Seattle Post-Intelligencer - 15 April 2004

Bowie gives his best, showcasing an extraordinary career

By Gene Stout

Even if David Bowie wasn't feeling his best, he gave his best.

The 57-year-old rock star, in his second Seattle concert of the year, offered a powerful and inspiring performance Wednesday night at KeyArena that served as a showcase for his extraordinary career. The show was a blend of new songs and past hits with fresh arrangements that made them sound entirely new.

Bowie told the near-capacity audience he wasn't feeling all that well, and explained away a series of awkward gyrations midway through the two-hour show as a "performance malfunction" caused by a sense of malaise. But if he hadn't said anything at all, perhaps no one would have noticed. His energy and self-assurance told another story.

Sporting a mop of blond hair and dressed in tight pants and a purple, crushed-velvet jacket with tails, Bowie looked very hip despite his more than three decades of rock stardom.

He opened with a sure crowd-pleaser, the classic "Rebel Rebel," bringing concertgoers to their feet. A giant LED screen, as well as three smaller screens above the stage, showed closeups of the still-boyish-looking star, as well as animated characters and surreal video imagery. A stage extension that looked like a giant crate allowed Bowie to get closer to the crowd and even touch the extended hands of fans. At the sides of the stage were two large piers that allowed him to perform high above the crowd.

Bowie was backed by a six-piece band: guitarists Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard, bassist and singer Gail Ann Dorsey, keyboardists Mike Garson and Catherine Russell (who also played congas), and drummer Sterling Campbell.

"Fame," another classic, was followed by "Cactus," a Pixies song from Bowie's "Heathen" album. "Fashion" was stylish and danceable, and the anthemic "All the Young Dudes," which he wrote for Mott the Hoople, got the crowd moving and flailing its arms.

Performing in front of the bright-red LED screen, Bowie pretended to sing the opening lines of "China Girl" in Chinese, but mercifully switched to English. His new version of the song was raw and powerful, with great bass playing by Dorsey.

Songs from his new "Reality" album, for which the tour is named, included "Never Get Old" and the melancholy "The Loneliest Guy." Bowie followed with two classics, "Modern Love" and a nicely updated version of "Let's Dance" that featured Russell on congas. "The Man Who Sold the World," an early radio hit, sounded surprisingly fresh decades after it was recorded.

"Sunday" and "Heathen," two songs from the late '90s, were dark and forebidding. The latter was accompanied by eerie video imagery. In an amazing version of "Under Pressure," the song Bowie recorded with Queen, Dorsey sang the Freddie Mercury vocal parts.

"Ashes to Ashes," a song many concertgoers had clamored for, preceded "Quicksand" from the "Hunky Dory" album. Before singing "I'm Afraid of Americans," a song about America's influence on world culture, Bowie quipped that the song's meaning had changed through the years. "This is the present version," he said. The song was accompanied by images of Mickey Mouse, cowboys and low riders. Bowie closed the main set with the uplifting "Heroes."

The encore began with a stunning version of "Changes," featuring keyboardist Garson's jazz piano stylings. Bowie completed his encore with two old favorites, "Suffragette City" and "Ziggy Stardust," about Bowie's incarnation as an androgynous rock star from another world.

Opening Bowie's concert was The Polyphonic Spree, the extraordinary 22-member "choral symphonic pop" ensemble led by Tim DeLaughter, formerly of the now-defunct band Tripping Daisy.

Wearing white robes and huge smiles, the animated group combined its multiple voices with such instruments as harp, theremin, violin, trombone and French horn. Bowie's audience wasn't sure what to make of the group's high-on-life anthems, but some found them irresistible. The group will appear April 20 on the NBC-TV show "Scrubs" and later that night on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."