The Houston Chronicle - April 30, 2004

Bowie lives up to the legend with mix of new, old hits

By Michael D. Clark

It turns out the best character David Bowie ever played is David Bowie. The performer who has gallivanted as both Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke came to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Thursday as himself. It was his best incarnation yet.

Bowie, 57, never looked more vibrant and excited about playing the songs that made his legend.

Bowie has fudged on his 15-year-old declaration that he was retiring many of his classics to concentrate on the present. And we are all the better for it.

A quintuple shot of the hits Fashion, All the Young Dudes (yes, he wrote the song that made Mott the Hoople famous), China Girl, Modern Love and Fame was a dream concert sequence. After that, the covers of the Velvet Underground's White Light, White Heat and the Pixies' Cactus were just him showing off.

Bowie has figured out that performing his vintage hits helps his fans accept his more recent creations, like his new album, Reality.

Bowie and his magnificent six-piece band spent a little more than two hours delivering 26 songs that covered all corners of his 35-year career.

From the guitar rock of his earliest works, like The Man Who Sold the World, to the polished '80s synth-pop of China Girl and Modern Love and the mid-'90s single I'm Afraid of Americans, the artistic road Bowie has traveled was laid out like a Key map. Add the spare theatrical selections from Reality and 2-year-old Heathen and one could hear how Bowie has come full circle back to the sound of his first single, Space Oddity.

Appearing at the front of a two-tiered stage decorated in faux limestone with white, leafless trees hanging upside down on each side, Bowie opened with Rebel Rebel. Dressed in a tattered waistcoat with tails that hid a sleeveless T-shirt and jeans, he looked like a character out of some highly modernized Charles Dickens story.

Even better than seeing Bowie play one persona for an entire show was watching him slip in and out of characters like a master of the one-man show. He was a nasal spaceman on an encore and a swaggering soul man for Under Pressure. During China Girl, he flirted and shushed the crowd in a way that probably made many listeners breathe harder.

(Even I can admit that the guy has sex appeal.)

That he didn't appear to take any of it too seriously made it all a joy to behold. The strobing backlights couldn't hide his toothy grin and a head of platinum hair surfers would kill for. He appeared to revel in the idea of knowing exactly what the audience wanted and giving it to them.

"Let me take you back to the '90s," he shouted to introduce the hypnotic Battle for Britain (The Letter).

Bowie indulged his artier side with some esoteric selections, like his experimental collaboration with Brian Eno, Hallo Spaceboy, and the anguished ballad Days. But he was also aware that he shouldn't indulge himself too long.

"This is the part of the show where we ask, 'When is he going to do another song we know?'" Bowie joked.

He answered by counting out the opening beat of Ashes to Ashes and once again had the audience riveted.

Like Bruce Springsteen or Prince, Bowie changes his set lists almost nightly, making the chance to hear something rare better than any souvenir available at the merchandise stand. Houston heard a few rarities, including Modern Love (he's played it only 14 times through 85 dates on this tour) and a rendition of the impassioned Slip Away, with the Polyphonic Spree offering supporting vocals.

The real delight, however, was how the mix fulfilled both him and his fans.

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle.