some of those questions have revolved around alienation, dislocation, identity and human connection in songs as different as "Young Americans," "Let's Dance" and "Heroes."

"The people that I really, really admire, for instance, have always done exactly the same thing, whether it be John Lennon, Neil Young or Bob Dylan. They each in their own way have come at the subject a different way each time. And if you go from some of Neil's extraordinary electronic triumphs to his straightforward folk, I mean he's always pushed it. Dylan, of course, created the whole idea of rejigging what he was writing, and Lennon again was somebody who was passionate about changing all the time."

Certainly, Bowie has changed his relationship to his back catalog and his attitudes toward live performance.

"It really is a joy to me now," he says of being onstage with his superb band, "and I would never have said that a number of years ago... But now I truly do enjoy it and it's something I really like to do and I believe the audience can feel that as well. You can't really fool an audience. If you're walking through your show, I think it becomes very evident."

Of his audiences on the "Reality" tour he says, with a laugh, "These days we just get on great. We're pretty good neighbors."

Bowie once swore he was retiring much of his earlier material, but these days he seems to have made peace with his past by alternating classics such as "Ashes to Ashes" and "Life on Mars" with newer material including the propulsive "I'm Afraid of Americans." (Prince, please take note.)

"I didn't really know in which direction my writing would be going," he says of his 1990s moratorium on playing the hits. "I really felt like the old things of mine were fairly intimidating, a bit of a noose around my neck. So the best way to move forward, for me, at that particular time was to kind of disown them or rather just put them away somewhere, so I didn't have to stare at them every time I did a gig."

"But as the '90s went on I started to understand that my writing was pretty OK and that it was standing out quite strongly, and by now I know what I'm doing and I feel very, very good about what's happening to me as a writer and musician. And so those things really don't seem like something to dread anymore. And they're now pairing up beautifully. We're having a lot of fun with the set list because of that."

The show, which has been receiving universal raves for its vibrancy, comes at a good time for the Brixton native, who dubbed himself "crazy" for taking on an arena trek at this stage of his career.

"I can't be doing too many more of these, so I guess it's best to do them whilst I still can."

David Bowie plays the FleetCenter tomorrow. Tickets: $38.50-$76. Call 617-931-2000 or go to ticketmaster. All tickets for the originally scheduled Dec. 9 show will be honored or refunds made available at point of purchase.