The Mercury News - April 19, 2004

Bowie pushes his rock fans to keep up with new changes

By Brad Kava

No one was more aware of the irony of his Dorian Gray life than 57-year-old rocker David Bowie.

At his 2 1/2-hour intimate and captivating Berkeley Community Theater show Friday night, the thin blond duke was a man of constant irony. He looked 25, sang and danced like he was 16 and played hits and obscurities that spanned more than three decades.

"I couldn't accept your money," he said to an audience member who offered some if he would play a request, adding: "Yeah, right!" He pranced theatrically, calling himself the Artful Dodger; he imitated Americans and Americans imitating the British; he complained about the placement of the monitor speakers by Clear Channel, which promoted the show, and passed out earplugs to people in the front row. He chastised security guards who stopped people from dancing in the aisles, asking them to stop only the ones dancing "dangerously."

When the audience booed the mention of the concert company, he joked that he liked to say the name, just to get a reaction from Americans.

After playing a 1969 song, "The Supermen," he recited some of its lyrics: "All the world was young/mountain mystic hung."

"Sophomoric slush," he laughed in self-criticism.

No one was having more fun than the man on stage, smiling and waving and looking so fine, the 3,000-seat theater felt like a small club.

He played a lot of newer songs - but those were the ones that the audience sat down for.

Is the new material worse than the old, or is the artist just ahead of an audience that cherishes only what it's heard a thousand times? Some of both. Parts were indistinct and tedious. But the rest had the mark of future classics.

One of the best was "Hallo Spaceboy" off 1997's "Earthling." It thundered and demanded to be sung along with, like the best classic rock, even though it was ignored when it was released. "Slip Away," off 2002's "Heathen" was bolstered by vocals from the Polyphonic Spree. In their flying-saucer cult robes, their Partridge Family-on-acid presence was just what the song needed.

There were plenty of ancient works: "Ziggy," "Ashes to Ashes," "Changes." But Bowie seemed to have more passion for the newer material.

That's the mark of a great performer: He still needs to challenge himself and it's up to us to keep up.