San Antonio Express - 28th April 2004

Bowie plays his old and new self at the Backyard

Concert Review

By Hector Saldaņa

AUSTIN - On Tuesday, the Backyard provided the backdrop for a David Bowie reality check. The man who once upon a time fell to earth landed there to promote his latest album, "Reality," on his "A Reality Tour."

In his latest incarnation, the ever-youthful looking Ziggy Stardust stood before 5,000 fans unmasked, fiercely eclectic in his song choices and maybe even a little goofy at times. It seems he just couldn't get over the bugs flying into his mouth at the outdoor venue.

They do get in the way, after all, of Bowie's sexy hair-in-your-face charisma. "Nobody told me about that!" he said as he spat out a mouthful and snatched at the nuisances in the night air.

But it is in voice - fey, operatic, crooning and commanding - and in rebellious spirit where he leaves behind contemporaries of the old British order. As spectacular as the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney were on their last tours, Bowie, 57, betters them with daring and self-parody.

He rightly steals Mott the Hoople's superior arrangement of his own song "All the Young Dudes." It rocked pompously before turning into a Bay City Rollers wave moment for the yuppie audience.

He strayed from classic arrangements.

"China Girl" was given a guitar-driven Guns 'N Roses treatment by Bowie's six-piece band and blew away the chirpy original. Bowie even changed the famous chorus line to "Oh baby, just shut the (expletive) up."

There is no hint of glitter rock look these days. But there is no denying who this rock god is when he places his hands on his hips or plays the spotlight for all it's worth, as during the weird vibrato ballad "The Loneliest Guy" off last year's acclaimed album.

Onstage Bowie juxtaposed the reality TV, "American Idol" era and ambivalent feelings about the current war against terror: His songs "Fame," "I'm Afraid of Americans" (chilling with it's "God is an American" coda) and "Heroes" seemed not only poignant and timely but somehow prophetic.

The music, too, is an odd amalgam of hard rock, electronica, white noise and pop - some of it cutting edge when released, some of it brilliantly ripped from the '60s. All of it is uniquely Bowie.

"I've been right and I've been wrong. Now I'm back where I started from," he sang on "Reality," as if to agree.

Indeed, there he was, despite his own protestation that his clown-mime days were over, staggering like a rag doll on the off-kilter masterpiece "Ashes to Ashes."

Forget the groundbreaking MTV video; it's Bowie who makes this compelling to listen to and look at.

"The Man Who Sold the World" still mesmerizes with its incessant Yardbirds-style guitar riff, perhaps better known this night among these many young faces from Kurt Cobain's unplugged take than the reedy-voiced original.

Bowie reached even further back to his youth and grabbed an angst-ridden song written when he was 18-years-old called "The Supermen." Even he grimaced at the tortured lyric.

There was a touching tribute to Freddie Mercury, "Under Pressure," the hit they co-wrote. Bassist Gail Ann Dorsey sang Mercury's staccato flourishes.

Bowie remains a master of context. A flop as a hippie folkie, he transformed limp 12-string folk like "Quicksand" more than 30 years ago into glam through sheer attitude - and makeup and a dress.

A taste for the cosmic shone through on the encore number "Slip Away," when joyous opening act Polyphonic Spree brought its Godspell, multicolored robe 'n' horn vibe to the stage.

"Hang On to Yourself" and the classic "Five Years" gave way to roaring takes on "Suffragette City" and "Ziggy Stardust," the latter brought to a close with calculated show-stopping genius.

Strange fascination indeed.