The Boston Globe - 31st March 2004

As himself, Bowie still a visionary with style


By Joan Anderman (Globe Staff)

It would defy imagination for anyone - even an artist as tapped into the cultural zeitgeist as David Bowie - to stay relevant throughout a four-decade career. While the British pop star has had as many aesthetically dormant periods as era-defining ones, he's nothing if not a visionary stylist. Which means that Bowie remains perpetually vital, and last night's 2 1/4-hour dash through the 57-year-old musician's catalogue testified to Bowie's rare and influential feel for the fine art of invention.

Goodness knows the FleetCenter audience of just under 11,000 mirrored his enduring appeal. Bowie played to a multigenerational sea of original fans, members of the glam and goth nations, all-purpose art-school types, and tow-headed youngsters deep into their classic rock indoctrinations. Feathered and fringed, a flawless thatch of blonde hair on bronzed skin, backlit by a hundred beams of light and doing a deep caress on opening number "Rebel Rebel," Bowie seemed to belong to every demographic - and none at all. More affecting than hearing any beloved old song was watching the former mod, hippie, glitter rocker, plastic soul man, avant popster, electronica pioneer, and dance-floor hitmaker play himself.

It's no coincidence that Bowie's new album, his 26th, is titled "Reality." And while that puts him, once again, smack in the middle of the pop culture's current prime-time programming obsession, it speaks more eloquently to Bowie's current absence of affiliation with either style or trend. "New Killer Star" and "The Loneliest Guy," both from the new disc, marked two of the night's most mesmerizing, deeply musical moments. That's no small feat in a set that included a fleshy, super-sized "Fame," a lighter-worthy read of "All the Young Dudes," "Suffragette City" - no adjectives required - and a show-stopping version of "Under Pressure" featuring bassist/singer Gail Ann Dorsey as Freddy Mercury's able stand-in.

Backed by a crack six-piece band, Bowie was loose, suave, a bit salty, and incredibly amiable. For all the high technology - widescreen video wall, future-forest set of stark white tree boughs, and stony facades - there was little artifice in his performance. Bowie reveled, gleefully uncool, in singalongs and communal hand-clapping. He sang the praises of a pair of Boston artists, putting his own debonair spin on the Pixies' "Cactus" and Jonathan Richman's "Pablo Picasso."

Unfortunately he also reveled in the earnest, anthemic sludge of "Fantastic Voyage," one of several lesser selections that paled in comparison to the night's frequent highs. But it was, after all, an apt reflection of Bowie's pocked, illustrious career.

"I stand in the wings and watch their set and I'm smiling!" Bowie said of his opening act, the Polyphonic Spree. Indeed, the miraculous fact that the 24 bright-eyed, white-robed members of this symphonic pop outfit transmitted their supernatural fervor to the cavernous reaches of the arena was enough to restore your faith in the power of a giant, shiny hook. A leaping tambourine player, head-bashing harpist, three-tiered riser crammed with wild-haired singing girls, and barefoot brass section were a few of the visual treats that complemented the Dallas group's brash, heavenly music.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.