The Oregonian - 15th April 2004

Bowie a master showman who's left the tricks behind

By Marty Hughley

Critics sometimes write disparaging comments about performers, sometimes prompting fans to write in with the withering rejoinder, "You're just jealous."

This is, however, an especially lame argument. While it's certainly easy to wish we had the riches and popularity of a pop star, doesn't it make far more sense that we'd be jealous of those who have all that plus great talent to boot? Why bother being jealous of Nick Carter when you can be jealous of David Bowie?

For the 4,500 or so fans at the Rose Garden arena's Theater of the Clouds on Tuesday, jealousy could easily have mixed in with the affection, admiration and awe, as Bowie charmed and dazzled in his first Portland performance in nearly a decade.

Really now, is it fair that one man should have so much: an inexhaustible store of memorable, thrilling, often groundbreakingly creative songs; a voice that can be by turns fey, coy, seductive, snarling, urgent, cocky and grandiose; a charisma that made anything from dramatic poses to goofy offhanded banter seem like masterly showmanship; a rock star's ultra-trim physique and feral grace, still, at age 57?

Ah, but how could we begrudge someone who shares such gifts so well? After a rousing opening set by the Dallas pop orchestra the Polyphonic Spree (which you could've taken as comic or inspirational or both), Bowie played for well over two hours, mixing numerous hits from as far back as 1970's "The Man Who Sold the World" with lesser-known tunes old and new, plus a few standouts from last year's brilliant return-to-form, "Reality."

At Bowie's last show here, in 1995 when he and Nine Inch Nails co-headlined the Rose Garden's first concert, he was in an experimental phase, favoring a serrated industrial-rock attack and darkly apocalyptic themes. This time he was happy to recognize and oblige his fans' taste for the familiar, in its various guises. He gave them decadent glam-rock classics such as a show-opening "Rebel Rebel," the anthemic "All the Young Dudes" and the driving "Suffragette City." From his mainstream peak there was "China Girl," a guitar-heavy take on "Modern Love" and "Under Pressure," with bassist Gail Ann Dorsey taking over the vocal role of Bowie's original collaborator on that song, Freddie Mercury.

And he was refreshingly upfront about the minor contrivances of the show. At one point, after he'd indulged himself in the pounding alien alarm of "Hallo Spaceboy" and a pair of dreamlike songs from the 2002 album "Heathen," he asked the crowd, "OK, is it about time to play something you know?"

Another time, he started a bit of accommodating stage banter, only to stop himself and admit, "Oh, that was really disingenuous." In general, he seemed to be having a great time, confident in his powers as a performer, aware that he doesn't need to manipulate the crowd anymore and unafraid to acknowledge when he's doing it anyway.

Having such a great band no doubt helps. Two longtime, on-and-off Bowie band veterans especially stood out. Guitarist Earl Slick added thickly textured riffs and wails in "New Killer Star," surprisingly gutsy chording in "China Girl" and a rock 'n' roll gunslinger's attitude throughout. Keyboardist Mike Garson built a cathedral of haunting, jagged chords for "The Loneliest Guy" and flashed his distinctive solo style - tumbling, spiky harmonies like barrelhouse Stravinsky - on the eerie masterpiece "Ashes to Ashes."

If only the band had played a cover of "Jealous Guy."